Upbeat Jobs Report Boosts Equities, Shows U.S. Economy on the Mend

Posted on 03/05/2021 8:48 AM

Senate alters aid package, will vote this weekend, then back to House

 


In Today’s Digital Newspaper


 

Market Focus:
• Jobs report better than expected leading to higher equity markets
• Fed Chairman Powell did little to assuage fears about the recent rise in yields
• Avg. rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose above 3% for first time since July
• U.S. debt held by public projected to almost double over next 30 years

• Crude oil futures gain in wake of OPEC+ countries keeping output quotas steady
• China’s quest for cleaner energy whiplashing global prices of liquefied natural gas
• Ag demand update

Cargill to boost capacity, improve efficiency at soy crushing plants
• French soft wheat exports picked up last month
• Wheat ratings edge higher in France
• Indian cotton prices rising, but still a relative value vs. global prices
• Vietnam and several other countries have relaxed import bans on pork from Germany

 

Policy Focus:
• Senate alters aid package with expected vote this weekend then back to House
• Don’t fret about PAYGO: Sen. Stabenow
• Infrastructure meeting at White House yields few details

 

Biden Administration Personnel

• Haaland for Interior secretary approved by Senate panel with key GOP vote
• Biden brings a leading critic of Big Tech into White House

 

China Update:
• China set its 2021 GDP growth target at over 6%
• China to boost wheat, rice minimum purchase prices, expand corn area
• China’s New Hope completes first construction phase of smart pig farm

 

Trade Policy:
• U.S., U.K. suspend aircraft tariffs
Politico: Trumka sees USMCA as trade agreement model

 

Energy & Climate Change:

• Study signals little economic impact from U.S. rejoining Paris climate accord
• Energy deputy says gas cars far from over  
• McCarthy pushes spending on power storage, green hydrogen

 

Coronavirus Update:
WSJ: Investigators from WHO are scrapping interim report on Covid’s
• Vaccine passport linkage

 

Politics & Elections:
WSJ: Tensions renewed among Democrats over potentially ending filibuster
• New York Gov. Cuomo’s top advisers altered a report on nursing-home deaths


Other Items of Note:
• Capitol police asked National Guard to protect the U.S. Capitol for two more months
• Plaintiffs’ firms that led legal campaign against Bayer fighting over fees
• NAWG offices remain unchanged for 2021
• EPA receiving differing views re: chlorpyrifos
• European powers backed away from formal censure of Iran
• Cotton AWP eases

 


MARKET FOCUS


 

Equities today: Global stock markets were mostly lower overnight. U.S. stock indexes are pointed toward higher openings after an upbeat jobs report. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield jumped after the February jobs report topped expectations (see details below), sending the benchmark yield to its highest level this year. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was trading at 1.617% and has an intraday high of 1.626%. The yield on the 30-year Treasury bond rose to 2.34%. Yields move inversely to prices. The U.S. added 379,000 jobs in February, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists had projected a gain of 210,000. Asian equities faced pressure after the selloff in U.S. markets Thursday as comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell failed to reassure investors. The Nikkei was down 65.79 points, 0.23%, at 28,864.32. The Hang Seng Index lost 138.50 points, 0.47%, at 29,098.29.

 

     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow fell 345.95 points, 1.11%, at 30,924.14. The Nasdaq dropped 274.28 points, 2.11%, at 12,723.47. The S&P 500 was down 51.25 points, 1.34%, at 3,768.47.

 

On tap today:

 

     • U.S. nonfarm payrolls in February are expected to rise by 210,000 from a month earlier and the unemployment rate is forecast to hold steady at 6.3%. (8:30 a.m. ET) Note: See results next item.
     • U.S. trade deficit is expected to widen to $67.6 billion in January from $66.61 billion a month earlier. (8:30 a.m. ET)
     • Federal Reserve speakers: Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari speaks on the economy at 12 p.m. ET and Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic speaks on macroeconomic policy at 1 p.m. ET.
     • Baker Hughes rig count is out at 1 p.m. ET.
     • U.S. consumer credit is out at 3 p.m. ET.
     • CFTC Commitments of Traders report, 3:30 p.m. ET.
     • USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack speaks at Commodity Classic.
     • President Biden receives an economic briefing with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen; participates in a roundtable on the stimulus package and will receive a briefing from the White House Covid-19 response team.

 

Jobs growth surprises to the upside as unemployment dips. Nonfarm payrolls increased by 379,000 in February, larger than the expected increase of 210,000, while the unemployment rate edged down to 6.2%. However, echoing comments from Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, the Department of Labor pointed out that are still 10 million unemployed in the United States. While that is down from the April 2020 highs, the report pointed out that the level of unemployed was at 5.7 million and unemployment was at 3.5% in February 2020 before the pandemic. The labor force participation rate held steady at 61.4%. A reflection of some restrictions being lifted in portions of the country, the report noted that 22.7% of those employed were teleworking due to the pandemic, down from 23.2% in February.

 

     Similarly, the biggest job gains in February were in leisure and hospitality —355,000 — as Covid-related restrictions have eased in some areas. “About four-fifths of the increase was in food services and drinking places (+286,000),” the report said. Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector, however, is still down by 3.5 million over the year.

 

     Other areas seeing job gains were in professional and business services (53,000), health care and social assistance (46,000) and retail trade (41,000). Construction employment declined 61,000 in February while mining saw job declines of 8,000. No doubt some of those losses are due to the harsh weather that enveloped much of the country last month.

 

     Revisions to prior months resulted in a net increase of 38,000 jobs — December was revised to a decline of 306,000 (-227,000 previously) and January was revised to a gain of 166,000 (49,000 previously).

 

     Perspective: The uptick in the level of jobs added and decline in the unemployment rate are being viewed as a sign the U.S. economy is continuing to recover and has already sent bond yields rising. But it will not change the narrative from the Fed — there are still 10 million unemployed in the U.S. which means the Fed has a long way to go to meet their targets. This shifts attention to the two Fed speakers today — Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari and Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic — to see if their view shifts from that related by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell that disappointed investors Thursday.

 

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated his intention to keep easy-money policies in place but provided no sign the central bank will seek to stem a recent rise in Treasury yields, prompting them to rise further. Stocks also sold off on Powell’s remarks Thursday during an interview at the Wall Street Journal Jobs Summit. The appearance came a week after a jump in Treasury yields driven by forecasts of stronger U.S. economic growth and inflation this year, among other factors.

 

     Powell’s remarks provided little solace to markets in the wake of the bond market selloff that has unfolded in recent weeks. While acknowledging the selloff had caught his attention, Power sent no signals that the Fed was poised to act to address the situation and said he was not focused on one interest rate in particular but watching financial conditions overall. “I would be concerned by disorderly conditions in markets or persistent tightening in financial conditions that threatens the achievement of our goals,” Powell said. Just last week, Powell reacted positively to the rise in long-term bond yields.

 

     On inflation, Powell said the Fed would remain “patient” and again noted increases would likely be a “one time” event. He also reiterated the view that the US central bank remained a “long way” from its goals of maximum employment and stable inflation.

 

     Powell deflected a question on whether the Fed was considering a “twist” in its bond purchases, saying, “We think our current policy stance is appropriate.” Chicago Fed President Charles Evans separately said that he does not expect the Fed to need to shift its bond purchases, noting the rise in yields reflected “real factors” like vaccine rollout. Markets will hear from Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari and Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic today, then the blackout period ahead of the March 16-17 Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) begins Saturday.

 

     Powell’s remarks spurred selling in U.S. equities and a rise in bond yields with the 10-year Treasury note topping 1.54%. The key Employment report this morning will be a key factor in market action today, but the Powell remarks remain a potential limiting factor for equity markets.

 

Average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose above 3% for the first time since July. Mortgage rates fell throughout most of 2020 after the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the economy. The recent upward moves paint a clear contrast: More vaccinations in the U.S. and recent progress on the latest coronavirus relief bill have brightened investors’ outlook on the economy, a key variable in determining borrowing rates. Mortgage rates tend to move in the same direction as the yield on the 10-year Treasury.

 

     Mortgage rates

 

U.S. debt held by the public is projected to almost double over the next 30 years, hitting 202% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2051, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in a new report. On the current path, federal debt would top its post-World War II high as a share of the economy in a decade, hitting 107% of GDP in 2031. CBO projections of debt, deficits, spending and revenue in the report are based on the assumption that laws remain generally the same. The projections do not take into account the added costs of the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill under consideration in Congress. Overall, the new projections are little changed from the previous report in September 2020.

 

     By 2051, climate change will lower GDP by 1% and the ag sector is one of many likely to be affected, CBO forecasts. “Longer growing seasons in northern states are expected to increase agricultural output, but increased instances of extreme heat in other regions are expected to reduce agricultural output,” CBO said.

 

     Debt CBO

 

Market perspectives:

 

     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is higher and hit a 3.5-month high overnight, supported by the rise in U.S. Treasury yields. Gold and silver futures have moved lower ahead of US trading, with gold around $1,693 per troy ounce and silver around $25.40 per troy ounce.


     • Crude oil futures have gained in the wake of OPEC+ countries opting to keep output quotas largely steady in April. U.S. crude was trading around $65.40 per barrel and Brent around $68.50 per barrel. Futures were up in Asian action, with US crude rising 52 cents at $64.25 per barrel and Brent up 68 cents at $67.42 per barrel.

 

     • OPEC and a Russia-led coalition of oil producers kept most of their production cuts in place, surprising traders and sending oil prices up dramatically. Traders were expecting the group to meter out more oil to the world after prices had climbed steadily from pandemic lows last year. Brent oil prices jumped another 2.5% to over $65 a barrel overnight after OPEC+ decided not to unleash millions of barrels on to the market. The group is now holding monthly get-togethers, giving it more immediate power to meet current market conditions, as well as room to maneuver.

 

        Oil prices

 

     • China’s quest to anchor its industrial growth to cleaner energy is whiplashing global prices of liquefied natural gas. A sudden confluence of global supply outages and an unusually cold winter tripled LNG prices in mid-January — and brought into focus China’s increasingly outsize role. Beijing’s efforts to shift from coal to gas has drawn ever-larger LNG imports in recent years, tightening supplies available to gas-dependent Japan and South Korea. The three economies account for 60% of the world’s LNG consumption, the Wall Street Journal reports (link).

 

        China imported a record amount of LNG in December, and that was followed by a natural gas shortage in Japan in January that put the country at risk of blackouts. Chinese LNG consumption last year rose by some 11%, far outpacing the 1% rise globally, and shipments from the U.S. are up 50% since 2018.

 

        Natural gas
        China natural gas share

 

     • Ag demand: Algeria’s state agency bought around 30,000 MT of animal feed corn in an international tender. South Korea’s Major Feedmill Group purchased around 130,000 MT of animal feed wheat from optional origins. Pakistan is though to have rejected all offers and made no purchase in its international tender for 300,000 MT of wheat.

 

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

     • Cargill to boost capacity, improve efficiency at soy crushing plants
     • French soft wheat exports picked up last month
     • Wheat ratings edge higher in France
     • Indian cotton prices rising, but still a relative value vs. global prices
     • 
Vietnam and several other countries have relaxed import bans on pork from Germany

 


POLICY FOCUS


 

— Senate continues work on $1.9 trillion aid package. The Senate planned to begin voting on amendments to its latest relief package after clerks pull an all-nighter reading the text of the 628-page measure aloud on the floor. Democrats cleared one key hurdle when the Congressional Budget Office said that the substitute amendment would cost $1.88 trillion, meeting the budget resolution’s 10-year deficit limit. The Senate voted 51-50 to proceed to the measure, with Vice President Kamala Harris on hand to break the tie. That vote allowed the Senate to take up the House bill, which that chamber passed early Saturday morning on a narrow 219-212 vote.

 

     Senate changes include allowing state and local funding to be used for broadband improvements. The package would provide $220 billion for states and territories and $120 billion for local governments. That money could be used for water, sewer and broadband as well as to cover pandemic-related needs and revenue shortfalls. Senators are providing $8.5 billion for rural healthcare providers and setting aside $10 billion of the state and local aid for infrastructure projects. For state and local aid, senators are mandating that individual states receive at least as much as they did from a previous aid package and allowing governments to use the funds for economic recovery efforts. They are also placing rules on how the funds can be used, barring states from using the aid for pensions or to finance tax cuts.

 

     The bill would provide $22.7 billion for agriculture and nutrition, including aid for the food supply chain and debt relief for minority farmers.

 

     Senate Democrats added a provision that would make much student-loan forgiveness free from income taxes, creating an exception from 2021 through 2025 to the normal rule that canceled debt is income.

 

     Democrats in the Senate are increasing the size of healthcare subsidies for laid-off workers, covering 100% of health-insurance premiums people pay under Cobra, up from the 85% provided in the House.

 

     Medicaid coverage for inmates prior to their release from jail was removed, as was health care funding for "congregate settings," including prisons and psychiatric facilities. Money to help care for unaccompanied children who'd crossed the border illegally was also removed from the bill.

 

     Democrats also shuffled tax provisions in the bill. They removed a House proposal that would have frozen the growth in annual limits on contributions to retirement accounts after 2030. They replaced it with tighter limits on companies’ deductions for executive compensation — but only starting in 2027.

 

     One of the biggest changes to the House-passed package would restrict eligibility for the tax rebate checks of up to $1,400. A tweak from Senate Democrats would lower the income threshold at which direct payments cut off completely, from $100,000 to $80,000 for individuals and from $200,000 to $160,000 for joint filers.

 

     Republicans successfully argued to remove a set-aside within $15 billion for Small Business Administration grants for certain businesses demonstrating substantial harm. They said removing those provisions would enable more businesses to obtain $5,000 cash grants from the SBA.

 

     Bottom line: The Senate will have the votes for eventual passage of the aid package, which will then go back to the House to approve the Senate changes. Democrats will make sure final passage occurs before increased unemployment benefit increases end March 14.

 

— Don’t fret about PAYGO: Sen. Stabenow (D-Mich.). The Senate Ag Chairwoman says Congress will do what it has done before: waive the requirement to offset spending that would trigger major cuts to mandatory programs like farm programs. Congress would have to waive PAYGO or there will be huge sequestration (across-the-board) cuts coming. A similar waiver occurred after the 2017 Trump/GOP tax cuts.

 

— Infrastructure meeting at White House yields few details. A White House meeting on infrastructure Thursday, as expected, failed to yield much in terms of any new details on a push for infrastructure spending. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.) said President Joe Biden wants to move “as quickly as possible” on the matter and wants a package that is “very big” based on a view this is a key to economic recovery. The panel’s Ranking Member, Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), said he was open to nearly any idea. “I’m not shutting the door on anything,” he noted, but said there were a “few things” he has to has to support any such plan. The keys are expected to focus on how to pay for the plan, a situation which has stymied efforts to get a major infrastructure package approved to-date.
 


BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL


 

— Committee advances Haaland nomination for Interior. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 11-9 to advance Rep. Deb Haaland to a floor vote to become secretary of the Interior Department. Haaland (D-N.M.) would be the first Native American to lead the department, which contains the Bureau of Indian Affairs, since its establishment in 1849. Haaland secured an “aye” vote from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), the committee chairman. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), was the only Republican on the committee to vote for Haaland, though she did so "despite some very real misgivings." The vote carved a narrow but clear path for Haaland’s confirmation on the Senate floor. Haaland, whose home state of New Mexico is a major oil and gas producer, said in her opening statement last week that she would seek to strike a balance between the interests of fossil fuel-linked communities and climate goals.

 

— President Biden brings a leading critic of Big Tech into the White House. Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor and former contributing writer for NYT Opinion, has been named to the president’s National Economic Council. It signals a confrontational approach by the administration toward the tech industry.


 


CHINA UPDATE


 

— China sets 2021 GDP target of over 6%. China is targeting to see GDP in 2021 of over 6%, according to the government work report delivered to the national legislature session which began today, a figure that was lower than most economists' expectations of around 8%. "In setting this target, we have taken into account the recovery of economic activity," Premier Li Keqiang said. "A target of over 6% will enable all of us to devote full energy to promoting reform, innovation, and high-quality development." The country will seek to create more than 11 million new urban jobs, lower its deficit-to-GDP ratio to 3.2%, and expand domestic demand and effective investment. China also set a target for the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to increase around 3% in 2021. On the area of global partnerships, the plan said china would “promote Sino/U.S. trade ties on basis of mutual respect.”

 

     Chinese leaders scrapped a five-year GDP target, saying only that they would plan to keep the economy running "within a reasonable range." In the 2016-20 plan, the target was "more than 6.5%." Instead, they are aiming to cap the surveyed urban unemployment rate at 5.5%, with labor productivity growth outpacing overall GDP growth. The county also plans to increase its urbanization rate to 65%, from 60.6% in 2019.

 

     Perspective: The conservative GDP growth targets indicate more restrained monetary and fiscal policies are coming in 2021, considerably different that the approach being taken in the United States. Chinese policymakers have further put a recent focus on reining in debt and combating an emerging bubble in the real estate market. In the annual report, the government also said it would seek to cut the fiscal deficit target to 3.2% of projected GDP this year (vs. 3.6% in 2020) and plans to reduce the amount of debt raised by local governments.

 

     China GDP

 

— China to boost wheat, rice minimum purchase prices, expand corn area in bid to bolster production. China will raise its minimum purchase prices for wheat and rice and will increase corn area this year as it seeks to boost grain production, according to an announcement by Premier LI Keqiang. "Ensuring that our people have enough food remains a top priority for our government. We are resolved to ensure food security for our 1.4 billion people, and we know we can achieve this," said Li in his 2021 work report. The increase in the wheat minimum purchase price is the first since 2014. In 2018, the government cut those support prices after stocks of grain surged. The work plan also noted that higher corn acreage would be prioritized and that soybean production would be stable. The country will seek to support crops on barren ground while conserving fertile soils in the northeast part of the country, Li said. The Ministry of Finance said spending on stockpiling of grains and edible oils would hold at 122.5 billion yuan ($18.92 billion). A need to continue to rebuild and stabilize hog production was reported, along with a need to develop the country’s sheep and cattle sectors. Li highlighted the need to ensure security of animal and plant breeding resources in the five years to 2025, but gave no specific targets for commercialization of any GMO crops.

 

— China’s New Hope completes first construction phase of smart pig farm. The first phase of construction of a smart pig farm by New Hope Group has been completed in Beijing’s Pinggu district, according to a report in the China Daily. The firm will focus on village development and swine breeding this year, according to New Hope Chairman Liu Yonghao. "The smart pig farm in Pinggu is equipped with temperature-checking robots, along with systems for automatic feeding and disinfection,” Liu said. “Disinfecting raises the safety of the pigs and helps avoid outbreaks of African swine fever. The equipment points to the development direction of the smart agricultural industry." The farm occupies an area of 140,000 square meters with an annual production capacity of 120,000 pigs. Construction on the second phase of the farm has started and is expected to be completed in the second half of 2021.

 

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

 


TRADE POLICY


 

—  U.S., U.K. suspend aircraft tariffs. Retaliatory tariffs the U.S. and U.K. imposed on each other as part of the long-running disputes over subsidies to Airbus and Boeing will be suspended for four months as the two sides seek to find a settlement to the issue. A joint statement said, “The United Kingdom ceased applying retaliatory tariffs in the Boeing dispute from Jan. 1, 2021, to de-escalate the issue and create space for a negotiated settlement to the Airbus and Boeing disputes. The United States will now suspend retaliatory tariffs in the Airbus dispute from March 4, 2021, for four months.”

 

     The tariff suspension is to “allow time to focus on negotiating a balanced settlement to the disputes and begin seriously addressing the challenges posed by new entrants to the civil aviation market from non-market economies, such as China,” the statement said. The two sides will work toward a settlement to “ensure that our aerospace industries can finally see a resolution and focus on Covid recovery and other shared goals.” The retaliatory tariffs the U.S. and European Union (EU) have imposed on each other in the civilian aircraft dispute remain in effect.

 

     Impact: The U.S. temporarily suspended tariffs on Scotch, cheese, cashmere sweaters and other consumer imports from the U.K. as they work to resolve a longstanding trade dispute over commercial-aircraft subsidies.

 

— Trumka sees USMCA as trade agreement model. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka looks to the enforcement mechanisms built into the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to see how the Biden administration carries out its "worker-centered" trade policy. In an interview with Politico, Trumka said the authority to crack down on individual companies that violate labor protections and other provisions in the agreement will benefit workers across borders. “The first [time] that we’re successful in stopping their products, it's going to say to corporations, ‘There's a new sheriff in town,'" Trumka told Politico.

 


ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE


 

— Study signals little economic impact from U.S. rejoining Paris climate accord. The commitment by President Joe Biden to rejoin the Paris climate accord and pursue climate goals that would see the U.S. commit to carbon free electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050 are not expected to result in any major macroeconomic negative impacts to the United States. Link for report.

 

     Researchers at Purdue University examined the situation, using a global computable general equilibrium model, looked at the impacts the commitments of the 195 parties signing the Paris accord, no change in US climate policy, and the new policies the Biden administration has announced.

 

     A key study finding is the effect climate action will have on US income distribution, primarily due to lower increases in food prices (1.1%) compared with the change in nonfood prices (1.8%), under an ambitious 2-degree Celsius mitigation effort. “This change will result primarily from increases in energy prices and fuel and transportation cost, which must be built into the cost of goods and services,” the researchers said. “However, since lower income households typically spend less on nonfood items, their cost burden will be considerably less than those in higher income households.”

 

     The study found that there would be a negative impact to “dirty” jobs through reductions in fossil fuel mining and fossil fuel-based electricity generation, but there would be a boost in the creation of new ”green” jobs in the renewable electricity generation.

 

     Paris accord impact

 

— Energy deputy says gas cars far from over. Vehicles with internal combustion engines will be in use for several more years, as government and the private sector endeavor to make electric vehicles more affordable and reliable, according to Biden’s nominee for deputy energy secretary. “I know where I grew up, we kept our cars for 10, 15, 20 years,” David Turk told senators during his Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing. “So, we’ve got an awful lot of internal combustion vehicle s right now that will be here for many, many years to come.”

 

— McCarthy pushes spending on power storage, green hydrogen. A mix of government regulations and investments in clean energy technology will drive a U.S. shift to net-zero emissions by 2050 and underlie the nation’s next carbon-cutting pledge under the Paris agreement, White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy said. After losing time and trust in the global climate fight, the U.S. must “work really hard to get that credibility back” McCarthy said at CERAWeek by IHS Markit. That means not relying on driving emissions reductions solely through government regulations that can change with each presidential election, McCarthy said.

 


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE


 

 Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 115,618,088 with 2,569,422 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 28,827,140 with 520,356 deaths. The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center said that there have been 82,572,848 doses administered, 27,795,980 have been fully vaccinated, or 8.49% of the U.S. population. Worldwide, there have been 275,838,140 does administered, 58,060,173 have been fully vaccinated, or 0.76% of the global population.
      

       Link to Covid Case Tracker
       Link to Our World in Data

 

— Investigators from the WHO are scrapping an interim report on Covid’s origins as tensions grow between the U.S. and China, the WSJ first reported. The group of two dozen scientists is calling in an open letter on Thursday for a new international inquiry. They say the World Health Organization (WHO) team that last month completed a mission to Wuhan — the Chinese city where the first known cases were found — had insufficient access to adequately investigate possible sources of the new coronavirus, including whether it slipped from a laboratory.

 

— Vaccine passport linkage. CLEAR, the digital identity used in airports, is joining forces with CommonPass, a health app that lets you securely access vaccination records and Covid test results, Axios reports. The app will tell airlines a passenger is cleared to fly, arenas if someone is cleared to watch a game or listen to a concert, and casinos if headed to the slots.
 


POLITICS & ELECTIONS


 

— As legislation begins to pile up in the Senate, tensions have been renewed among Democrats over potentially ending the filibuster, the WSJ reports (link). Centrists are resisting a move to change the 60-vote rule for most bills. Doing so would require support from all 50 Democrats, plus the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. “If we want to get things done in the Senate, then we must abolish the filibuster,” tweeted Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) this week. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said no options are off the table. The prospect of stalled legislation could also influence Biden, who has shown reluctance to change the chamber’s rules. Harris, as a presidential candidate, said she would support abolishing the filibuster under certain circumstances. The two firmest Democratic opponents to getting rid of the filibuster, Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, haven’t shown any new willingness to reconsider. “Jesus Christ! Never!” Manchin told reporters Monday, when asked if he might change his mind. “What don’t you understand about never?”

 

— The New York governor’s top advisers pushed state officials to strip a public report of data showing that more nursing-home residents had died than the administration had acknowledged. Link to details via the WSJ. Link to NYT account.
 


OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE     


 

— Capitol police asked National Guard to protect the U.S. Capitol for two more months, as congressional leaders look to strengthen security. The Department of Defense is reviewing the request from the Capitol Police for Guard troops to extend their stay, defense officials said. The request would extend the deployment 60 days into May, one of the officials said. Another official said that determining the number of troops is part of the review as is the duration of their stay.

 

— Plaintiffs’ firms that led the legal campaign against Bayer are fighting over fees from the Roundup weedkiller litigation, arguing that they deserve a bigger slice than firms that joined later. The Wall Street Journal reports (link) that the high-stakes dispute is coming to the fore eight months after Roundup’s maker, Bayer, announced that it would pay up to $9.6 billion to resolve 125,000 cancer claims brought by dozens of law firms. “The fee fight underscores increasing tension between law firms that do the in-court work necessary to win cases and those that advertise to sign up scores of clients,” the article notes. Six law firms appointed by a federal court as leaders in the litigation are asking a judge to set aside 8.25% of the Bayer settlements into a fund to be distributed among those firms and others that handled the brunt of the work. Under their proposal, those firms would get a share of the fund and reap whatever fees they agreed upon with their clients. Plaintiffs' lawyers often take a cut of more than 30% from such settlements. Several law firms have objected, saying the court doesn’t have the power to create the common fund—estimated at $800 million. They say the leadership team is trying to double-dip, speculating that their confidential deals with Bayer are already more lucrative than those that other firms received.

 

— NAWG offices to remain unchanged for 2021. The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) announced their slate of officers for 2021 will be unchanged from 2020, in part due to the impacts of Covid. The NAWG said it has re-elected Dave Milligan (Michigan) as President; Nicole Berg (Washington) as Vice President; Brent Cheyne (Oregon) as Treasurer; Keeff Felty (Oklahoma) as Secretary; and Ben Scholz (Texas) as Past President. The group will hold a virtual Hill week next week where its members will meet with their congressional delegations and the House and Senate Ag Committees.

 

— EPA receiving differing views re: chlorpyrifos. Farmworker, public health, and environmental organizations are pushing the Biden administration to ban a widely used, but neurotoxic pesticide called chlorpyrifos. They released a letter today — before the comment period closes March 7 on a Trump-era EPA proposal to allow 11 food uses to continue — a letter signed by more than 100 organizations. The groups maintain the pesticide is unsafe for workers even if they wear the most protective equipment and tiny amounts of chlorpyrifos damages babies brains permanently. But, the EPA is receiving other views. The Pacific Northwest Vegetable Growers Association, told the EPA it strongly supports chlorpyrifos ‘continued use. “Failing to renew the chlorpyrifos registration jeopardizes the production of many vegetables crops and has the potential to increase vegetable prices and adversely affect human nutrition,” association President James Zahand told the agency in comments it submitted.

 

— European powers backed away from a formal censure of Iran in a bid to revive nuclear talks between Washington and Tehran. Iran had warned that a censure could lead it to further curtail international inspections of the country and dissuade it from engaging in direct talks with the U.S. on its nuclear program. The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday that Iran had agreed to discuss a series of so-called safeguards issues the agency has been asking Iran about for the past two years.

 

— Cotton AWP eases. The Adjusted World Price (AWP) for cotton will be 73.95 cents per pound, effective today (March 5), down from 75.76 cents per pound the prior week. This marks the fourth week in a row the AWP has been above 70 cents per pound, eliminating the opportunity for an LDP. There has not been an LDP opportunity for Upland Cotton since the week of Oct. 9, 2020. Meanwhile, USDA said that Special Import Quota #20 will be established March 11 for 39,720 bales of Upland Cotton, applying to supplies purchased not later than June 8 and entered into the US not later than Sept. 6.

 


 

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