Markets Focus on Fed Chair Jerome Powell's Testimony Before Congress

Posted on 02/23/2021 7:51 AM

Vilsack nomination gets Senate vote today

 


In Today’s Digital Newspaper


 

Market Focus:
• Fed Chairman Jerome Powell testifies before Congress
• Concerns rising over the potential for U.S. inflation
• ‘Profound’ disinflation to check price gains: Fed Reserve Bank of Richmond president
• Yellen: $1,400 Coronavirus payments needed to reach ‘pockets of misery’
• CBO to release new long-term budget projections on March 4

• ICE Brent crude oil futures for delivery in April up over 19% in February
• Key short-term bond spread hits lowest level in nearly a year
• Yellen warns bitcoin is inefficient, speculative
Winter wheat ratings slid across most states over the past month
• Cordonnier stays the course on South American crop projections
• Pod abortion and disease are causing problems for some Brazilian producers
• Egg prices rising in some areas of the EU as bird flu wipes out laying hens

 

Policy Focus:
• How much prior Covid aid funding has not been spent?
• Democrats want to get stimulus through House this week
• White House details plan to help small businesses through PPP program
• Yellen comments on Biden administration tax strategy

 

Biden Administration Personnel

• Vilsack to get Senate vote today  
* USDA Deputy Sec. Jewel Bronaugh’s nomination sent to Senate
• Senate vote coming on Granholm to lead Department of Energy
• USDA Deputy Sec. Jewel Bronaugh’s nomination sent to Senate
• Garland hasn’t discussed Hunter Biden case with president

 

China Update:
• China: U.S. must scrap tariffs and end restrictions on Chinese tech
• Brouillette blasts Biden on China agenda
• China preparing for another Olympics in Beijing, like it or not
• China halts imports of poultry from Algeria
• China to auction off more pork later this week

 

Trade Policy:
• U.S. maintains block of resumption of WTO Appellate Body

 

Energy & Climate Change:

• EPA shifts on 10th Circuit Court ruling on refinery exemptions
• EPA grants Texas fuel waiver post winter storm   
• Biden’s Interior nominee says fossil fuels will play major role
• Environmental groups amp up pressure on Congress
• China’s carbon neutral push gathers pace as coal-fired power plants drop below 50
• Senator calls for investigations into possible price gouging of natural gas in Midwest


Coronavirus Update:
• Biden mourns Covid victims as death toll passes 500,000
• China’s initiative for distributing coronavirus vaccines in developing world

 

Politics & Elections:
• Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shield tax records from N.Y. prosecutors


Other Items of Note:
• Top court will consider immigrant ‘wealth test’
• IRS extends April 15 deadline to June 15 for Texas
• Cherokee (Jeep) name change?
• Cocaine-coated corn flakes

 


MARKET FOCUS


 

Equities today: Global stock markets were mixed overnight, with Asian shares mostly up and European shares mostly down. U.S. stock indexes are pointed toward weaker openings. The Hang Seng Index was up 312.81 points, 1.03%, at 30,632.64. The Shanghai Composite was down 6.09 points, 0.17%, at 3,636.36. Japanese markets were closed for a holiday. European equities are under pressure in early action. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will testify before Congress at 10 a.m. ET, providing an overview of the economy and monetary policy. It’s the beginning of a two-day testimony on Capitol Hill.

 

     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow managed to finish higher despite closing well of its highs for the session. The Blue Chip Index was up 27.37 points, 0.09%, at 21,521.69. The Nasdaq dropped 341.41 points, 2.46%, at 13,533.05. The S&P 500 was down 30.21 points, 0.77%, at 3,876,50. Including Tuesday’s drop, the Nasdaq is down about 6% from its mid-February high. That’s 4 percentage points away from correction territory.

 

On tap today:

 

     • S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home-price index for December is expected to climb 9.9% from a year earlier. (9 a.m. ET)
     • Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell delivers the central bank’s semi-annual report on the economy and monetary policy during two days of testimony on Capitol Hill starting today. Livestream here. (10 a.m. ET)
     • Conference Board's consumer confidence index for February is expected to rise to 91 from 89.3 a month earlier. (10 a.m. ET)
     • Richmond Fed's February manufacturing survey is expected to increase to 16 from 14 a month earlier. (10 a.m. ET)
     • Bank of Canada Gov. Tiff Macklem speaks at 12:30 p.m. ET.
     • Farm Foundation holds online forum, "Ag trade: Outlook on global markets and negotiations," 10 a.m. ET. Panelists include Sharon Sydow, senior economist in USDA's office of the chief economist; Kanlaya Bar, senior economist of Deere and Co.; Gregg Doud, former chief U.S. agricultural negotiator; and Cassandra Kuball, vice president of Michael Torrey Associates.
     • Waterways Council holds annual Washington Meeting, through Wednesday.

 

Biden, Canada’s Trudeau hold talks today. President Joe Biden will hold a virtual meeting late this afternoon with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seeking to move forward after the Keystone XL pipeline decision that has rankled energy interests on both sides of the border. The two aim to establish a path for improved cooperation between the two countries. But some bilateral issues like softwood lumber are likely to be raised by Trudeau along with U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) issues surrounding Canada’s dairy policies. A senior administration official said the session is likely to result in a shared document outlining cross-government collaboration on a wide range of issues. "The most important thing here is a reinvigorated road map for cooperation between the United States and Canada, meaning that we're going to talk regularly to one of our closest allies to make sure that there's no kind of misunderstandings," the official said.

 

Powell testimony awaited. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell delivers his first of two days of monetary policy testimony to Congress, starting today in the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. Key will be the tone struck by Powell on the U.S. economic outlook, with a focus on his remarks relative to inflation and U.S.government bond yields.

 

     Concerns have been rising over the potential for inflation to become an issue ahead. But Powell and others on the Fed have downplayed inflation concerns, with the Fed’s stance being that they are willing to let inflation run above their 2% target “for some time” — something that has not been defined by the Fed.

 

     Most expect Powell to continue to hold a dovish tone in his testimony and in responses to questions from lawmakers. Both the post-meeting statement after the January Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting and comments by Fed officials since then have focused on risks to the economy from the pandemic. If Powell shifts his remarks to be less dovish, that would elevate market concerns.

 

     Traders will also monitor whether Powell stands by his pronouncement that the Fed is not discussing when to taper its bond purchases and that when that time comes, the Fed will provide ample notice so as to avoid a “taper tantrum.”

 

Barkin: ‘Profound’ disinflation to check price gains. A “disinflationary” mindset has taken hold among U.S. businesses and consumers that will be hard to dislodge despite stronger economic growth this year, said Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Thomas Barkin. Cold weather and continuing high levels of Covid-19 infections are likely to make the first quarter’s economic performance “bumpy,” Barkin said, with an improvement by the second quarter. In the second half, he saw companies likely to be calling service and restaurant workers back who have been furloughed.

 

Yellen: $1,400 Coronavirus payments needed to reach “pockets of misery.”  At the New York Times’ Dealbook conference Monday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen defended President Biden’s call for distributing $1,400 in direct payments in his coronavirus relief package. Yellen said, “That really helps to make sure that pockets of misery that we know exist out there that aren’t touched by more targeted things, that help is provided there as well. I believe we’re going to be better off for it, and that it’s the right thing to do.”

 

CBO to release new long-term budget projections on March 4. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will release The 2021 Long-Term Budget Outlook on Thursday, March 4, at 2:00 p.m. ET. The report will provide projections of federal spending, revenues, deficits, and debt for the next 30 years.

 

Market perspectives:

 

     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is firmer. The yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury note is presently fetching 1.37%. Gold and silver futures are mixed despite a firmer tone in the U.S. dollar index. Gold is trading around $1,810 per troy ounce and silver around $28.05 per troy ounce.


     • Front-month ICE Brent crude oil futures for delivery in April have risen over 19% in the month of February.

 

     • Crude oil futures are still solidly higher but have come off their highs seen earlier in Asian trade. U.S. crude is around $62.15 per barrel and Brent around $64.75 per barrel. Crude oil prices moved higher in Asian trade, with U.S. crude up 76 cents at $62.46 per barrel while Brent crude was up 91 cents at $65.27 per barrel.

 

     • A key short-term bond spread hits lowest level in nearly a year. The spread between the two-year Treasury yield and a key interest rate set by the Federal Reserve is the narrowest since the depths of the coronavirus market selloff, a potential sign of financial-system stress. The shrinking reflects investors' appetite for short-term debt, as they gobble up safe assets and park their cash, the Wall Street Journal notes (link).

 

        Spread

 

     • Yellen warns bitcoin is inefficient, speculative.  CNBC reports that in an interview with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin at the New York Times’ DealBook conference, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said, “I don’t think that bitcoin…is widely used as a transaction mechanism. To the extent it is used I fear it’s often for illicit finance. It’s an extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions, and the amount of energy that’s consumed in processing those transactions is staggering.” Yellen added the cryptocurrency is a “highly speculative asset and you know I think people should be aware it can be extremely volatile, and I do worry about potential losses that investors can suffer.” The price of Bitcoin is getting hammered early this week and has dropped close to 15% from the record high seen over the weekend. Tesla fell over 7% ahead of the market open, after declining almost 9% on Monday. The move came as the price of bitcoin slid 14% to $47,407.29, according to CoinDesk. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk over the weekend said that prices for bitcoin and ethereum seemed high. The electric-vehicle maker earlier this month disclosed that it had bought $1.5 billion in bitcoin.

 

Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include (Link to subscribe to FTT):

     • Winter wheat ratings slid across most states over past month (Texas report showed 22% of its wheat crop was headed; that would represent about 15 million bushels impacted by last week's freeze)
     • Cordonnier stays the course on South American crop projections
     • Pod abortion and disease are causing problems for some Brazilian producers
     • Egg prices rising in some areas of the EU as bird flu wipes out laying hens

 


POLICY FOCUS


 

—  How much prior Covid aid funding has not been spent? According to the Covid Money Tracker (link) maintained by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), a nonpartisan budgetary watchdog group, Congress has appropriated about $4.1 trillion in the coronavirus relief packages that have been passed so far. Of that, the group estimates that about $1.1 trillion — a quarter — has yet to be used. More than half of the unused funds come from the $900 billion package that was passed by Congress Dec. 21.

 

     Much of the unused $1.1 trillion from previous packages has already been allocated or scheduled to be spent, it will just take time for the funds to be distributed and for all disbursements to be reflected in the data. The biggest chunk of the unspent funds is from loan programs, such as second-draw Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that are still in the process of being issued.

 

     Covid Tracker

 

— Democrats want to get stimulus through House this week. House Democrats are entering the final stages of passing President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package without Republican support. The House could pass the aid as soon as Friday, sending it to the Senate Democrats who want to clear the measure before federal benefits expire in mid-March. The House Budget Committee approved the relief package by a vote of 19-to-16 Monday. The bill heads next to the House Rules Committee before the full House votes on the package later this week. If the package passes the House, as expected, it will then go to the Senate where it could meet resistance from both Republicans and Democrats. Besides concerns about the bill’s size, $15 federal minimum wage, and state and local aid, Republicans object to the reconciliation process that largely excludes them from the decision-making process. Senate Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona also say they oppose the minimum wage increase. Federal unemployment benefits expire on March 14, and millions of Americans are counting on the $1,400 direct payments.
 

— White House details plan to help small businesses through PPP program.  As alerted, the White House on Monday released an information sheet (link) detailing its efforts to help small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, noting that the Biden-Harris Administration “has made delivering equitable relief to hard-hit small businesses a top priority.” The latest round of (PPP) funding “opened just one month ago and it represents a marked improvement on the prior round of the Program last year.” Compared to “the same point in the Program last year,” the “share of funding going to small businesses with fewer than ten employees is up nearly 60%”; the “share of funding going to small businesses in rural areas is up nearly 30%”; and the “share of funding distributed through Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions is up more than 40 percent.”

 

     The White House also says the administration is “announcing several reforms to build on this success by further targeting the PPP to the smallest businesses and those that have been left behind in previous relief efforts. While these efforts are no substitute for passage of the American Rescue Plan, they will extend much-needed resources to help small businesses survive, reopen, and rebuild.” The new changes include a “14-day period, starting Wednesday, during which only businesses with fewer than 20 employees can apply for relief through the Program.” In addition, the Administration will help “sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals receive more financial support.” Many of these businesses “are structurally excluded from the PPP or were approved for as little as $1 because of how PPP loans are calculated. To address this problem, the Biden-Harris administration will revise the loan calculation formula for these applicants so that it offers more relief and establish a $1 billion set aside for businesses in this category without employees located in low- and moderate-income (LMI) areas.”

 

     The administration is also calling for eliminating “an exclusionary restriction that prevents small business owners with prior non-fraud felony convictions from obtaining relief through the Paycheck Protection Program,” and to eliminate “an exclusionary restriction that prevents small business owners who are delinquent on their federal student loans from obtaining relief through the Paycheck Protection Program.” The changes will also “ensure access for non-citizen small business owners who are lawful U.S. residents by clarifying that they may use Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) to apply for relief.”

 

— Yellen comments on Biden administration tax strategy. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said President Joe Biden favors boosting taxes on companies, and signaled openness to considering raising rates on capital gains, while steering clear of a wealth levy. “A wealth tax has been discussed but is not something President Biden” favors, Yellen said at a virtual conference yesterday hosted by the New York Times. She said such a tax would have significant implementation problems.

 

     The administration is looking to boost the corporate tax to 28%, Yellen said. The Treasury chief said last week that revenue measures would be needed to help pay for Biden’s planned longer-term economic reconstruction program to help address concerns about debt sustainability.

 

     Yellen also said that a hike in the capital-gains tax might be something “worth considering.” Asked about a financial-transactions tax, she said, “One would have to examine closely what effect it would have” on ordinary investors.

 


BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL


 

—  Vilsack to get Senate vote today. The Senate will consider the nomination of Tom Vilsack to be USDA secretary in the Biden administration, reprising a role he held for eight years during the Obama administration. The vote is scheduled to take place early afternoon and he is expected to win confirmation easily to the post. Some have raised concerns about his record on racial issues while previously at the helm of USDA, but those issues are not expected to sink his nomination.

 

     Meanwhile, the White House on Monday sent Jewel Bronaugh’s nomination as deputy Ag secretary to the Senate.

 

— Senate vote coming on Granholm to lead Department of Energy. The Senate will consider the nomination of former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to lead the Department of Energy (DOE), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday. While not specifying a date, Schumer said the chamber would vote this week on Granholm’s nomination after voting on Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be the U.S. Ambassador to the UN and Tom Vilsack to lead USDA. Granholm was approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a vote of 13-4 and is expected to win Senate confirmation. There has been no word yet on when Michael Regan, Biden’s nominee to lead EPA, will come up for consideration in the Senate.

 

— Culver leads BLM. The Biden administration appointed Nada Wolff Culver, senior policy counsel for the National Audubon Society, as appointed director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which oversees 10% of land in the United States.

 

— Garland hasn’t discussed Hunter Biden case with president. At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland said he had not discussed the Justice Department’s investigation into Hunter Biden’s finances with President Biden. Garland said, “I have not. The president made abundantly clear in every public statement... that decisions about investigation and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department. ...That was the reason that I was willing to take on this job. So the answer to your question is no.”

 

     On another topic, Garland said domestic terror is a greater threat than it has been for decades after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. “We are facing a more dangerous period than we faced in Oklahoma City,” said Garland, who led the prosecution of the worst domestic terrorism attack in the U.S., the truck bombing of the federal building there in 1995.
 


CHINA UPDATE


 

— China: U.S. must scrap tariffs and end restrictions on Chinese tech. Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged the United States to scrap tariffs on Chinese imports and remove restrictions on the tech sector, laying out conditions for restoring damaged China/U.S. relations. Wang told a forum in Beijing on Monday that relations were at a critical point and the U.S. must review its policy if ties were to be repaired after the damage of the former Donald Trump administration. “We hope the U.S. will adjust its policies as soon as possible, removing the unreasonable tariffs imposed on Chinese products, and unilateral sanctions on Chinese companies and science research institutes, and the unreasonable suppression of Chinese tech,” Wang said. He added that China was willing to work with the US on Covid-19 pandemic control, climate change and a global economic recovery. “With the emergence and unfolding of global challenges, the areas where China and the United States need to cooperate are not fewer, but more. The space for cooperation is not narrower, but wider. Both sides are more capable than ever of major accomplishments to benefit both countries and the world,” he said.

 

     U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last week said that Washington would keep the tariffs in place for now but would evaluate how to proceed after a thorough review. “We’re in the process of evaluating what our approach should be toward China, but there are a range of issues where we see unfair practices,” Yellen told CNBC, citing concerns about China’s behavior on trade, forced technology transfers, and subsidies to hi-tech industries.

 

— Brouillette blasts Biden on China agenda. Former Trump Energy secretary Dan Brouillette says Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry is “misguided” to think he can set aside the biggest confrontations with China to cooperate on combating climate change. “China is going to play them,” Brouillette said in an interview last week. Brouillette doesn’t trust China’s pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. To get on that path, critics say, China should be aiming to reduce emissions this decade, not just stop growing them, by reducing its consumption of coal. “They will agree to some 2060 target and have no intention of meeting any of it,” Brouillette told the Washington Examiner. “If they can get relief on the trade side and make some cockamamie commitment for 2060, they will do it. The Chinese are pretty sophisticated players and see through these comments [from Kerry]."

 

— China is preparing for another Olympics in Beijing, like it or not. With the Winter Games less than a year away, a powerful and confident China is promising retaliation if any country boycotts the event over human rights. Link to details via the NYT.

 

— China halts imports of poultry from Algeria. China has suspended imports of poultry from Algeria due to its outbreak of H5N8 bird flu. Beijing has also banned poultry imports from France and Ireland due to bird flu.

 

— China to auction off more pork later this week. China announced it would auction 20,000 MT of frozen pork from its state reserves on Feb. 26. The post Lunar New Year sale eases fears about a drop off in Chinese demand after the holiday. Since the start of 2021, China has auctioned off 190,000 MT of pork (including the coming sale), according to Reuters.

 

U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods. Link

 


TRADE POLICY


 

—  U.S. maintains block of resumption of WTO Appellate Body. The U.S. this week held with its blocking of a plan to restart the WTO Appellate Body via a proposal from Mexico that has the backing of 140 countries. In the Geneva meeting, the U.S. said the objections raised by the Trump administration that had prevented the naming of new Appellate Body members were valid, but the Biden administration is open to a dialogue to address those issues. This runs counter to expectations that the Biden administration would seek to set aside the objections raised by the Trump administration on the dispute settlement process, some of which were heightened after the Biden administration ended the U.S. blockade on naming a new leader of the trade body.

 


ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE


 

— EPA shifts on 10th Circuit Court ruling on refinery exemptions. EPA issued a statement Monday that they are now backing the Tenth Circuit Court decision that invalidated three small refinery exemptions (SREs). “EPA supports that court’s interpretation of the renewable fuel standard (RFS) small-refinery provisions,” the agency said in a release. “This conclusion, prompted by a detailed review following the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in the case, represents a change from EPA’s position before the Tenth Circuit. The change reflects the Agency’s considered assessment that the Tenth Circuit’s reasoning better reflects the statutory text and structure, as well as Congress’s intent in establishing the RFS program.”

 

     The Tenth Circuit in January 2020 vacated and remanded three EPA decisions to grant SREs for the 2016 and 2017 compliance years, holding that a “small refinery’s position can be granted only if the refinery satisfies two conditions,” EPA noted, those being that the refinery had to demonstrate an existing exemption and they have to demonstrate disproportionate economic hardship caused by RFS compliance.

 

     Biofuel backers hailed the EPA shift, with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) saying in a statement, “It’s been a long time coming, but I’m glad the EPA has finally come around to acknowledging that waivers it had been granting to Big Oil conflicted with the laws passed by Congress, as well as its own mission to promote a cleaner environment.” 

 

     EPA also indicated they would not make any decisions on pending SREs — 30 for the 2019 compliance year and 16 for the 2020 compliance year and 20 so-called “gap-year” requests for the 2011 through 2018 compliance years — until after the Supreme Court completes its review of the Tenth Circuit Court decision. Expectations are that there will be few SREs granted moving forward unless the Supreme Court strikes down the Tenth Circuit Court decision.

 

— EPA grants Texas fuel waiver post winter storm. Texas has been granted an emergency fuel waiver that it requested following the winter storm in the state that has curtailed refining activity in the state. EPA acting Administrator Jane Nishida issued the emergency fuel waiver after determining that an “extreme and unusual fuel supply circumstances exist in Texas as a result of severe winter weather conditions.” EPA issued a temporary emergency fuel waiver of the Texas Low Emission Diesel (TxLED) and El Paso oxygenate requirements that apply in Texas through March 5, 2021. The action was taken in consultation with Department of Energy (DOE) acting Secretary David Huizenga to address fuel shortages. The agencies “determined that granting a short-term waiver was consistent with the public interest.” Further, the agencies are monitoring the fuel situation and said they “will act expeditiously if extreme and unusual supply circumstances exist in other areas.”

 

— Biden’s Interior nominee says fossil fuels will play major role. President Biden’s Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland, under fire from GOP critics for her opposition to fracking and other positions criticized by the oil industry, says in written testimony that she recognizes the importance of fossil fuels in the U.S. energy mix. “There’s no question that fossil energy does and will continue to play a major role in America for years to come,” Haaland says in testimony released ahead of her Senate nomination hearing Tuesday. Haaland says she recognizes that oil and gas revenues fund important services “but we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed.”

 

— Environmental groups amp up pressure on Congress. A coalition of 51 environmental and public health groups are calling on congressional leaders to include 10-year extensions of wind and solar tax credits, consumer incentives for zero-emission vehicles, and new tax credits for electric transmission and clean energy manufacturing, along with many other clean energy investments, in any economic recovery package.

 

     Achieving Biden’s target of carbon-free power by 2035 “will require a combination of tax incentives, direct spending programs, and other energy and pollution standards to deliver swift and lasting change,” the groups wrote in a letter today to Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The groups, which include the Environmental Defense Fund, Center for American Progress, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club, said Congress must act to put the U.S. on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 90% by 2050.

 

— China’s carbon neutral push gathers pace as coal-fired power plants drop below 50% for first time. China’s coal-fired power plants fell to less than 50% of its total power generation mix for the first time last year, while separately, power generated from non-fossil fuels rose to make up more than a third of the country’s power output, according to a new report.

 

     Meanwhile, Sinopec plans to boost its hydrogen refueling network as the state-owned oil giant tries to carve out a role in China’s transition to cleaner energy.

 

— Democratic Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota is calling for federal investigations into possible price gouging of natural gas in the Midwest, which also suffered extreme cold and outages last week. Smith said natural gas spot prices spiked as high as 100 times normal levels, forcing high costs upon utilities and other natural gas users, many of which were passed on to customers. In a letter sent Saturday to federal regulators, obtained by the Associated Press, Smith said the price spikes harm consumers and also “threaten the financial stability of some utilities that do not have sufficient cash reserves to cover their short-term costs in this extraordinary event.”

 


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE


 

 Summary: Global cases of Covi-19 are at 111,790,695 with 2,746,128 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.. case count is at 28,190,622 with 500,313 deaths. The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center said that there have been 64,177,474 doses administered, 19,438,495 have been fully vaccinated, or 5.94% of the U.S. population.
 

       Covid world

 

       Link to Covid Case Tracker
       Link to Our World in Data

 

— Biden mourns Covid victims as death toll passes 500,000. President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris marked the loss of life from Covid-19 with a candlelit memorial and a moment of silence, as the U.S. death toll passed 500,000. The president called on Americans to remain vigilant.

 

— China is assembling what amounts to a miniature version of its Belt and Road Initiative for distributing coronavirus vaccines in the developing world. The effort includes a new airport cargo terminal in Ethiopia and a vast supply network that is forming across East Africa and other parts of the world, the Wall Street Journal reports (link), all of it aimed at speeding delivery of China’s new Covid-19 vaccines and advancing the country’s influence.

 


POLITICS & ELECTIONS


 

— Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shield tax records from N.Y. prosecutors. The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a last-ditch bid by former President Donald Trump to keep his financial records, including years of his tax returns, out of the hands of the Manhattan district attorney, Cy Vance Jr. The decision was announced in an order with no noted dissents.
 


OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE     


 

— Top court will consider immigrant ‘wealth test.’ The Supreme Court said it will hear a suit testing a Trump administration rule designed to screen out U.S. green card applicants seen as being at risk of becoming dependent on government benefits. The justices agreed to hear the case even though the Biden administration has indicated it will nix that rule. That move could prompt the court to cancel the showdown.

 

— The IRS extended its April 15 deadline to June 15 for Texas, citing damage caused by recent storms and power outages.

 

— Cherokee name change? The principal chief of the Cherokee Nation wants Jeep to stop using the tribe’s name on its SUVs, and even held a video call with representatives from Stellantis, the parent company of the Jeep brand since a merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot. He was left with the impression that the representatives were of good faith and wanted to understand the concerns, but no commitments were made regarding the Jeep Cherokee name. Response from Jeep: "Our vehicle names have been carefully chosen and nurtured over the years to honor and celebrate Native American people for their nobility, prowess, and pride. We are, more than ever, committed to a respectful and open dialogue with Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr." Jeep first used the Cherokee name in a 1974 two-door wagon, with one trim called Cherokee Chief. It has since built vehicles called Cherokee continuously, although from 2002 through 2013 the cars were known as the Liberty in North America. The Grand Cherokee is Jeep's best-selling vehicle, and the Cherokee is its third-biggest selling model (the two made up more than 40% of Jeep's total annual sales in 2020).

 

— Cocaine-coated corn flakes. A narcotics detector dog in Cincinnati sniffed out a shipment from Peru and headed for Hong Kong that contained 44 pounds of cocaine-coated corn flakes with a street value of $2.8 million.

 


 

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