Suez Canal: Cost of renting tankers rising, ship operators starting to plot alternative routes
In Today’s Digital Newspaper
• U.S. dollar at highest level since November
• Cost of renting tankers rising, ship operators starting to plot alternative routes
• Banks can resume buybacks and raise dividends this summer
• Spending surge is likely in the offing
• Will U.S. gov’t come to regret the spending spree?
• Overall food price inflation forecasts unchanged despite shifts within categories
• Study: Increased public ag spending needed to meet rising food demand
• Chicago lean hog futures are at the highest level since 2014
• U.S. feedlots have been actively feeding wheat
• Ag demand update
• Buenos Aires Grains Exchange: recent rains helped stabilize Argentina’s bean crop
• IGC: Rising consumption to absorb much of the production rise for grains, soybeans
• French farm office leaves high wheat crop ratings unchanged
• H&P Report could fan the flame for market bulls
• Highlights from Biden’s first formal press conference
• FSA goes from maximum 25% to 50% in staffing local offices
• Vilsack vows more action to address discrimination
• H&M erased online in China over Xinjiang stance
• China rules imports of Australian wine subject to anti-dumping duty for five years
• Conflicting messages from Better Cotton Initiative over Xinjiang cotton
Energy & Climate Change:
• EIA details new biofuel information to be released
• EU leaders clashed over vaccine distribution at marathon virtual summit
• Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna safe and effective for pregnant women
• Pfizer starts clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccine on healthy children aged 6 months to 11
• U.S. vaccine supply could soon outpace demand
Politics & Elections:
• Republicans raise stakes re: Iowa second district race
• Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu falls short of securing parliamentary majority
• Senate’s to-do list
• U.S. media misses Donald Trump
• Dominion Voting sues Fox News for $1.6 billion over 2020 election claims
Other Items of Note:
• Lawmakers chastised Big Tech
• Cotton AWP falls under 70 cents
• Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp bought Investor’s Business Daily for $275 million
• Supreme Court made it easier for consumers to sue companies
Equities today: Global stock markets were mostly firmer overnight. U.S. stock indexes are pointed toward slightly higher openings. Japan’s Nikkei rose 446.82 points, 1.56%, at 29,176.70. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was up 436.82 points, 1.57%, at 28,336.43.
U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow gained 199.42 points, 0.62%, at 32,619.48. The Nasdaq was up 15.79 points, 0.12%, at 12,977.68. The S&P 500 rose 20.38 points, 0.52%, at 3,909.52.
A win for banks. Following the completion of the current round of stress tests, the Federal Reserve Board will end its temporary restrictions on most banks paying dividends and buying back shares after June 30. Firms with capital levels above those required by the stress test will no longer have to face the curbs, while banks with capital levels below those required will remain subject to the limitations. "The banking system continues to be a source of strength and returning to our normal framework after this year’s stress test will preserve that strength," Vice Chair for Supervision Randal Quarles said in a statement. The central bank had prohibited the largest U.S. banks from buying back stock in order to conserve capital as the pandemic tore through the U.S. economy. The full restrictions were set to expire on March 31 after being enacted in June of 2020. Last week, the Fed also announced that the temporary change to its supplementary leverage ratio rule, which was implemented during the coronavirus crisis, would expire at the end of this month.
On tap today:
• U.S. consumer spending for February is expected to fall 0.8% and personal income is expected to drop 7% from the prior month. (8:30 a.m. ET) Update: U.S. household spending fell 1% in February but is primed to pick up as stimulus checks arrive.
• U.S. advance economic indicators for February are out at 8:30 a.m. ET.
• University of Michigan's final consumer sentiment index for March is expected to rise to 83.7 from a preliminary reading of 83. (10 a.m. ET)
• Baker Hughes rig count is out at 1 p.m. ET.
• CFTC Commitments of Traders report, 3:30 p.m. ET.
A spending surge is likely in the offing. Millions of people each day are getting a Covid-19 vaccine, and many are starting to venture out in public and shop and travel. Meanwhile, the federal government this month is sending out yet another round of stimulus money — this time checks of up to $1,400, part of another Covid-relief package worth $1.9 trillion. The aid — along with other measures — has left many households sitting on a pile of cash.
Will U.S. gov’t come to regret the spending spree? UC Berkeley's Christina Romer writes in a Brookings Paper on Economic Activity (link): "Overall, the fiscal response to the pandemic in the United States runs the gamut from highly useful and appropriate to largely ineffective and wasteful. Spending on programs such as unemployment compensation and public heath was exactly what was called for by the unique nature of the pandemic recession. Spending on broad-based payments and other general stimulus measures was much less useful in a recession where the impacts were highly unequal and the Keynesian multiplier was likely substantially reduced by lockdowns. ... If something like the $1 trillion spent on stimulus payments that did little to help those most affected by the pandemic ends up precluding spending $1 trillion on infrastructure or climate change in the next few years, the United States will have made a very bad bargain indeed.”
USDA leaves overall food price inflation forecasts unchanged despite shifts within categories. U.S. food price inflation in 2021 overall is seen at 2% to 3%, the same level as food away from home (restaurant) prices. Food at home (grocery store) prices are seen rising 1% to 2%, all unchanged from the month-ago levels.
So far in 2021, grocery store prices have risen 0.9% while restaurant prices are up 2.2%.
The CPI for all food has 1.5% compared with year ago.
As for changes within the grocery store price categories, beef and veal prices are now predicted to decrease between 1% and 2% in 2021 compared with declines of 2.5% to 1.5% seen one month ago. The steady forecasts for overall food prices reflect a situation where consumers still are expected to see overall food prices rise nearly in line with the 20-year average, but prices are grocery stores are still rising less than the 20-year average.
Increased public ag spending needed to meet rising food demand. A new study commissioned jointly by the Farm Journal Foundation and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and authored by the IHS Markit Agribusiness Consulting Group emphasizes the benefits of increased public ag research funding, and its importance to meet rising food demand. U.S. public spending on ag research has plateaued in recent decades, the report noted, standing at around $4.2 billion in 2020 — a small increase over the $4.1 billion seen in 2010. At the same time, key U.S. competitors including China, Brazil and India have logged larger increases in ag research spending. While private investment is an important part of overall ag research spending, most of that investment is focused on just a few high-value major crop and livestock categories, largely leaving out less lucrative—though still important — sectors, the report noted. Public sector investment can help fill those gaps, especially for areas where the “the payoff from research investment is too uncertain or too far in the future to attract private investment,” it said. The report identifies six key areas where additional ag research investment is especially needed: crop breeding, crop protection, animal health, animal disease and foodborne illness, climate change and pandemics.
• Outside markets: The U.S. dollar is up strongly (300 points) and is at its highest level since November. Nymex crude oil prices are higher and trading around $60.00 a barrel but the oil market bulls are still on the ropes after recent steep losses. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note is presently 1.636%. Gold is down slightly while silver is stronger, with gold around $1,724 per troy ounce and silver around $25.19 per troy ounce.
• Crude oil futures are steady ahead of the U.S. trading start, following gains in Asian trading. U.S. crude is trading around $59.75 per barrel and Brent around $62.95 per barrel. Crude was stronger in Asian action, with U.S. crude rising to $59.80 per barrel and Brent to $63.00 per barrel.
• Chicago lean hog futures are at the highest level since 2014.
• U.S. feedlots have been actively feeding wheat as they can't get corn because corn and sorghum are going to China.
• Efforts to free the Ever Given container ship from the Suez Canal are growing more urgent as a backup of vessels grows. Shipping experts are warning that a resumption of traffic through the channel could still be days, if not weeks, away, the Wall Street Journal reports (link), and big shipping lines including A.P. Moller-Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd are considering diverting some vessels. Tugboats and a dredger have been trying to partially refloat the massive container ship and move it out of the way. But the operation is described as an increasingly tricky engineering and logistics challenge, with the bow of the ship still wedged deep into one side of the canal. Evergreen has hired Dutch ship-salvage specialist Smit Salvage to help with the operation. In the meantime, shipping operators estimate the value of the cargo stranded at the canal at around $12 billion.
A view of the MV Ever Given cargo tanker blocking the Suez Canal. (European Space Agency/Reuters)
Executives at some businesses are weighing the uncertain costs of waiting for the canal to reopen against the expenses and timing of other transportation options. Freight rates for shipping containers from Asia to Europe have remained steady during the Suez blockage after soaring over the past year as retailers and manufacturers have rushed to restock inventories depleted during the pandemic. Experts say that could change if the situation drags on.
The cost of renting tankers is rising, and ship operators are starting to plot alternative routes. About one-tenth of the world’s seaborne oil trade flowed through the Suez and an associated pipeline in 2018. The cost of renting a tanker from the Middle East to Asia has jumped 47% this week. At least one U.S. export of liquefied natural gas appears to have been rerouted toward South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope to avoid the risk of getting stuck. Ship broker Braemar ACM estimates some 2 million barrels a day of crude and refined oil products are currently stuck at the canal, or about 2% of global oil consumption.
• Ag demand: South Korea’s Korea Corn Processing Industry Association is thought to have rejected all offers in its tender for up to 55,000 MT of corn due to high prices.
Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include (Link to subscribe to FTT):
• Buenos Aires Grains Exchange: recent rains helped stabilize Argentina’s bean crop
• IGC: Rising consumption to absorb much of the production rise for grains, soybeans
• French farm office leaves high wheat crop ratings unchanged
• H&P Report could fan the flame for market bulls
Highlights from President Biden’s presser. "The successful presidents better than me have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they're doing. Order it. Deciding priorities. What needs to be done,” Biden said during his just over an hour press briefing at the White House on Thursday. While he didn’t totally commit to running for re-election in 2024, his comments likely included a slogan for that campaign should he run when he said: "I've not been able to unite the Congress, but I've been uniting the country." Biden read from prepared talking points during answers to three questions on foreign policy. Media watchers noted surprise in what questions were asked and were not asked, and how some reporters asked them. Pictures showing migrants crowded together in cages and reports that many are released despite testing positive for Covid never came up. Questions came from just 10 reporters picked from a prepared list. Each side will see what it wants to see, according to veteran pollster Frank Luntz. “Republicans will focus on his stumbles and think he is visibly unable to be president. Democrats will focus on his substance and his command of the issues and think to themselves, ‘Thank God, he’s president,’” Luntz said. Columnist Byron York wrote, “The ten reporters selected by the White House to ask questions ignored major issues, failed to follow up, and, in at least one instance, attempted to flatter Biden in a performance that added up to an embarrassment for the White House press corps.” Reporters did not ask a single question about the Covid pandemic, vaccines, masks, economic effects nor about schools. The headline in Politico was "Biden meets the press and the pandemic disappears."
- Afghanistan: He intends to have U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by year’s end. “We will leave, the question is when we leave,” Biden said of Afghanistan, following questions about a deal to exit by May 1 that was reached under former President Donald Trump. There are at least 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Under a deal reached by Trump, American service members are due to be pulled out by May 1 as the Afghan government holds talks with the insurgent Taliban movement. Biden said the U.S. was unlikely to meet that deadline, but he said he didn't expect troops to still be in the country by 2022.
- North Korea: Biden said: “There will be responses if they choose to escalate.” Still, he quickly said he would seek diplomatic solutions and work with allies, adding he agreed with former President Barack Obama that North Korea is the top national security threat.
- Re-election: He will likely run for re-election with Vice President Kamala Harris on the ticket but gave no firm commitment.
- Gun violence: “It’s a matter of timing,” Biden said when asked when he would follow through on his promises to tackle gun violence.
- Infrastructure: Biden said he would be unveiling his infrastructure plans in Pittsburgh on Friday, when he is actually due there on Wednesday.
- Filibuster reform: Biden said he may go “beyond” his current view on filibuster reform “if there’s complete lockdown and chaos.” The president said he strongly supports a return to the so-called talking filibuster, which requires senators to remain on the floor in objection to legislation, and signaled openness to additional steps. “If there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster, then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about,” Biden said, without offering specifics. Later, he said he agreed with former President Barack Obama that the filibuster is a “relic of the Jim Crow era” but didn’t say what other changes he would support. Biden urged Republicans to work with him to pass his legislative agenda, which includes a coming multi-trillion-dollar economic, climate-change and infrastructure package, as well as measures on immigration and guns. “Here’s the deal: I think my Republican colleagues are going to have to determine whether or not we want to work together or decide that the way in which they want to proceed is to just decide to divide the country, to continue the politics of division,” he said.
Some lawmakers see the filibuster as an incentive for bipartisanship, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned that the chamber would grind to a halt if Democrats pared back use of the tactic, pointing out that they had deployed it to their advantage in the past. On Wednesday Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) read then-Sen. Biden’s entire hour-long 2005 speech defending the filibuster on the Senate floor. Sen. Biden in 2006 joined a filibuster attempt (which failed) against Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. The Wall Street Journal in a commentary wrote: “In 2020, Democrats were in the minority and used the filibuster to block GOP proposals, including Sen. Tim Scott’s bipartisan police reform. Were Democrats racists then, and was Mr. Biden in 2005?”
- China: “I predict to you: your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded: autocracy or democracy?” Biden said when discussing China. “Because that is what is at stake, not just with China.” Biden declined to say whether he would reverse tariffs imposed against China by Trump and didn’t get into details of his broader strategy, other than to say the U.S. sought competition and would work with allies and to strengthen American industries. China’s goal is to be the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, he said, adding: “That’s not going to happen on my watch because the United States is going to continue to grow and expand.”
- Voting rights: Biden criticized Republicans for pushing legislation that he said could make it more difficult for the public to vote in some states. "What I'm worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It's sick. It's sick. Deciding in some states that you cannot bring water to people standing in line waiting to vote? Deciding that you're going to end voting at 5 o'clock when working people are just getting off work? Deciding that there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances?... I'm convinced that we'll be able to stop this, because it is the most pernicious thing. This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” he said of the state voting proposals. Republicans say that election rules should be left in the hands of the states.
GOP Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday signed into law changes to the state’s election requirements, including altering how people vote absentee and where people can drop off their ballots.
- Southern border issues: Biden blamed the Trump administration for the problems at the southern border and said that “it happens every single solitary year.” (Record numbers of arrivals are being reported daily, and NBC recently called the crossings the highest in 20 years.) The president refused to say when he would allow more media access to the border detention facilities. He said it would have to wait until his team got its new programs working.
Biden labeled his approach as humane, adding he would make no apologies for reversing some of his predecessor’s policies. “We’re building back up the capacity that should have been maintained and built upon, that Trump dismantled,” Biden said. “It’s going to take time.” Biden said the Defense Department recently approved housing unaccompanied minors at bases near the border and that he had put VP Harris in charge of diplomatic efforts. “What we’re doing now is attempting to rebuild the system that can accommodate what is happening today,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think the increase in migrants is due to his presidency.
Asking about the influx of unaccompanied minor children illegally crossing the border, PBS's Yamiche Alcindor said this to Biden: "The perception of you that got you elected — as a moral, decent man — is the reason why a lot of immigrants are coming to this country and entrusting you with unaccompanied minors." Biden’s response: “I’d like to think it’s because I’m a nice guy, but it’s not. It’s because of what’s happened every year.” He said all those crossing the border illegally except children should be sent home. “We’re in negotiations with the president of Mexico,” he said. “I think we’re going to see that change. They should all be going back.”
At one point, Biden actually accused Trump of letting immigrant children “starve to death on the other side” of the Mexican border.
- Covid 19 vaccinations: While reporters surprisingly asked no questions regarding the pandemic and vaccine, Biden announced a new goal of administering 200 million Covid-19 shots by the end of his first 100 days in office as he tries to control a pandemic that has left millions unemployed and more than 545,000 dead. The U.S. is currently administering about 2.5 million Covid-19 shots a day.
— FSA goes from maximum 25% to 50% in staffing local offices. Up to half of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) workforce can be on site in service centers. This follows hefty complaints from FSA staffers and farmers about the prior 25% limitation. The change was based on advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite the prior restriction, program sign-up levels and other service percentages are consistent with the past two years.
— Vilsack vows more action to address discrimination. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said despite existing efforts to remedy racism and discrimination against Black farmers and farmers of color, “more needs to be done to drive our efforts deeper,” and he promised members of the House Ag Committee that he will have a keener focus on the issue during his tenure at USDA. Discrimination and racism at USDA against Black farmers “have prevented numerous African-Americans, among other people of color, from fully realizing the same level of prosperity and success as their white counterparts,” Vilsack wrote in his prepared remarks. “Unfortunately, the racism that resulted in the precipitous decline of Black Farmers over the last century has also been evidenced among other groups of socially disadvantaged farmers.” Link to written testimony of witnesses at the hearing.
Vilsack detailed USDA’s earlier efforts aimed at addressing what he called “the systemic racism and discrimination that has been repeatedly documented and found to plague the programs at USDA, especially in the Farm Loan Programs.”
He also noted moves by Congress on the issue. However, Vilsack said “more must be done” to fully address the issue of racism and discrimination against farmers of color. He promised more action at USDA, through a planned equity commission and said a focus will be addressing “discrimination that has proven to be systemic,” including that related to “the way we have designed or implemented our programs, laws and regulations.”
House Ag Committee chairman David Scott (D-Ga.) said material from the hearing would be used in drafting legislation to ban discriminatory policies at the USDA and improve Black farmer income. “We will also have things in this bill that will increase the number of farmers we have, that acreage (is) reopened,” said Scott at the end of the four-and-a-half-hour hearing.
Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) objected that to “group people out on the color of their skin … it’s discriminatory.” Under the definition USDA will use for socially disadvantaged farmers, he said, “you will pay off loans for foreign nationals but not white women.” Another Republican said that although many farmers struggle, loan forgiveness was available “only if you’re a certain color.”
“We have studied the Constitution,” said Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), defending the debt forgiveness program. In addition, she said, a 1995 Supreme Court decision allows race-based remedies. Adams is among a dozen House sponsors of the Justice for Black Farmers Act, which would create a land grant program for Black farmers, establish an independent board to investigate complaints of discrimination within the USDA, oversee the farmer-elected county committees that guide operations at local USDA offices, and boost funding to resolve “heirs property” issues.
— Senate votes to extend PPP by two months. The Senate voted 92-7 to approve a measure that would extend the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) application deadline by two months — through May 31. The legislation already cleared the House and heads to President Joe Biden for his signature. "There's no reason to let this program expire while there are scores of small businesses still in line and billions of dollars left in the program to provide desperately needed help," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) remarked earlier this week.
— H&M has been erased online in China over Xinjiang stance. The clothing brand had been wiped off e-commerce, ride-hailing, daily-deals and map applications in China as of Thursday, over its decision to stop sourcing from the Xinjiang region.
— China rules imports of Australian wine subject to an anti-dumping duty for five years. China’s Commerce Ministry in a final ruling decided not to collect anti-subsidy tariffs against Australian wine, but it will impose anti-dumping measures on some imports of wine from Australia. The penalties will take effect March 28 and will remain in effect for five years. The interim anti-dumping tariffs ranged from 107.1% to 212.1%, making shipments unfeasible. We’re still working to track down where the final duties were set. The probe was largely thought to be fueled by Chinese displeasure regarding Australia’s criticism of its handling of Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic. China has targeted a number of Australian commodities like barley, meat, dairy, cotton and timber as political tensions rose, again reminding that Chinese President Xi Jinping will work to impose real costs for governments and businesses that criticize the country. Many are currently criticizing China’s human rights record, particularly as it relates to allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang. China has responded by boycotting products and removing those products from its online platforms.
— Conflicting messages from Better Cotton Initiative over Xinjiang cotton. The Chinese branch of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) said Friday it did not find forced labor as it pertains to cotton production in China’s Xinjiang in the last eight years. But BCI has suspended the distribution of licenses or certificates from 2020 to 2021 in Xinjiang given the “current complicated international environment.” BCI says it it’s the largest cotton sustainability program in the world. The region is home to 12 million Uighurs, mostly Muslim, and millions of them have been confined to internment camps, according to foreign researchers and governments. Beijing denies any mistreatment, calling the facilities Vocational Education and Training Centers, which are intended to promote economic development and stamp out radicalism.
ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE
— EIA details new biofuel information to be released. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said it will start publishing additional biofuels data in a monthly report to account for the increase in biofuel production. The report to be released March 31 will include expanded information on production capacity for biodiesel, fuel alcohol and renewable fuels along with expanded information on feedstocks used to produce those biofuels. Reuters previously reported the change was coming and could possibly be added to the WASDE report in May, the first 2021-22 forecasts from USDA.
— Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 87,300,343 with 1,885,614 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 21,305,323 with 361,297 deaths. The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center said that there have been 52,884,356 doses administered, 14,077,440 have been fully vaccinated, or 4.30% of the U.S. population.
— EU leaders clashed over vaccine distribution at a marathon virtual summit on Thursday and failed to settle a fight about supply of the jabs among member states. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz criticized the allocation of shots, demanding additional supplies to Vienna, while some brought up the vaccine share of poorer Eastern European states. The countries failed to come to an agreement but pledged to strengthen vaccine export controls and production on EU soil.
— The mRNA Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna are safe and effective for pregnant women, according to a new study, a pre-proof of which was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Pfizer also started clinical trials of its Covid-19 vaccine on healthy children aged 6 months to 11. They will begin receiving a 10-microgram dose of the vaccine before progressively moving to higher doses, though the option for 3 microgram doses is also available (vaccines for adults require two shots that contain 30 micrograms per dose).
— U.S. vaccine supply could soon outpace demand. Biden administration officials expect the supply of Covid-19 vaccines could outpace demand as soon as mid-May, the New York Times reported. The expected surplus is raising questions about whether the administration should share some of the surplus with other nations. “We want to, largely, be a part of the global solution here,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “There are still a number of factors that are unpredictable that we need to plan for to the best of our ability,” she added noting the rise of new variants and, eventually, to vaccinate children once approved.
POLITICS & ELECTIONS
— Republicans raise stakes re: Iowa second district race. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) an Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) released a letter (link) regarding the Iowa House seat where Democrats are weighing a serious challenge to the results. The senators called on businesses that stopped donating to or condemned Republicans who tried to overturn the presidential election to do the same for Democrats on Iowa. The issue concerns Democrat contender Rita Hart and U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican. Miller-Meeks won the election by six votes, one of the smallest margins in U.S. history. Hart has argued that 22 ballots “were wrongfully rejected by election officials.” The win for Miller-Meeks was certified by the state after a recount. Meanwhile, the WSJ reports (link) that more House Democrats are expressing concern over potentially having to vote later this year on whether to overturn the razor-thin victory in Iowa.
— Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fallen short of securing the parliamentary majority he needs to stay in office, according to the official election count announced Thursday, raising the possibility that Israel’s political gridlock will continue. There is still room for either side to prevail, as the undecided leader of the United Arab List could be persuaded to join a coalition, although divisions within both pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs could prevent that from happening, observers note.
— Senate’s to-do list. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced yesterday a big to-do list when the Senate returns from recess next month, including legislation on hate crimes against Asian Americans, background checks for gun buyers and the Democrats’ massive voting rights package.
— U.S. media misses Donald Trump. The Washington Post newspaper tripled its subscriber base during Donald Trump’s presidency. The post-Trump era is different. The WaPo reports its online traffic fell by 26% between January and February this year. The New York Times saw a 17% drop in hits.
— Dominion Voting sues Fox News for $1.6 billion over 2020 election claims. The lawsuit argues the cable news giant falsely claimed in an effort to boost faltering ratings that the voting company had rigged the 2020 election.
OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE
— Lawmakers chastised Big Tech CEOs. The chief executives of Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet appeared before a House panel Thursday where they were excoriated for lack of accountability and accused of running platforms that sow political discord, spread Covid-19 misinformation and create a dangerous environment for children. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and YouTube owner Alphabet, defended their products’ benefits and denied that they profit from harmful content. At the five-hour hearing on disinformation, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey acknowledged that his platform bore some responsibility for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, while Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai disagreed on whether regulatory changes were needed. Lawmakers were unimpressed: “There’s a lot of smugness among you,” said one. “Your business model itself has become the problem,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
— Cotton AWP falls under 70 cents. The Adjusted World Price (AWP) for cotton fell to 68.55 cents per pound effective today (March 26), the first time under 70 cents since the week of Feb. 5 when it was 66.38 cents per pound. Meanwhile, USDA announced that Special Import Quota #23 will be established April 1 for 38,619 bales of Upland Cotton, applying to supplies purchased not later than June 29 and entered into the U.S. not later than Sept. 27.
— Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp bought Investor’s Business Daily for $275 million, a return to acquisitions after years of sales and streamlining. Link to details via NYT.
— Supreme Court made it easier for consumers to sue companies, ruling that it doesn’t matter if a manufacturer has a substantial presence in the state where an injury happened. The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Ford Motor Co. must face product-liability claims stemming from serious auto accidents in Montana and Minnesota, a setback for corporations seeking to limit their exposure to lawsuits in state courts. The court, in an opinion by Justice Elena Kagan, ruled unanimously that Montana’s and Minnesota’s jurisdiction over Ford was appropriate because the auto maker “has a veritable truckload” of business contacts with both states, including advertising, selling and servicing the vehicles that the lawsuits claimed were defective.