Goldman Sachs has joined JPMorgan Chase in telling its bankers that it’s almost time to come back to the office. David Solomon, Goldman’s C.E.O., sent a memo to employees advising them to “make plans to be in a position to return to the office” by June 14 in the U.S. and June 21 in Britain. JPMorgan plans to open its offices on May 17 on a voluntary basis and require that workers return to their desks in rotations starting in July.
Goldman and JPMorgan’s moves put pressure on other banks to put an end to remote work, several bankers told DealBook. While many thought they could work from home through the summer, some executives are keen to get employees back into the office sooner. (Retail branches have been open throughout the pandemic.) Other major banks aren’t expecting employees to return in meaningful numbers for several months:
Citigroup expects to have about 30 percent of its North America-based employees back in the office by the end of the summer.
Bank of America’s C.E.O., Brian Moynihan, said recently that a return to the office probably wouldn’t take place until after Labor Day.
Wells Fargo said it was “optimistic” that workers would be able to return to the office on Sept. 6.
These decisions may be complicated by where the banks’ offices are. It could be easier to coax workers back to JPMorgan’s headquarters in Midtown East, for example, than to Times Square, home to Barclays and Morgan Stanley, where businesses were especially hard-hit by the pandemic and a handful of highly publicized crimes have recently taken place. “People are so on edge and so uncertain about their own future that all these situations are exaggerated,” Kathryn Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, told The Times.
Jamie Dimon appears eager for the end of remote working. “I’m about to cancel all my Zoom meetings,” the JPMorgan chief said at an event hosted by The Wall Street Journal. Working from home “does not work for younger people, it doesn’t work for those who want to hustle, it doesn’t work in terms of spontaneous idea generation,” he noted. Dimon said his bank had lost some business because rivals had visited a potential client in person and JPMorgan’s bankers hadn’t. He acknowledged that there was some pushback on the bank’s plans, but didn’t seem willing to give in. “Yes, people don’t like commuting, but so what,” he said.
In other Manhattan workplace moves, the New York Stock Exchange issued guidance that allows trading firms to increase their staff on the floor if the employees provide proof of vaccination. And the United Nations is taking a more cautious approach to reopening than its host city, saying that it was premature to plan for an in-person General Assembly in September.
Even Eric Yuan, Zoom’s C.E.O., has Zoom fatigue. As a result, he has stopped scheduling back-to-back video chats. “I’m so tired of that,” he said.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Business groups oppose voting restrictions in Texas. A coalition including HP and Microsoft published a letter yesterday criticizing “any changes that would restrict eligible voters’ access to the ballot.” A second letter, signed by more than 100 Houston executives, criticized the Texas legislation as “voter suppression.” Both show how companies are more willing to wade into the debate over voting limits after Georgia enacted a bill with restrictions last month.
More details emerge about the Gates divorce. Cascade Investment, a holding company owned by Bill Gates, transferred over $1.8 billion worth of assets to Melinda Gates on Monday, the day that the two announced their plans to split. And although they will retain their roles as co-chairs and trustees of the Gates Foundation, questions remain about whether they will focus more on their individual philanthropies after they divorce.
The White House alters its Covid-19 vaccination strategy. The Biden administration will shift emphasis from mass inoculation sites to smaller ones like pharmacies to get more people in the U.S. vaccinated. Meanwhile, the campaign to vaccinate the world is floundering, with the virus spreading more rapidly than ever, driven by new waves in South America and India.
Corporate America responds to India’s pandemic surge. The Global Task Force on Pandemic Response, organized by the Chamber of Commerce, Microsoft, IBM and Accenture, with support from the Business Roundtable, will organize assistance to the country. It will begin by sending 1,000 ventilators and 25,000 oxygen concentrators by the end of the month.
Pfizer reveals how its Covid-19 vaccine has boosted its financials. The drugmaker said it had collected $3.5 billion in sales from the shot, likely equating to roughly $900 million in pretax profits. It plans to seek emergency approval to use the vaccine in children age 2 to 11 in September and full approval for use in adults this month.
Janet Yellen states the obvious, and markets shudder
Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary and former Fed chair, got in a bit of a tangle yesterday. She rattled the markets at one event — then used her appearance at a second conference to clarify her remarks.
Today in Business
“It may be that interest rates will have to rise somewhat to make sure that our economy doesn’t overheat,” she said at the first event, hosted by The Atlantic. Investors seized on those words — tech stocks tumbled most of all on the prospects of higher rates — and critics said she was improperly interfering in monetary policy. Fed officials have said that any spike in inflation linked to robust government spending and a postpandemic reopening is likely to be temporary; the central bank has pledged to keep interest rates low for a long time.
“Let me be clear, it’s not something I’m predicting or recommending,” Yellen said at the second event, hosted by The Wall Street Journal, a few hours later. “If anybody appreciates the independence of the Fed, I think that person is me.” Indeed, when she was the Fed chair, Yellen had to deal with persistent jawboning from Donald Trump, who spoke out more explicitly about Fed policy than many previous presidents. Stocks pared their losses.
“Markets were unhappy at this statement of the blindingly obvious,” Paul Donovan of UBS wrote in a note to clients today. He and other market watchers have noted that Yellen’s comments essentially described the mechanics of monetary policy and weren’t framed as a prediction. Still, her words carry extra weight, given her previous job. The brief freakout over the mere notion of higher interest rates also revealed how dependent the markets have become on extraordinarily easy monetary policy over the past year.
“This trial is going to be a sprawling mess of irrelevant, prejudicial evidence.”
— Amy Saharia, a lawyer for Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, at her client’s first appearance in court over criminal fraud charges in more than a year. A federal prosecutor responded that Holmes “defrauded patients by saying tests were accurate and reliable when they weren’t — and she knew it.”
Dogecoin does its thing
Dogecoin, the cryptocurrency that started as a joke, is still on a tear, after another surge pushed it up a whopping 14,000 percent so far this year. One theory is that the upcoming appearance of Elon Musk, a noted Dogecoin superfan, as host of “Saturday Night Live” could get more people interested in trading the crypto token. (It’s as good a reason as any for those who try to rationalize its movements.)
The latest bout of Dogecoin mania has overshadowed what’s going on in Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency, which set records this week and made its 27-year-old co-creator, Vitalik Buterin, a billionaire (in dollars). Ethereum is up more than 350 percent for the year to date, outpacing Bitcoin’s relatively pedestrian 90 percent gain — which, for context, outpaces every stock in the S&P 500.
Who decides Trump’s fate on Facebook
At 9 a.m. Eastern today, the Facebook Oversight Board will announce whether it believes Facebook was justified in barring Donald Trump after he used the platform to incite a mob of supporters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. Here’s what you need to know about what Mark Zuckerberg has called Facebook’s “Supreme Court,” whose decision could influence how all social networks treat political speech.
What is the Facebook Oversight Board? Facebook assembled the board to vet its most sensitive decisions on moderating content. It consists of 20 members, including experts in human rights, constitutional law and journalism. The board’s cases, which are referred by Facebook or the public, are reviewed by a panel of five members, who consider whether the company’s decision is consistent with its rules and human rights laws. A majority of the full board must approve the final decision.
Does the board have any power? Only what Facebook gives it. The company has said it will abide by the board’s rulings, and the board’s charter emphasizes its independence. But Facebook has no legal obligation to follow those decisions, and it funds the organization through a $130 million trust.
What exactly will the board decide in this case? It could vote to reinstate Trump’s Facebook account or uphold the ban. Or it could provide a ruling with more nuance, such as finding that the ban was appropriate at the time it was initiated but is no longer necessary. In addition to a ruling in this case, Facebook has asked for broader policy recommendations.
“Basically the board is setting the tone here for what they’re going to do going forward — how much power they’re going to have, how much power they’re not going to have, whether they’re even going to be constrained by how the question was posed to them with Facebook,” Kate Klonick, an assistant professor of law at St. John’s University, told NPR.
THE SPEED READ
Tiger Global, the big tech investment firm, reportedly plans to raise $10 billion for its next fund. (FT)
Listing news roundup: Jessica Alba’s Honest Company raised $413 million in its I.P.O. at a $1.5 billion valuation; JAB’s Krispy Kreme filed confidentially to go public; and the Equinox gym chain is reportedly in talks to merge with a SPAC founded by Chamath Palihapitiya. (Bloomberg)
Politics and policy
How two Black C.E.O.s got corporate America to pay attention to voting rights. (WaPo)
U.S. officials are pushing Taiwanese chip makers to prioritize American automakers’ demands to ease supply shortages. (Reuters)
Inside the debate about who would actually pay President Biden’s corporate tax increase. (WSJ)
China is building electric car plants nearly as fast as Europe and the U.S. combined. (NYT)
The privacy-focused messaging app Signal said Facebook had blocked it from buying Instagram ads about the social network’s user-data gathering practices. (Insider)
Best of the rest
A majority of G.E. shareholders voted to reject a $230 million compensation package for the company’s C.E.O., Larry Culp. (FT)
Pandora, the world’s largest jewelry maker, is abandoning mined diamonds for lab-created ones. (NYT)
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