The Biden administration extends a pause on student loan payments.
White House officials said student loan borrowers would get an extra 90 days, until May 1, before having to resume their payments.
President Biden extended a pause on student loan payments on Wednesday.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
The Biden administration has extended the pause on student loans to May 1, pushing back the restart of payments for tens of millions of borrowers whose loans have been effectively frozen for nearly two years.
Borrowers’ payments had been set to resume in February.
“We know that millions of student loan borrowers are still coping with the impacts of the pandemic and need some more time before resuming payments,” President Biden said in a statement.
About 41 million borrowers have benefited from a freeze on interest accruals and nearly 27 million borrowers haven’t had to pay their monthly bills since the forbearance began. About 7.2 million in default got a reprieve from collections.
The so-called administrative forbearance was initially put in place as part of the CARES Act in March 2020, and was later extended by then-President Donald J. Trump. When Mr. Biden took office in January, he pushed the date back to Sept. 30 and then in August, he pushed it back again to Jan. 31.
“The Biden administration has thrown a lifeline to student loan borrowers in the face of economic and public health reality,” said Mike Pierce, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center. “This was a necessary action for borrowers to be able to stay afloat.”
The purchase of at-home coronavirus tests will be capped at Walgreens and CVS locations nationwide as demand for kits continues to surge amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
CVS announced in a statement on Tuesday that the pharmacy had added a limit of six test kits per purchase both in stores and online. The company, which has more than 4,800 locations, said that kits sold online might become temporarily out of stock as it tries to make them available in stores to meet demand.
Walgreens also announced on Tuesday that the company would limit purchases of at-home test kits to four. The pharmacy chain said some stores might experience a temporary shortage in rapid over-the-counter testing kits.
“We ask that our customers please show patience and understanding,” John Standley, the president of Walgreens, said in a statement.
The caps come as Omicron’s rapid spread — the fastest of any variant yet — has customers flocking to testing sites and pharmacies. At-home tests are flying off shelves, and Americans are sometimes waiting in line for hours at testing sites.
Virus cases in the United States have risen 27 percent in the past 14 days, and hospitalizations have climbed 13 percent in the same period, according to a New York Times coronavirus tracker. President Biden said on Tuesday that the government would buy 500 million rapid coronavirus tests and distribute them free to Americans, as well as create new vaccination and testing sites and send 1,000 military medical professionals to help hospitals nationwide.
Walgreens and CVS offer several brands of coronavirus tests, including Abbott BinaxNOW, Acon FlowFlex, Quidel Quickvue, Ellume and Pixel by LabCorp. The pharmacies also offer lab-based testing with a one- to two-day turnaround.
Amazon reinstated a mask mandate for all employees in its U.S. warehouses starting on Wednesday, as the Omicron variant spreads nationwide and the company makes a final shipping push before Christmas.
Amazon previously had mask mandates at its U.S. warehouses but most recently required masks only for employees who were not fully vaccinated, unless local authorities said otherwise.
About two-thirds of Amazon’s workers were vaccinated as of November, according to data compiled by the Shift Project at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. The company has about 750,000 warehouse workers in the United States.
Amazon told workers in a notification on the employee app on Tuesday that it changed the mask policy “in response to the rapid spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant in the U.S. and guidance from public health authorities and our own medical experts.” It told workers it hoped the mandate would be necessary only in the winter and would be lifted “further into 2022.”
The company also told workers in New York on Tuesday that they needed to provide proof of at least one dose of vaccination by Dec. 27, when the city’s vaccine mandate takes effect. It was unclear what would happen to workers who did not comply.
“We are working through the process now for any individual who hasn’t received their first dose or submitted a request for accommodation,” the notification said.
Amazon declined to comment beyond the notifications to workers.
The federal government’s main auto safety regulator has opened an investigation into a feature in Teslas that allows drivers to play games on a dashboard touch screen while the car is in motion.
“This functionality, referred to as ‘Passenger Play,’ may distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on Tuesday in a document filed on its website.
The action comes after The New York Times reported on the safety concern this month.
The inquiry by the safety agency, which is part of the Department of Transportation, covers about 580,000 cars and sport utility vehicles from model years 2017 through 2022. The agency is separately also investigating potential flaws in the electric car company’s Autopilot system that can steer, accelerate and brake a car on its own.
“In opening this preliminary evaluation, NHTSA will evaluate the scenarios in which a driver could interact with the “Passenger Play” feature,” the agency said.
This investigation is not focused on Autopilot, but NHTSA hinted at potential concerns that drivers could play games while using that advanced driver-assistance system in the mistaken belief that the car was driving itself. Tesla instructs drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention to the road while using Autopilot.
“NHTSA reminds the public that no commercially available motor vehicles today can drive themselves,” the agency said. “Certain advanced driving assistance features can promote safety by helping drivers avoid crashes and mitigate the severity of crashes that occur, but as with all technologies and equipment on motor vehicles, drivers must use them correctly and responsibly.”
Safety experts have criticized Tesla for not installing effective safeguards in its cars to ensure drivers keep their hands on the steering wheel and their eyes on the road while using Autopilot.
The company and its chief executive, Elon Musk, have also been criticized by safety experts for promoting Autopilot and a more advanced package of services called Full Self Driving as self-driving systems. The company has allowed some owners to take to public roads to test Full Self Driving, which Tesla has said cannot in fact drive its cars on its own despite its name.
The video game feature has been available since December 2020 in some Tesla vehicles, the agency said. “Prior to this time, gameplay was enabled only when the vehicle was in park,” the agency added.
In August, Tesla provided an over-the-air update to its cars’ software that added three games that can be played while the vehicles are in motion — solitaire; a jet fighter game, Sky Force Reloaded; and The Battle of Polytopia: Moonrise, a conquest strategy game.
Vince Patton, a retiree in Lake Oswego, Ore., filed a complaint with the safety agency through its website after buying a Tesla Model 3 this summer. He said he was able to play a solitaire game on the Model 3 while in motion.
“I’m astonished,” he told The Times. “To me, it just seems inherently dangerous.”
Gregory Schmidt contributed reporting.
Europe’s energy crunch shows little sign of easing. Natural gas markets, the root of the problem, remain on edge because supplies are tight, and traders doubt whether the continent has enough of the fuel stored to last a cold winter without disruption.
The buildup of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine, through which Russian gas flows to the West, also has added to concerns about whether gas will run out. Already, low volumes of gas from Russia, Europe’s main source of imports of the fuel, have helped raise prices in recent months.
“There is a risk of supply shortages that could erode economic growth and trigger public discord,” said Henning Gloystein, a director for energy and climate at Eurasia Group, a political risk firm, adding that blackouts are possible in a worst-case scenario. Mr. Gloystein said that should the situation worsen, governments might order factories cut their gas use to ensure that households have enough to keep warm.
On Tuesday, gas on the TTF trading hub in the Netherlands hit a record level of about $60 per million British thermal units on reports that flows in a pipeline that brings Russian gas to Germany were being switched back toward the East. (European gas prices have doubled this month and are roughly 15 times what gas is selling for in the United States.)
Mr. Gloystein said that this change of direction might reflect opportunistic trading activity rather than sinister maneuvering on the part of Moscow, but the fact remains that natural gas markets in Europe are ready to soar at the slightest provocation.
Tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine make it very unlikely that the giant Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany will open anytime soon and bring relief.
On a call with reporters on Tuesday, Karen Donfried, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said that Washington considered Nord Stream 2 “a Russian geopolitical project that undermines the energy security and the national security of a significant part of the Euro-Atlantic community.”
Ms. Donfried said that the United States was working closely with the new German government to strengthen Europe’s energy security. Attracted by high prices, energy companies are instructing ships carrying liquefied natural gas to change their destinations from Asia to Europe, but even that switching may not be enough to replace Russian gas or significantly ease the crunch.
“The market knows there is more LNG coming,” said Laura Page, an analyst at Kpler, a research firm. “But it doesn’t seem to be having any impact on sentiment.”
Because gas is a key fuel for generating electricity, electric power prices also are soaring across Europe. In Britain, for instance, steady power was trading on Tuesday for about 340 pounds, about $450, per megawatt-hour, a wholesale metric, on the Epex Spot exchange. That’s about three times the average price of electricity over the year.
The high gas prices of recent months will eventually lead to rises in energy costs for households in Britain and other countries. Martin Young, an analyst at Investec, a securities firm, forecast in a recent note to clients that British consumers, who have been protected by price ceilings, could see their energy bills rise by more than 50 percent when adjustments are announced early next year.
In recent days, the closure of three French nuclear plants to check for faults has further stoked the power market.
“It’s becoming the new normal for this winter,” Mark Devine, a trader at Sembcorp, an energy firm, said of the elevated prices.
Mary C. Daly was in line behind a woman in her neighborhood Walgreens in Oakland, Calif., this fall when she witnessed an upsetting consequence of inflation. The shopper, who was older, was shuffling uncomfortably as the clerk rang up her items.
“She starts ruffling in her pockets, and in her purse,” Ms. Daly said in an interview with The New York Times’s Jeanna Smialek. “And she says: This is a lot more expensive than it usually is. I buy these things — these are my monthly purchases.”
The woman had to put something back — she chose potato chips — because she couldn’t afford everything in her basket.
The moment hit especially hard for Ms. Daly, who is president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. As one of the Fed’s 18 top officials, she is one of the people who sets economic policy to help to ensure a strong job market and to keep prices for goods and services stable.
As recently as mid-November, she had argued that the Fed should be patient in removing its support, avoiding an overreaction to inflation that might prove temporary and risk unnecessarily slowingthe recovery of the labor market. But incoming data have confirmed thatemployers are still struggling to hire even as consumer prices are rising at the fastest clip in nearly 40 years. Rising rents and tangled supply chains could continue to push up inflation. And she’s running into more people like that woman in Walgreens.
Ms. Daly, who spoke to The New York Times in two interviews in November and December, has shifted her tone particularly dramatically in recent weeks. How she came to change her mind highlights how policymakers have been caught off guard by the persistence of high inflation and are now struggling to strike the right balance between addressing it while not harming the labor market.
“My community members are telling me they’re worried about inflation,” Ms. Daly said last week. “What influenced me quite a lot was recognizing that the very communities we’re trying to serve when we talk about people sidelined” from the labor market “are the very communities that are paying the largest toll of rising food prices, transportation prices and housing prices.”
Ms. Daly said it was too early to know when the first rate increase would be warranted, but suggested she could be open to having the Fed begin raising rates as soon as March. READ THE FULL ARTICLE ->
From the meme stock rally to the “metaverse,” the chief executives that mattered in 2021 included Robinhood’sVlad Tenev and Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg.
Mr. Tenev navigated criticism of his company’s commission-free trading app to pull off an initial public offering that valued the brokerage start-up at more than $30 billion. Mr. Zuckerberg changed his company name and direction, and he pushed Meta to be more aggressive in responding to controversies, including a trove of leaked internal documents that outlined how much the company knew about harmful effects of its products.
Another notable chief executive, Citigroup’s Jane Fraser, the first woman to lead one of the nation’s largest financial firms, shook up the bank’s culture and took a different approach with its return-to-office plan than rivals, promising “Zoom-free Fridays” and permanent hybrid work schedules for all who wanted one.
What top executives will be the newsmakers of 2022? The Dealbook newsletter has some predictions for the chief executives to watch in the new year.
If 2022 turns out to be a return to normal, the chief executives of the companies that saw the biggest boost from the pandemic might be the ones trying to figure out how to stay afloat. Shares of Peloton have fallen 61 percent over the past three months, while those in Moderna and Zoom have sunk about 30 percent in the same period.
Peloton’s chief, John Foley, must reverse a sales slump driven by gym reopenings.
Zoom’s chief executive, Eric Yuan, must convince investors that its core videoconferencing software can adapt to a new era of hybrid work.
Although the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus may amplify demand for boosters, Moderna’s leader, St?phane Bancel, must prove that his company has more than one viable vaccine.
Some executives took on prominent new chief executive positions this year that are worth watching.
Rosalind Brewerwas picked to run Walgreens in March — and has moved the pharmacy chain further into health care and away from retail.
Thasunda Brown Duckett, a top JPMorgan Chase executive, began leading the finance giant TIAA in May.
Parag Agrawal, who became Twitter’s chief in November, will have to prove that he can deliver on the social network’s ambitious growth targets.
After nearly 10 years in stealth mode and holding one of the biggest I.P.O.s of this year, Rivian is under pressure to deliver on its promise of doing for electric trucks what Tesla did for electric cars. Despite having sold just 386 vehicles as of last week, Rivian’s market cap is now bigger than that of Ford (an investor) and on par with that of General Motors. R.J. Scaringe, the automaker’s chief, has big expansion plans for next year, including breaking ground on a $5 billion factory in Georgia while expanding Rivian’s existing plant in Illinois, and producing 100,000 delivery vehicles for Amazon, another investor.
Mary Barra of General Motors expects a big payoff from the investments that the carmaker has made in electric vehicles. In October, she said the company aimed to roughly double its annual revenue by 2030, to about $280 billion, growth driven mostly by new electric trucks and cars, but also by new revenue streams from software and services. In 2022, investors will undoubtedly keep an eye on the company’s progress on those ambitious goals.
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the chief executive of Citigroup. She is Jane Fraser, not Frasier.
Twitter’s cryptocurrency community presents a mostly united front against all challenges. But Jack Dorsey, a founder of Twitter and Square and a Bitcoin evangelist, just exposed a deep internal rift over the direction of crypto and pitted himself against some of the industry’s deepest-pocketed backers, the DealBook newsletter reports.
The fight is over Web3, the industry name for a blockchain-based internet that runs on crypto tokens. Supporters say it will democratize and decentralize commerce, finance, gaming and more. But Mr. Dorsey warned that Web3 was really owned by the venture capitalists who are pouring billions into cryptoventures: “It will never escape their incentives,” he tweeted.
Others echo Mr. Dorsey’s concerns. Charles Hoskinson, who co-founded the Ethereum platform, told DealBook that heavy venture involvement in an ostensibly decentralized ecosystem is problematic, since they have ways of potentially taking outsized control of projects. Elon Musk cheekily tweeted, “Has anyone seen web3? I can’t find it” — to which Mr. Dorsey replied, “It’s somewhere between a and z,” a seeming dig at the venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, widely known in Silicon Valley as A16Z.
Andreessen has heavily promoted Web3 in recent months and invested billions in related projects like decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs. These entities are governed by users who vote with tokens. A16Z has argued in policy discussions with government officials and media that DAOs are an update on the “antiquated” joint stock corporation..
Crypto-focused investors pushed back. Balaji Srinivasan, a former A16Z partner, replied to Dorsey that Web3 offered “the possibility, not guarantee, of something better,” while accusing Twitter of abandoning its own high-minded ideals and succumbing to “corporate and political incentives.” (Mr. Dorsey rejected that argument, saying Twitter had started as a corporation and acted like one from Day 1.)
At stake is the shape of the future of the crypto economy. This fight is pitting Bitcoin maximalists like Mr. Dorsey, who believe the original crypto is the only way forward, against supporters of the Ethereum blockchain network, which runs on the popular Ether token, and ventures based on other tokens. Chris Dixon, an A16Z partner, tweeted that he hoped Mr. Dorsey would abandon his hard-line stance: Bitcoin, Mr. Dixon wrote, “is great as digital gold but there are other important applications that require other chains.”
U.S. stocks rose Wednesday, with the S&P 500 extending its gains after breaking a three-day loss streak as investors consider how the outbreak of the Omicron variant may disrupt economic activity in the new year.
The S&P 500, the U.S. benchmark, was up 0.8 percent in midday trading after gaining 1.8 percent on Tuesday, and is up more than 23 percent for the year. The Nasdaq composite also was up 0.8 percent on Wednesday.
A surge in Covid-19 cases has prompted Europe and the United States to renew lockdowns and travel restrictions, creating fresh uncertainty about the economic recovery.
On Tuesday, President Biden said he would deploy 1,000 military medical professionals to hospitals to combat the surge of the virus, as well as open new testing and vaccination sites and distribute 500 million rapid tests to the public for free. But public health experts warned that the measures would not be enough to curb a rise in infections over the next few weeks.
A setback in President Biden’s efforts to pass a comprehensive domestic policy bill also pushed stocks lower on Monday after Senator Joe Manchin III said on Sunday that he would oppose the legislation. Mr. Manchin’s objection stems from the bill’s proposed extension of the child tax credit, a program under which most families have been receiving monthly payments of up to $300 per child.
In Europe, stock indexes rose, with the Stoxx Europe 600 closing 0.9 percent higher. Asian markets closed mixed.
Oil prices rose on Wednesday, with West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, up 1.6 percent at $72.25 a barrel. Energy stocks were among the best performers in the S&P 500, with Devon Energy Corporation up 3.6 percent and Marathon Oil Corporation gaining 2.5 percent.
The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized the first pill for Covid-19, offering a highly effective defense against severe illness that will arrive as the country endures another major surge of the pandemic.
The drug, developed by Pfizer and known as Paxlovid, is authorized for Covid patients age 12 and over who are vulnerable to becoming severely ill because they are older or have medical conditions such as obesity or diabetes. Tens of millions of Americans — including both vaccinated and unvaccinated people — will be eligible if they get infected with the virus. The treatment could be available within a few days.
Pfizer’s laboratory studies indicate that its pills are likely to work against the Omicron variant, which has rapidly become the dominant form of new cases in the United States.
The treatment is meant to be taken as 30 pills over five days. Patients take three pills at a time: two of Pfizer’s pills and one of a low-dose H.I.V. drug known as ritonavir, which helps Pfizer’s drug remain active in the body longer.
A clinical trial indicated that Paxlovid was highly effective when taken soon after an infection. In a final analysis of a key study conducted while the Delta variant was surging, Pfizer’s drug reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 88 percent when given to high-risk unvaccinated volunteers within five days of the start of their symptoms.
Paxlovid appears to be substantially more effective than a similar antiviral pill from Merck, known as molnupiravir, that is still awaiting authorization by the F.D.A. In a clinical trial, Merck’s drug reduced risk of hospitalization and death for high-risk patients by 30 percent.
The federal government has ordered enough of Pfizer’s pills to cover 10 million people, at a cost of about $530 per patient, but supply will be limited at first.
Within a week of authorization, Pfizer is expected to deliver to the United States enough of its pills to cover 65,000 Americans. At current infection rates, that would be enough supply for less than one day if it were given to half of people in the United States who test positive for the virus.
Pfizer is expected to deliver to the United States another 200,000 treatment courses in January and then another 150,000 treatment courses in February. The pace of deliveries is expected to increase sharply after that.
Until now, monoclonal antibody drugs, which are typically infused into the bloodstream at a hospital or clinic, have been the only authorized treatments for Covid patients who are not yet hospitalized, but at higher risk of developing severe disease. But the antibodies have gone to fewer people than the pills are expected to reach, and most of the country’s supply of the antibody products is unlikely to work against Omicron.
To get Pfizer’s pills, the F.D.A. said, patients will need to test positive for the virus and get a prescription from a health care provider, all within no more than five days after their symptoms start. Those requirements may pose serious challenges.
While the agency did not specify which type of test will be needed, over-the-counter rapid antigen tests, which return results within 15 minutes, are expected to be widely used. President Biden announced on Tuesday that the administration is buying 500 million rapid tests to distribute free to the public, but it is not clear if that will be enough to meet what is expected to be very high demand.
Today in the On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide writes that in 2021, the tech titans became both more powerful and more vulnerable.