WELCOME BACK TO EASTER EGGS AND PASSOVER
Welcome back to a new edition of The Weekender… where Wall Street’s decline fuels more recession fears. Also, U.S. presidential history was made as former President Donald Trump was indicted on criminal charges this week. Plus, Walmart is considering warehouse robots to speed up profits. There’s much to discuss and more to learn below in the latest edition of The Weekender.
Many Threads Comprise the Economic Web
The latest chapter in the Federal Reserve’s saga to fight inflation is being read nationwide. It encompasses everything from Wall Street’s performance to the ongoing banking crisis and the international energy market. To start, Wall Street’s close on Tuesday, April 4, indicates the Fed’s higher interest rates have cooled down the economy substantially. Seven of the 11 S&P 500 sector indexes declined, with industrials down 2.25% and energy down 1.72%. The industrial sector bellwether, Caterpillar Inc. (CAT.N), fell 5.4%. Additionally, the job market decelerated alongside the stock market closing low. According to CNBC, quelling the superheated labor market has been an outspoken objective for the Fed as job openings recently exceeded available workers by 2-to-1. The newest reports bring it down to a 1.7-to-1 ratio divide due to job openings falling below 10 million, their lowest in two years. In addition to depressed labor market growth, factory orders dropped for a second straight month, and the U.S. is experiencing a suppressed manufacturing industry. This economic rollercoaster is not the end of the story; we have not yet reached the end of its excitement. In a letter to shareholders, JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon discussed the ongoing banking crisis saying: “The current crisis is not yet over, and even when it is behind us, there will be repercussions from it for years to come.” Further, OPEC’s decision to reduce output and increase oil prices will only add fuel to the fire. James Bullard, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said, “Oil prices fluctuate around. It’s hard to track exactly. Some of that might feed into inflation and make our job a little bit more difficult.” While the economic status quo remains a web of influence counteracting the Fed’s action to fight inflation while warding off a recession, it is still too early to call when the ride ends. Read more at Reuters.
A (Presidential) Indictment for the History Books
Former President Donald Trump has been indicted on criminal charges, a first in U.S. presidential history. A grand jury in New York voted to indict Trump on charges related to hush money payments allegedly made during his presidential bid to cover up affairs he had. This historical moment sets a new precedent that could be met with consequences. Presidents have been shielded from prosecution for more than two centuries while in office and even afterward. Although a presidential indictment has never happened, it doesn’t mean it could never have. The Justice Department policy maintains that sitting presidents cannot be indicted, but they still may be held liable civilly or criminally after they leave office. However, Trump is using his indictment to his advantage to unify the GOP and widen his lead as the Republican presidential nominee for 2024. “This is political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history,” Trump said. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan have both made statements regarding their outrage against the indictment charges. While much of the GOP and the Republican party is on Trump’s side, a majority of Americans see the investigation results as fair. However, a recent Fox News poll shows that the president loses to Trump in a rematch, given the state of the economy, immigration, and crime. Little is to be said about the news internationally, but Trump did see some backing from supporters in China. The rest of the world leaders remain silent on the matter. As the House Democrats are united behind the central premise that no one in the U.S. is above the law, they also have lingering anxiety that the indictment will only empower his conservative base, making him a stronger candidate in the presidential race. Whether or not people see the indictment as fair, it is agreed upon that most view the decision to indict Trump as political. This first may not be the last as Trump has the potential to face even more indictment charges. Read more at The New York Times.
Tech-Positive Outlooks Highlight the Difference Between Tasks and Jobs
With 2.2 million employees (about the population of New Mexico), Walmart is considering the strengths of automation in managing its supply chain. The writing is on the wall: automation, warehouse robots, and artificial intelligence (AI) will become cheaper and more effective than human labor, while also reducing human-centric mistakes. Companies routinely examine how they can streamline their processes with rapidly evolving technology. For Walmart, automation offers an accessible path to increase their ROI, stabilize supply chains, and accelerate the rate they can put goods in the hands of consumers. While employees may quiver at the thought of being replaced by a one-time purchase robot, automation supports employees in many cases rather than outright replacing them. Walmart sees its distribution center in Brooksville, Florida, as a case study for merging automation and human capital. Robotic forklifts now do all of the heavy lifting (literally) so humans can focus on issues robots cannot solve without needing to perform backbreaking labor. Veteran Walmart employee Allen Hala in Brooksville appreciates the change, as he said, “We used to be exhausted leaving here. I actually go home and do a lot more now.” While Walmart cut 2,000 e-commerce warehouse positions, the company expects employment to remain steady or grow as the company increases sales. While automation is here to stay, experts are divided on the impact AI will have on the marketplace. Goldman Sachs predicts AI advancements could cause 300 million jobs (18% of the global workforce) to be partially or fully automated. Other experts suggest that while it is inevitable that AI will take over some of the workforce, it will also create new employment opportunities doing other tasks AI cannot easily replicate. According to the Motley Fool and AI wonks Noahpinion and roon, there is reason not to hang up your jacket quite yet. They posit that technological revolutions have happened in the past, and people still have jobs; AI replaces tasks, not jobs; and the AI revolution will boost human productivity to previously impossible levels. All the same, countries are taking swift action to protect their human workforce, as Italy has already banned ChatGPT, and others are examining their options against AI. Read more at Bloomberg.
The Best of the Best Workplaces
For those seeking a new career opportunity, Fortune has released its 2023 100 Best Companies to Work for list, and Cisco Systems, Hilton, and American Express hold the top three spots. What do these companies have going that make them the best workplaces, and what can other companies learn from them? According to Fortune’s methodology, after surveying employees worldwide about their workplace experiences for 30 years, they developed a set of themes and metrics that predict employee satisfaction, retention, agility, and overall business performance. Employees participating in the survey shared confidential quantitative and qualitative feedback about their organization’s culture to measure leadership, respect, pay, and more. The results are in: the highest-ranking companies create a suitable environment for all their employees and have a broad set who report positive workplace experience. These factors have to do with today’s ever-changing world and how caring for employees can significantly impact the workplace. In short, the happiest employees foster the greatest ROI for companies. It is a win-win as companies with happier employees receive far greater output and productivity. For these top companies, revenue per employee increased 7% year-over-year – a fantastic growth rate compared to last year’s winners. With the prevailing trend of record-low employee engagement, the willingness to give extra at the 100 Best Workplaces comes easily and not at the expense of the employees’ mental health. These companies prioritize well-being and care for their employees, helping them outperform a typical U.S. workplace. Great cultures fuel performance, and in an environment where your company values its people, its people will value the company right back. What is the key to making a successful business and thriving culture? Put good in; get good out. Read more at Fortune.
Infertility Does Not Discriminate
There is an urgent need to widen access to affordable, high-quality fertility care for adults worldwide. According to a new report from the World Health Organization, about one in six adults has experienced infertility throughout their lives. Infertility is a disease of the male or female reproductive system causing an inability to conceive, despite frequent and unprotected intercourse for at least a year. The causes of infertility are widespread and complex, but factors like age, excessive alcohol or drug use, and obesity can undermine both male and female ability to conceive. Higher-income countries experience infertility rates of almost 18%, and low- to medium-income countries see rates of about 17%, showing slight variations across economic levels. Solutions for preventing, diagnosing, and treating infertility remain underfunded and inaccessible due to high costs, social stigma, and limited availability. In most countries, fertility treatments are largely funded out of pocket – causing a burden to many households. A cycle of in vitro fertilization (IVF) – an assisted reproductive technology procedure – can cost between $10,000 and $25,000. The report provides evidence of the global effect of infertility but lacks data in many countries and regions. With better policies, public financing, and greater availability of national data, the hope is that there will be improved access to treatment for all who seek the option of fertility care. Read more at The Washington Post.
China May Be Overworking Its Economic Muscle
Amid escalating geopolitical tensions between the United States and China, Beijing continues to flex its soft economic power to gain the upper hand against the West. One tool in their kit involves slowing international antitrust merger applications between Chinese and American technology companies. China’s antitrust regulator, SAMR, must sign off on mergers between Chinese and foreign companies if the two entities have more than $117 million in revenue per year from China. Years ago, securing Beijing’s green light was time-consuming due to multiple Chinese agencies experiencing staffing and resource shortages. Today, it is intentionally painful. The process is centralized under SAMR and operates smoothly, enabling the Chinese government to utilize the unilateral agency to hurt the U.S. in the technology race by restricting companies’ access to purchasing Chinese operations. The Chinese government generated another tactic to push back against Western economic sanctions by streamlining their approval processes. Although SAMR rarely denies a merger application, they can bleed American companies by delaying and withholding approvals until any demands (often benefitting the Chinese company engaging in the deal) are met. While these tactics benefit Chinese companies and harm American companies in the short term, they have an unintended consequence: they encourage foreign companies to look beyond China for acquisitions. The Center for Strategic & International Studies released a report outlining how countries are avoiding Chinese economic coercion altogether. As the technology race for materials, such as chips and batteries, intensifies, companies across the world will need to decide for themselves whether they can afford to do business with the Chinese government. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.
- 34: The number of felony counts that former President Donald Trump has been charged with in a Manhattan court for falsifying business records in the first degree. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
- 1st: The ranking of Nashville, Tennessee, in The Wall Street Journal’s annual ranking of job markets. The Music City has a booming hospitality economy and is followed in rank by Austin, Texas, and Jacksonville, Florida.
- 1.6 million: The number of barrels of oil a day that will be cut out of production starting in May by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC+), which collectively supplies a large portion of the world’s crude oil.
- $3 million: The amount Tesla was ordered to pay to a worker by a California jury in a racial harassment suit. Owen Diaz, a former elevator operator at a Tesla plant, claimed he endured a racially hostile work environment during his time at the company.
- 25: The number of cars of a freight train that derailed in western Montana last week, causing some of the cars to plunge into a nearby river. Authorities said no one was injured in the incident, and hazardous material did not appear to be onboard.
- $37 million: The amount that was spent on the Wisconsin Supreme Court election, making it the most expensive judicial election in history. The winner of the high-stakes contest will determine majority control of the court heading into the 2024 presidential election.
- 69: The number of tornadoes that touched down in several states in the South and Midwest this last week. More than 45 million people from Texas to Wisconsin were at risk of more severe weather as another powerful storm threatened to bring more dangerous tornados to the region.
- 51%: The percentage the Endeavor Group, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) parent company, is slated to own the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), while WWE shareholders would get 49%. The Endeavor deal gives WWE an enterprise value of $9.3 billion, and UFC will have a value of more than $12 billion.
#Nasa names first woman and Black man on Moon mission. @Astro_Christina will become the first woman astronaut ever assigned to a lunar mission, while @AstroVicGlover will be the first Black astronaut on one. https://t.co/RF57QiuULM pic.twitter.com/CuK6DZN7R7
— Lean In (@LeanInOrg) April 4, 2023