Vilsack, Stabenow speak on food and ag policy issues ahead | China hiding food scarcity?
In Today’s Updates
• Game on…GameStop Corp. shares continue to surge
• Huge day for earnings: Apple, Facebook and Tesla to release latest figures
• Traders await Fed’s first meeting of 2021… what to expect
• Details on IMF’s economic updates
• Demand rally returned for some ag commodities Tuesday
• Renewed demand for Treasurys tempers fears of rising rates
• Container shipping lines rejected U.S. ag exports during Oct. & Nov.
• U.S. seizing Iranian oil that ship operator said it unwittingly loaded
• Port of Los Angeles offering financial incentives to eliminate bottlenecks
• Ag demand update
• Brazilian rains welcome, but also slowing harvest
• Big drop in ANEC’s soybean export forecast for January
• Adverse weather prompts several Ukrainian ports on Black Sea to restrict operations
• Steady to higher cash cattle action
• Demand optimism lifts lean hogs
• Deese suggests White House might agree to restrict eligibility for additional $1,400
• Federal court temporarily blocks Biden’s 100-day deportation ‘pause’
• Dems plan to take initial steps next week for developing filibuster-proof aid package
• On Stabenow’s agenda: Vilsack, climate change, food and nutrition
Biden Administration Personnel
• Transportation nominee update
• Mayorkas confirmation advances
• Is China hiding a food scarcity issue?
• ADM confirms sale of U.S. ethanol to China
• ADM hoping to restart some ethanol capacity curtailed in 2020 in first half of 2021
• USDA attaché in China still notes uncertainty on over-quota tariffs on corn imports
• China has been a big buyer of Australian wheat
• Beijing to enhance checks for imported goods
• Biden’s Commerce sec. nominee backs use of tariffs & export limits on Chinese firms
Energy & Climate Change:
• Biden to begin targeting oil industry in climate change executive order today
• EU approves $3.5 bil. plan to support production of batteries for electric vehicles
• Sinclair confirms receipt of RFS waivers in court filing
• Shifts in U.S. energy industry on methane issues
• Federal Reserve recruits Kevin Stiroh of N.Y. Fed to lead climate change work
Food & Beverage Industry Update:
• PepsiCo partners with Beyond Meat to create plant-based drinks and snacks
• Walgreens poaches Starbucks' No. 2 to be new CEO
• How U.S. food system could change under Biden administration
• Scientists settling on new road map to help critical sectors of economy
• Americans continue to open businesses as they adapt to Covid-19
• Biden acts to expand Covid-19 vaccine distribution
• Biden bans linking Covid-19 to China in bid to deal with racist backlash in U.S.
• Woman sentenced to prison for concealing Covid-19 symptoms on flight from U.S. to China
Politics & Elections:
• All but 5 GOP senators rejected constitutionality of the Trump impeachment
Other Items of Note:
• Biden and Putin talk
• Indian farmers say they will not stop protesting against agricultural reforms
• Goldman Sachs docks its chief’s pay big time
Equities today: Dow futures are down nearly 300 points. Futures contracts tied to the major U.S. equity indexes fell early as investors shrugged off solid earnings from Microsoft and other major companies — Microsoft’s second-quarter revenue hit $43.1 billion, a 17% year-on-year increase, far exceeding analysts’ expectations. Dow futures lost 243 points, or 1.0% and S&P 500 futures dropped 1.1%. The tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 futures dipped 0.5%. This came ahead of reports from Tesla, Apple and Facebook, due after the close. Overnight, the MSCI Asia Pacific Index slipped 0.3% while Japan's Topix index closed 0.7% higher.
U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow ended down 22.96 points, 0.07%, at 30,937.04, as a late slump took the Blue Chip index into negative territory. The Nasdaq eased 9.93 points, 0.07%, at 13,626.06. The S&P 500 was down 5.74 points, 0.15%, at 3,849.62.
On tap today:
• IMF’s Tobias Adrian and Fabio Natalucci talk to WSJ’s Grep Ip on the latest update of the Global Financial Stability Report at 8:30 a.m. ET.
• U.S. durable goods orders for December are expected to increase 0.8% from the prior month. (8:30 a.m. ET)
• Federal Reserve releases a policy statement at 2 p.m. ET and Chairman Jerome Powell holds a press conference at 2:30 p.m. ET. Officials are likely to keep policy on hold. See next item for some expectations.
• World Economic Forum virtual summit continues. Speakers include South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
FOMC meeting conclusion likely to feature assurances on policy stance. Fed policymakers are likely to acknowledge recent disappointing economic data and indicate the U.S. central bank will keep its spate of policies intact as it seeks to provide a firm footing for the U.S. economy. The Fed is likely to note that they believe the recent downbeat data is only temporary and that they will continue to use all their tools to support the economy. They are likely to welcome the fiscal stimulus plan approved in December and urge for still more fiscal support for the U.S. economy. And the Fed should reiterate the path the pandemic takes will be key for the direction of the U.S. economy and by extension, the Fed’s policy response.
Many look for Fed Chairman Jerome Powell to use his post-meeting presser to reassure investors that the Fed is not about the scale back its efforts or to raise rates any time soon. Powell earlier this month sought to downplay concerns the Fed might signal a reduction is coming to their massive bond-buying effort and that message will not change at the conclusion of the FOMC meeting 2 pm ET. Powell made clear the markets will not be surprised when such an event happens.
Background: The Fed is currently buying $80 billion of Treasury bonds and $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities each month to keep longer-term borrowing rates low. It has said it won't curb those purchases until "substantial further progress" has been made in achieving low unemployment and an inflation target of 2% a year. And with the shift to inflation target averaging, the central bank may let inflation run over 2% for a period of time.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) now expects the global economy to grow by 5.5% in 2021, up from its previous projection of 5.2%, based on an optimistic outlook that Covid-19 vaccines and fiscal stimulus measures will counteract a resurging pandemic, according to updated forecasts the organization released on Jan. 26.
All of the increase from the IMF’s previous projection for global growth is due to an upward revision of U.S. growth by two percentage points, even without additional stimulus proposed by U.S. President Joe Biden.
According to the IMF, Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package could add another 1.25% to U.S. growth this year, which would then reach 6.35%. The IMF’s projections, however, do not account for recent delays in vaccine distribution or a significant resurgence of the virus, and are thus more optimistic than the forecasts recently released by the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (which foresee only 4% and 4.2% global growth, respectively).
In its updated forecast, the IMF revised down its growth projections for China (-0.1% to 8.1%) and Europe (-1% to 4.2%), with per capita income declines in 2021 expected to remain below 2019 levels in more than 150 countries. The IMF also revised up its estimate of global GDP losses in 2020 to -3.5%.
By 2022, the U.S. and Chinese economies are expected to be no less than 1.5% below their pre-pandemic levels, while other advanced economies are seen still 2.5% under the levels seen before the pandemic.
• Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is higher. Nymex crude oil futures prices are near steady and trading around $52.65 a barrel. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note stands at 1.04%.
• Crude futures are nearly unchanged ahead of U.S. government inventory figures. U.S. crude is trading around $52.60 per barrel and Brent around $55.75. Futures moved higher in Asian action on American Petroleum Institute data showing a surprising inventory decline, with U.S. crude up 22 cents at $52.83 per barrel while Brent crude was up 22 cents at $55.58 per barrel.
• Demand rally returned for some ag commodities Tuesday. Corn for March delivery rose 4.1% to $5.32 1/4 a bushel as China bought more than 1.3 million metric tons of U.S. corn and ADM confirmed a big sale of U.S. ethanol to China. Wheat for March delivery rose 2.6% to $6.65 1/4 a bushel. Soybeans for March delivery rose 2% to $13.70 1/4 a bushel.
• Renewed demand for Treasurys tempers fears of rising rates. A sharp climb in U.S. government bond yields has stalled, easing investors’ concerns that rising rates could undercut recent gains in riskier assets. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note has hovered just above 1% for the past nine sessions after jumping from around 0.9% to almost 1.2% in just six days of trading.
• Transportation updates:
— The U.S. is seizing Iranian oil that a ship operator said it unwittingly loaded on one of its very large crude carriers. (Lloyd’s List)
— Container shipping lines rejected U.S. agricultural exports worth hundreds of millions of dollars during October and November to speed empty containers back to China. (CNBC)
— The Port of Los Angeles is offering financial incentives to container terminal operators to eliminate bottlenecks in their operations. (The Loadstar)
— Canadian exports of crude oil by rail jumped 87% from October to November amid limited pipeline capacity. (Globe and Mail)
• Ag demand: Jordan tendered to buy 120,000 MT of animal feed barley from optional origins in a tender. Iraq’s state grains buyer issued an international tender to buy at least 30,000 MT of rice. Algeria tendered to buy around 40,000 MT of corn to be sourced from optional origins.
Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include (Link to subscribe to FTT):
• Brazilian rains welcome, but also slowing harvest
• Big drop in ANEC’s soybean export forecast for January
• Adverse weather prompts several Ukrainian ports on Black Sea to restrict operations
• Steady to higher cash cattle action
• Demand optimism lifts lean hogs
— Deese suggests White House might agree to restrict eligibility for additional $1,400. CNBC reports that in an interview for CNBC’s Squawk Box from the White House Tuesday morning, NEC Director Brian Deese indicated that the Biden Administration “could be open to adjusting eligibility levels for the next round of coronavirus stimulus checks to ensure the relief flows to families who need the emergency funds the most.” In addition, Deese said he welcomed Republican feedback in recent days and “the party’s focus on targeting President Joe Biden’s relief plan to those in dire financial straits.” When it comes to the checks, Deese said “we put forward a proposal that... passed the House with 275 votes — 44 Republicans voted for it. ... Certainly, if there are ways to make that provision, and other provisions, more effective, that’s something that we’re open to, that we’ll have conversations about.” On Monday, President Biden also “said he would consider curbing eligibility for the checks if it could help secure Republican support.”
— Federal court temporarily blocks President Biden’s 100-day deportation ‘pause’. U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump appointee, granted a request by the state of Texas to put a temporary restraining order on President Biden's 100-day deportation “pause,” dealing a blow to one of the Biden administration’s most significant immigration orders. As one of his first executive actions, Biden ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to halt most deportations from the interior of the United States for 100 days. The "pause" was intended to allow ICE to overhaul its enforcement priorities. The order will be in effect for 14 days while the judge considers a broader motion by the state for a preliminary injunction.
— Democratic leaders plan to take the initial steps next week for developing a filibuster-proof coronavirus relief package. The Senate will bring a fiscal 2021 budget resolution to the floor early next week. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-M.) late Tuesday adjusted his chamber's schedule, notifying lawmakers that the House's session next week would potentially stretch into the weekend. That change would allow the House to adopt the budget resolution when it comes over from the Senate, potentially late next week. There wouldn't be any floor votes the following two weeks, during which House committees would be marking up the reconciliation package itself, based on instructions in the budget resolution. The House would then be in session for three weeks straight starting the week of Feb. 22. Leaders in both chambers are aiming to send the coronavirus aid bill to President Joe Biden's desk by March 14, when enhanced unemployment benefits run out.
Background. The budget blueprint, which will contain instructions to authorizing committees to draft pieces of the Covid-19 aid bill within their jurisdictions, can go directly to the Senate floor without a committee markup under a provision of the 1974 law that created the modern budget process. House Democrats could insert a provision in the rule for floor debate "deeming" the likely identical Senate version as having been adopted by the House as soon as it comes over from the Senate. Once a budget resolution is adopted, House and Senate committees can send the Budget panels their reconciliation recommendations to bundle into a combined package. That measure has a 20-hour Senate time limit, but also has a vote-a-rama process.
— On Stabenow’s agenda: Vilsack, climate change, food and nutrition. Incoming Senate Ag Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said Tuesday she hopes that a Senate organizing resolution will be completed within the next days so that she can take over the committee, arrange for a confirmation hearing for Tom Vilsack, President Biden’s nominee as USDA secretary, and move on to climate legislation and reauthorization of child nutrition programs.
In virtual comments to the International Dairy Foods Association Dairy Forum, Stabenow, said she was committed to maintaining a bipartisan approach on the committee and expects to have the same good relationship with Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), who is expected to become the Republican ranking member on the committee, as she had with retired and former Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.). “We really run it as co-chairs,” she said.
Stabenow during her remarks said:
• Vilsack is “our good friend. Certainly, he is no stranger; he is experienced, has a strong vision for getting ag back on track.”
• Looking forward to the confirmation hearing for Jewel Bronaugh, Biden’s nominee for USDA deputy secretary. Stabenow said Vilsack and Bronaugh “will lead a great team.”
• Expects 28 nominees to come before the Ag panel for confirmation hearings, including candidates for other USDA positions, the Commodity Credit Corporation, the Farm Credit Administration and the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation (Farmer Mac).
• Pleased about the $1 billion for the dairy industry in the latest Covid-19 relief package, including direct payments to producers, a dairy donation program and worker protections for farmers and processors and increasing nutrition program benefits, which she said would allow low-income people to buy more milk.
• Hopes the next Covid aid measure can address breakdowns that occurred in supply chains. The Farmers to Families Food Box program, she said, was “successful in some areas, not in others,” adding that she and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) wrote legislation to address those problems, and there were several gaps including providing support to state departments of agriculture to do direct purchasing.
• Believes carbon is “a new commodity” that farmers have and wants to tackle the issues of climate credits. “We have a real opportunity in agriculture and forestry. I start with the idea that whatever we do will be voluntary, producer-led and bipartisan,” she said. Stabenow and Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) previously introduced legislation to help farmers scale up sustainable practices and that the dairy industry is a strong supporter of it.
• Wants immigration reform to move forward and is pleased that President Biden wants to lead the effort so that the dairy industry will have a legal workforce.
• Wants to pass a bill to reauthorize the child nutrition programs. Those programs —including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and school meals — are operating through appropriations bills, but they have not been reauthorized since the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. The Senate Agriculture Committee passed a reauthorization bill, but Republicans and Democrats were split on the reauthorization. In the House, the programs are under the jurisdiction of the House Education and Labor Committee.
• Says the urban-rural divide is “a really important question that I work on all the time.”
• Believes farm policy must “continue a strategy of supporting all kinds of agriculture,” noting that she supports small farms and urban operations as well as more conventional agriculture.
BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL
— Transportation nominee update. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will vote today on whether to advance Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s nominee to run the Transportation Department. Both Democrats and Republicans spoke positively about the former South Bend mayor at a hearing last week.
— Mayorkas confirmation advances. Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s choice to lead the Homeland Security Department, was backed by a vote of 7-4 in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. But timing for full Senate consideration is still in flux, though Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is seeking a bipartisan agreement to allow a vote this week after Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) blocked quick confirmation last week.
— Is China hiding a food scarcity issue? An ag industry analyst emails: “Talk among some traders and brokers is that China is experiencing a serious food shortage. China has been making bigger purchases of U.S. grains lately, as part of a previous trade agreement between the two largest economies in the world. Also, there are some reports that Covid-19 is making a resurgence in some locations in China. All of the above could impact China’s economic growth prospects. Of course, the China government’s secretive nature makes anything of this nature hard to confirm, but it bears keeping a closer eye upon.”
— ADM confirms sale of U.S. ethanol to China. China has purchased “roughly 200 million gallons” of US ethanol, according to comments from ADM Chief Financial Officer Ray Young, with delivery to take place in the first half of 2021. This would be some of the first sales of US ethanol to China, a development many have been waiting on and expecting to take place given the positive impact it would have on China’s purchase commitments under the Phase One agreement with the United States. Further, the U.S. ethanol industry has struggled during the pandemic as Americans have dramatically reduced their driving and thus their consumption of gasoline and ethanol.
ADM said it's hoping to restart some ethanol capacity curtailed in 2020 in the first half of 2021. "We're going to remain very disciplined in terms of when we actually restart the dry mills because we'll want to see sustainable margins before we restart," ADM Chief Financial Officer Ray Young said on the company's earnings call Tuesday. "And hopefully, sometime in the first half, we're going to see that." Chinese interest in U.S. ethanol exports may become a strong driver for the industry's recovery this year, Young added.
— USDA attaché in China still notes uncertainty on over-quota tariffs on corn imports. The USDA ag attaché in China has kept its import forecast for corn at 22 million tonnes for 2020-21, indicating that the country will likely use imports of sorghum, barley and other grains in feed rations. But the report also addressed the issue of China’s corn imports, which the attaché pegs at 4.5 million tonnes more than the official USDA level. The calendar year 2020 corn imports by China surpassed the 7.2 million tonne tariff-rate quota (TRQ), the report noted, “with no slowdown in sight.” But the issue of the 65% tariff that is applied to imports above the TRQ remains a question, as the report said, “It remains unclear if the 65% out of quota duty was applied to imported corn or if additional TRQs were quietly issued as official government agencies remain silent on the matter. There is also rampant industry speculation of a ‘special TRQ’ that will be used for China to import U.S. corn to meet its purchase commitments under the U.S./China Phase 1 Economic and Trade Agreement.”
It is interesting that even USDA’s on-the-ground offices in China are unable to find additional details on the 65% tariff that applies to imports above the TRQ levels, a key question given that China’s appetite continues strong for U.S. corn, including 1.36 million tonnes of purchases announced Tuesday by USDA — the 16th biggest daily sale on record for corn and the 4th largest corn sale to China.
— China has been a big buyer of Australian wheat. Australia shipped 600,000 tonnes of wheat to China last month — the largest-ever monthly wheat export total from Australia to any single country — and 110,000 tonnes in January 2021. In the months leading up to this increase, wheat trade between the two countries had effectively halted after warnings from China about heightened wheat inspections prompted Australian exporters to pull back on shipments in August. Despite these fears, the December wheat shipment was agreed to in September and was not turned away at the ports. On Jan. 25, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released preliminary numbers showing that Australian monthly exports to China rose in December 2020 by 21% year-on-year — putting the annual total exports to the country at $112.4 billion, just slightly down from a high of $114.8 billion in 2019. The monthly boost in exports to China was largely driven by iron ore and wheat demand.
— Beijing to enhance checks for imported goods, targets goods with Covid-19 positive results in other cities, the Global Times reported (link). The announcement came after some cities had reported positive test results for several perishable food items, including cherries, king crab, pork elbow, chicken wings, and ice cream. Shijiazhuang, capital of North China's Hebei Province, which is coping with a localized outbreak of the virus, announced on Sunday the suspension of fruit imports, in addition to removal of on-shelf products and temporarily sealing off inventories. On Saturday, Shijiazhuang identified viral matter on a batch of imported cherries at a wholesale market.
— Biden’s Commerce secretary nominee backs use of tariffs and export limits against Chinese firms. President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the country’s Commerce Department told senators on Tuesday that she would use punitive tariffs and export restrictions against China but stopped short of a specific commitment to keep existing sanctions against Huawei Technologies in place. “China’s actions have been anticompetitive, hurtful to American workers and businesses, coercive and … culpable for atrocious human rights abuses, so whether it‘s the ‘entity list’ or tariffs or countervailing duties, I intend to use all those tools to the fullest extent possible,” Gina Raimondo, currently the governor of Rhode Island, testified remotely during her confirmation hearing in the Senate.
— U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods. Link.
ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE
— Biden to begin targeting the oil industry in climate change executive order today. The president is expected to issue an executive order today that would suspend new oil and gas leasing on federal land, a first step toward fulfilling his campaign pledge to stop drilling on federal lands and offshore. The administration will also announce a global climate summit on Earth Day, April 22, of international officials.
The president will call on federal agencies to consider climate change in their decision making on everything from government purchases to financial regulations, reports note. He will also direct U.S. intelligence agencies to consider global warming as they review national security threats. The White House will announce the creation of a national climate task force to span the executive branch, the formation of environmental justice roles across government and the unveiling of a presidential memorandum on “scientific integrity.”
Biden will reportedly set a national goal to permanently protect 30% of the country’s federal lands and waters from development by 2030, and the administration is also expected to pause new oil and gas leases on federal land and in federal waters through a one-year moratorium, as well as issue a three-year moratorium on coal leasing on federal territory.
An expected executive order will establish a Civilian Conservation Corps to employ unemployed or underemployed citizens in work on federal projects like flood resilience, infrastructure and forestry issues.
The president’s public schedule for today says at 1:30 p.m. ET he will deliver remarks and “sign executive actions on tackling climate change, creating jobs and restoring scientific integrity.” There are also briefings scheduled by John Kerry, the special presidential envoy for climate, as well as Gina McCarthy, the national climate adviser.
Link to NYT article asking four questions regarding the coming Biden climate change approach.
— The EU approved a €2.9bn ($3.5 bil.) plan to support the production of batteries for electric vehicles within the bloc. The project will give state aid to firms including Tesla, BMW, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and others in an attempt to compete with China, which produces 80% of the world’s lithium-ion battery cells.
— Sinclair confirms receipt of RFS waivers in court filing. Sinclair Oil Corporation said in court filings this week it was the recipient of waivers of its Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) obligations via small refinery exemptions (SRES) granted by the Trump administration earlier this month. Reuters reported that Sinclair was the recipient of at least two of the three waivers granted. Sinclair made the admission in court filings defending the waivers in response to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFS) filing to block the waivers; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled the three waivers granted by EPA should be stayed. Sinclair filed the statement in court, saying it had the right to intervene in the matter as if the SREs are blocked, it would face financial harm.
It is not clear if Sinclair was the recipient of all three waivers issued by the Trump administration last week — two for the 2019 compliance year and one for the 2018 compliance year.
The SRE issue is just one of the biofuel policy matters facing the new administration as EPA also now has to put forth proposed levels for the 2021 biofuels and 2022 biodiesel levels under the RFS.
— Shifts in U.S. energy industry on methane issues. The U.S. energy industry is shifting on the issue of methane emissions relative to US oil and natural gas production. Charif Souki, head of Tellurian, told the Financial Times that the industry has to halt methane leaks from gas operations. “People have decided to vilify hydrocarbons and some of it is deserved. We have to increase our standards,” Souki said. “it’s easy to do. We just have to do it.” Souki is one of the pioneers in the U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) boom from shale oil operations, having previously been the head of Cheniere Energy.
Even though the Biden administration is poised to take actions on fossil fuels, Souki said he expects U.S. LNG exports to keep growing and he expects the Biden administration will see its value. The American Petroleum Institute said it now backs methane regs despite fighting against them for years, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently said it is open to a carbon tax.
The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) announced new climate change commitments, including reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from the transport and storage of natural gas by 2050 and signaling support for methane regulations. The group, which represents the natural gas pipeline industry, is the latest fossil fuel interest to set a net-zero target as it seeks to position itself for the clean energy economy envisioned by President Biden. “Even as INGAA’s members recognize the important societal benefits of natural gas, we know that more must be done to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change,” INGAA wrote as part of its 2021 clean energy commitments. To achieve the new goal, INGAA is promising to reduce the carbon intensity of its natural gas infrastructure, as well as adopting and investing in technologies such as renewable natural gas and carbon capture, and transporting low or zero carbon fuels like hydrogen. The products delivered by INGAA’s network could support the growth of variable renewables, the group says. “There are lots of ways to decarbonize the energy delivery highway,” David Slater, INGAA’s chairman said in a press briefing this morning, who added the interstate pipeline network supported by his group delivers a third of the energy the U.S. consumes.
INGAA officials also said they could support restoring Obama-era methane regulations on pipelines if changes are made to allow more time for leak repairs. Gas pipelines were exempted from methane controls under former President Donald Trump's EPA. Amy Andryszak, INGAA’s CEO, said the group would be “open” to support Biden imposing methane regulations on new and existing pipelines and storage facilities. But like other energy groups that have come out in support of methane rules, she added caveats. “They need to be safe and sound and effective and need to avoid unintended consequences that could impact reliability,” Andryszak said. She sought to remind Biden he never campaigned as explicitly anti-natural gas. “Biden was very supportive of natural gas on the campaign trail and we are going to take him at his word,” Andryszak said. “We still believe we will see pipelines able to continue to be built.”
— Federal Reserve recruited Kevin Stiroh of the New York Federal Reserve to lead the central bank’s climate change work and chair the newly formed Supervision Climate Committee (SCC). “The SCC will build on our climate change work already underway across the Federal Reserve System, and help us take a careful, thoughtful, and transparent approach to analyzing these potential risks,” said Randal Quarles, the Fed’s vice chair for supervision, in a statement. The Fed recently joined a network of global central banks focused on climate change, and in November, it included discussion of climate change risks in its semiannual financial stability report for the first time ever.
FOOD & BEVERAGE INDUSTRY
— PepsiCo partners with Beyond Meat to create plant-based drinks and snacks. The new joint venture, called The PLANeT Partnership, will combine Beyond's expertise in proteins made from plants with the CPG giant's marketing and commercial capabilities. Financial details were not disclosed. Beyond Meat spiked 39% after it formed the partnership
— Walgreens poaches Starbucks' No. 2 to be new CEO. Rosalind Brewer, Starbucks's operating chief, will become the drugstore's next chief executive, and the only Black woman leading a Fortune 500 company. Meanwhile, Starbucks reported that sales fell during the holiday quarter but showed signs of recovery, particularly in China, even as the pandemic has necessitated continued store closures.
— How the U.S. food system could change under the Biden administration is the focus of a New York Times article (link). Some suggestions being cited include: Fix the rules for raising organic livestock and reverse the department’s track record with Black farmers. Restore school food standards and strengthen GMO labels. Prioritize the climate crisis. Change the name of USDA to the Department of Food and Well-Being.
Tom Vilsack, Biden’s nominee to return as USDA secretary, said in an interview on Friday that he has already sketched out his agenda. “There are probably five very, very large challenges ahead that have to be dealt with very quickly,” he said. Topping the list is protecting USDA employees and people who process the nation’s food from the Covid virus, and figuring out which land-grant universities, government laboratories and other department offices might be able to store and administer vaccines. Hunger relief is a pressing issue, as are two of his boss’s other priorities: promoting social justice and fighting climate change. Next comes supporting regional food systems and helping farmers. “Once we get a bit on the other side of the virus itself, then we have the important business of revitalizing the rural economy that has been hit by this,” Vilsack said.
— Scientists are settling on a new road map that can help critical sectors of the economy — from meatpacking to financial services — safely conduct business even as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread. Link to details via the WSJ.
— Americans continue to open businesses as they adapt to Covid-19. A new report from review website Yelp shows more than 18,000 restaurant and food businesses opened in the final quarter of the year, down only slightly from 2019. Openings in home services — such as landscaping, painting and handymen — and professional services — like office cleaning and consulting — outpaced 2019 levels. There could be a mix of factors behind the numbers, ranging from high demand for some services as more people stayed home to a sudden supply of people forced into entrepreneurship because of layoffs. Other categories tracked by Yelp, including retail and fitness, were hit hard early in the year and never fully recovered.
— Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are have now topped 100 million, standing at 100,364,285 with 2,160,402 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 25,445,091 with 425,250 deaths.
— Biden acts to expand Covid-19 vaccine distribution. The Biden administration is set to formally unveil an initiative to rush additional Covid-19 vaccine doses to states, territories and tribal governments, senior officials said. Biden plans to announce the purchase of an additional 200 million vaccine doses to be delivered this summer, bringing the total purchased to 600 million.
— Biden bans linking Covid-19 to China in bid to deal with racist backlash in U.S. President Joe Biden has banned references to Covid-19 by geographical location, after labels like “China virus” and “Wuhan virus” led to a racist backlash. “Inflammatory and xenophobic rhetoric has put Asian-American and Pacific Islander persons, families, communities and businesses at risk,” Biden said in a memorandum released on Tuesday. “The federal government must recognize that it has played a role in furthering these xenophobic sentiments through the actions of political leaders, including references to the Covid-19 pandemic by the geographic location of its origin,” he said. “Such statements have stoked unfounded fears and perpetuated stigma about Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders and have contributed to increasing rates of bullying, harassment, and hate crimes against AAPI persons.” The memo said executive departments and agencies would ensure that official actions, documents and statements “do not exhibit or contribute to racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.”
Chinese diplomats have promoted unfounded theories linking the virus to U.S. military athletes, while state media has reported the virus could have entered China through imported frozen foods, following cases in Chinese ports and among cold storage workers.
— Woman sentenced to one year in prison for concealing Covid-19 symptoms on flight from U.S. to China, according to the Global Times (link). The People's Court in Beijing's Shunyi district ruled in October that Li Na, 37, committed the crime of obstructing the prevention of infectious diseases and was sentenced to one year's imprisonment and one year's probation. Li, a former employee of US company Biogen, had developed symptoms while in the U.S. and took antipyretics before boarding her flight to China in March 2020. She did not disclose her symptoms until landing at the Beijing International Airport.
POLITICS & ELECTIONS
— All but five Republican senators backed former president Trump in a key test vote ahead of the impeachment trial. Trump’s trial is not scheduled to begin until Feb. 9, but senators voted on an objection raised by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) questioning the constitutional basis for the impeachment and removal of a former president. Only five Republican senators voted against Paul — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.). To convict Trump, it would require 67 members of the 100-member body. If convicted, Trump could be barred from holding future office with a subsequent majority vote. Paul had sought to muster at least 34 votes to signal there are enough senators with constitutional misgivings to secure an acquittal. After the vote, Paul said that the tally indicated “the impeachment trial is dead on arrival.” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he hoped that Tuesday’s vote would prompt Democrats to reassess if it was even worth having a trial. “I hope my colleagues to look at it from the standpoint, is it wise to do this?” he said. “I would hope we would end this now. It’s just not wise. It’s not healing. It’s divisive.”
OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE
— Biden and Putin talk. In their first phone call as fellow presidents, Biden and Vladimir Putin agreed to extend the last remaining nuclear arms treaty between their countries, but Biden also confronted Putin on several topics, including Russian election interference. “The call was, in essence, the opening act of what promises to be a deeply adversarial relationship between the two leaders,” the New York Times writes (link). Biden raised concerns about issues including the protests in Russia, the massive SolarWinds hack and reports that Russia offered bounties on U.S. troops.
— Indian farmers say they will not stop protesting against agricultural reforms which they fear will impact their livelihoods, after demonstrations in Delhi on Tuesday led to violence between protestors and the police. Today, Delhi’s Red Fort — on which farmers erected flags — is heavily guarded, roads across the city are closed and the internet has been blocked in some parts of the capital.
— Goldman Sachs docks its chief’s pay big time. David Solomon’s 2020 compensation was cut by more than a third, to $17.5 million, Goldman announced yesterday. The bank made him return $10 million as a penalty for the 1MDB scandal, in which the bank admitted criminal wrongdoing in its dealings with a Malaysian investment fund. That dropped him below Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, whose pay last year was held at $31.5 million, while Morgan Stanley added a few million more to James Gorman’s package in 2020, bringing it to $33 million.