The electric-car maker Tesla is known for bucking convention. That apparently extends to using its own corporate cash to buy Bitcoin.
The company disclosed in its annual report on Monday that it had purchased $1.5 billion worth of the cryptocurrency, as part of an initiative begun last month to invest in alternative assets like digital currencies and gold bullion. It added that it expected to begin accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment “in the near future.”
Tesla said it held $19.4 billion in cash and equivalents as of Dec. 31.
Other companies, including the payments processor Square and the business intelligence software provider MicroStrategy, have publicly said they were investing corporate cash in Bitcoin. Tesla is perhaps the most prominent company to do so.
The carmaker’s chief executive, Elon Musk, is known for promoting cryptocurrencies on his widely followed Twitter feed. Most recently, he has cheered on Dogecoin, a digital token begun as a joke but whose price has soared after encouragement by Mr. Musk.
In December, Mr. Musk said on Twitter that Bitcoin was “almost as” shaky as conventional currency. He has previously criticized efforts by central banks to ease monetary policy to support the economy as “massive currency issuance.”
His Twitter pronouncements have caused trouble for Mr. Musk, who recently became the world’s richest man. In 2018, he and Tesla reached a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission after he said he had the “funding secured” to take Tesla private at $420 a share. The financing for the effort was not nearly as far along as Mr. Musk made it out to be, and the S.E.C. required him to step down as chairman of Tesla. He and the company were required to pay $20 million each in fines.
Under that deal and a revised agreement he and the S.E.C. reached in 2019, a Tesla lawyer has to approve any Twitter posts in which Mr. Musk discusses the company’s financial condition, earnings forecasts and other important information. The revised agreement came after the securities regulator sought to have Mr. Musk in contempt of court for violating the 2018 agreement with a post, which had not been reviewed by a lawyer, about the number of cars Tesla would produce and deliver in 2019.
Mr. Musk, who has more than 46 million followers on Twitter, has also used the social media platform to encourage the frenzy for the shares of GameStop, the troubled video game retailer. And last year, he criticized how elected officials and others were responding to the coronavirus pandemic and wrote last March that the number of confirmed virus cases would be “close to zero” by the end of April.
Bitcoin reached a record after Tesla’s announcement, rising more than 10 percent in Monday morning trading to above $44,000 per coin.
For many technology companies, the past 12 months have been a roller coaster, starting with a pandemic-driven market-wide sell-off in March and ending with one of the largest stock market run-ups in history. But for Japan’s SoftBank, which manages the world’s largest tech investment fund, it has been an especially wild ride.
In an earnings report released on Monday, SoftBank notched more than $11 billion in profit for the three months that ended in December, driven by surging values for the company’s portfolio of holdings in companies like Uber and the food delivery app DoorDash, which have experienced whiplash changes in their share prices over the last year.
The result was a far cry from SoftBank’s position at the same time last year. Then, the company found itself in the midst of an epic slide that ended with its declaring an annual operating loss of more than $12 billion following investment losses on companies hit hard by the pandemic.
But what the market takes away, it can also give back. By the summer, SoftBank had already undergone a seemingly miraculous recovery thanks to the sale of tens of billions of dollars of assets and a hot stock market.
Since then, the market has grown hotter still. In December, the value of SoftBank’s investments in DoorDash and the biotech company Seer, among others, skyrocketed as investors piled into the companies’ initial public offerings as part of a broader frenzy for new share sales. A market rally in shares of Uber was also a major profit driver for SoftBank this quarter, it said.
In a triumphant earnings conference, SoftBank’s founder, Masayoshi Son, compared his company to the goose that laid the golden egg. In February of last year, the media was saying that the company was laying only “rotten eggs,” Mr. Son said. But this earnings report has proved the skeptics wrong, he argued.
“We have a turbocharger strategy to turn white eggs into golden eggs,” he said, adding, “Those golden eggs are laid not by chance but by plan.”
Investors so far seemed to agree. After a precipitous drop this summer, SoftBank’s share price has surged. The stock was trading at 9,485 yen, or about $90, per share in Tokyo by market close Monday, almost matching its highs in early 2000, just before the collapse of the first internet stock bubble.
The S&P 500 climbed further into record territory on Monday, amid optimism that the vaccine rollout and fiscal stimulus will pave the way for the economic recovery.
The index rose less than half a percent. Last week, the S&P 500 had its best week since early November.
Over the weekend, Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, pushed for the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion spending plan. She said passing the stimulus package could allow the economy to reach full employment by next year, but doing too little could scar workers and the economy for years.
West Texas Intermediate futures, the U.S. crude benchmark, rose 1.2 percent to $57.54 a barrel on Monday, above the high from early 2020. During the first few months of the pandemic, oil prices collapsed, with some futures briefly dipping into negative prices.
Futures for Brent crude, the global benchmark, crossed above $60 a barrel for the first time since January 2020.
Production cuts by OPEC countries and its allies have helped buoy oil prices. The recovery should benefit oil and gas companies, which recently reported steep declines in profit for 2020 because the pandemic sapped demand for oil.
GameStop, Dogecoin and ‘meme’ trading
GameStop shares rose 10 percent in early trading, extending a rebound from Friday. In the past two weeks, shares in the video game retailer have been on a wild ride spurred on by retail traders hyping up the stock in a Reddit forum that has made fast winners and losers of amateur investors.
Dogecoin, a joke cryptocurrency, is rallying again as celebrities and billionaires including Elon Musk and Snoop Dogg post memes and plug the digital coin. In the past 24 hours, its price has risen 25 percent.
Europe and Asia
Stock indexes in Europe rose with Italy’s benchmark again among the best performers as Mario Draghi, the former European Central Bank president, works to set up a new government and end the recent political impasse. The Stoxx Europe 600 gained 0.6 percent, led higher by bank stocks.
Stocks in Asia ended the day higher. The Nikkei 225 in Japan jumped 2.1 percent, and the index was above 29,000 for the first time since 1990. The biggest contributor was SoftBank, which reported a quarterly profit of $11 billion because of a surge in value of some of its investments, including Uber and DoorDash.
The Super Bowl commercial breaks are usually a stage for extravagant filmmaking, where celebrity-packed casts frolic through fantastical sets with production costs that rival the multi-million-dollar price tags attached to their broadcast slots.
This year, a 30-second game-time placement cost roughly $5.5 million. But if Sunday’s crop of commercials seem pared down, the pandemic is to blame.
The e-commerce marketplace Mercari said it cast actors who already lived together. A commercial for the sandwich chain Jimmy John’s mostly features the comedian Brad Garrett in scenes by himself (a spokeswoman said that the company wanted to observe pandemic safety guidelines and “be sensitive in portraying anything that would be perceived as out of sync with consumers’ eyes in 2021”).
Rachel Ferdinando, the chief marketing officer of Frito-Lay North America, said that roughly 90 percent of the staffing on its Super Bowl commercials was virtual. The ads will feature brands such as Doritos, mostly featuring Matthew McConaughey by himself or in small groups, and Cheetos, with the married duo Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher and their house guest Shaggy).
“It wasn’t an easy feat,” Ferdinando said.
Frito-Lay began planning its Super Bowl campaigns in the spring but did not commit to run ads during CBS’s broadcast until December, Ferdinando said. The company will not host events in Tampa this weekend, as it would in a normal year.
“We were just working with longer lead times, and really planning as much as possible to ensure that we could mitigate risk,” she said. “But we weren’t sure if the season would go as planned, and weren’t sure how it would shake out during the course of the year.”
Huggies, a diaper brand that decided late last year to make its Super Bowl debut, will not finish making its ad until Sunday — the company plans to pad its already filmed material with images, captured and transmitted virtually by families, of infants born earlier that day.
“We’re not shooting anything — we’re not going to be in the hospitals,” said Rebecca Dunphey, president of the personal care division at Huggies’ parent company, Kimberly-Clark North America. “100 percent we’re doing this because of safety, because we want to make sure that we are not creating any more stress on these parents.”
Federal, state and local health authorities across the United States are using dozens of algorithms — some automated systems and others simple prioritization lists — to help determine where vaccines are sent and who can get them.
The formulas generally follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prioritize frontline health care workers, nursing home residents, senior citizens and those with major health risks — and yet public health agencies and medical centers at every level have developed different allocation formulas, based on a variety of ethical and political considerations.
The result: Americans are experiencing wide disparities in vaccine access.
Oregon, for instance, has prioritized teachers over the elderly for Covid shots, an approach that could help schools and businesses reopen. New Jersey has put smokers ahead of educators, which could save lives.
Some prioritization formulas also conflict with one another or impose such prescriptive rules that they hinder immunizations, public health experts say.
Ellen P. Goodman, a professor at Rutgers Law School who studies how governments use automated decision-making systems, said algorithms were needed to efficiently allocate the vaccines. But public agencies and health centers should be transparent about the prioritization formulas, she added.
“We want to know who is using them, what they are trying to do, who owns the proprietary algorithms, whether they are audited,” she said.
A multiagency federal effort — originally called Operation Warp Speed and created by the Trump administration — has managed nationwide vaccine distribution through Tiberius, an online portal developed by Palantir, the data-mining giant. Now the Biden administration, which has retired the program’s name, has taken over and is continuing the effort.
To divvy up doses, federal administrators use a simple algorithm that divides the total amount of vaccine available each week among the 50 states — as well as U.S. territories and a few big cities like New York — based on the number of people over 18 in each place.
Even so, states began warning last fall about Tiberius’s potential drawbacks. In interim vaccine plans filed with the C.D.C., some state health administrators complained that the platform seemed overly cumbersome and that the algorithm’s week-by-week allotments would make it difficult to plan monthslong vaccination campaigns.
Indeed, some health officials and researchers have described the Tiberius algorithm as a black box.
“Why can’t they make public the methods that they use to make these estimations?” said Dr. Rebecca Weintraub, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who was a co-author of a recent study on state vaccination plans. “Why are the states receiving a different number of doses than they expected per week?”
Pressure is mounting on companies whose behavior could pose a risk to China’s financial system. HNA Group, the vast Chinese conglomerate that threw tens of billions of dollars at trophy businesses around the world, is nearing the biggest corporate collapse in recent Chinese history, offering a glimpse of how Beijing treats its most powerful entrepreneurs.
HNA’s insolvency is the largest China has seen since the country first began using its bankruptcy law in 2007, according to Michelle Luo, a bankruptcy lawyer at Hui Ye law firm. It will also test the law’s strength — just 76 companies have gone through bankruptcy proceedings in China, Alexandra Stevenson reports for The New York Times.
Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, told a meeting of the country’s senior Communist Party officials late last month that the government must anticipate risks even as it pursues growth. He urged officials to make plans to deal with “gray rhinoceros” events, referring to large and evident problems in the economy that are ignored until they become urgent threats. Chinese media had often referred to HNA as a gray rhino before its decline.
The party has strengthened its hand in private business in recent months and urged entrepreneurs to “identify politically, intellectually and emotionally” with its goals. It has also pledged to prevent what it called the “disorderly expansion of capital,” a reference to the type of lavish spending of borrowed money for which HNA had become known.
Among the party’s recent prominent targets is the Chinese online shopping giant Alibaba Group. In December, the authorities opened an antitrust investigation into the company, which the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma helped found. One month earlier, days before a planned initial public offering of Mr. Ma’s finance giant, Ant Group, regulators stepped in to stop it.
Even before last year, one in four U.S. renters — about 11 million households — was living in a household that spent more than half its pretax income on housing, and overcrowding was on the rise. By one estimate, for every 100 very low-income households, only 36 affordable rentals are available.
Now the pandemic is adding to the pressure, Conor Dougherty reports for The New York Times.
Rents have fallen in many big cities, but vacancy rates for the cheapest buildings are essentially flat from last year, according to CoStar Group, a commercial property group. That is: Nothing about the pandemic has changed the fact that there is a longstanding shortage of affordable housing, so anyone who loses an affordable home will still have a hard time finding a new one.
The pain in the U.S. housing market is most severe at the bottom. Surveys of large landlords whose units tend to be higher quality and more expensive have been remarkably resilient through the pandemic. Surveys of small landlords and low-income tenants show that late fees and debt are piling up. And in the same way that subprime mortgages were an early indicator of the mid-2000s housing crisis, today informal renters — roommates and sublessors who don’t have a proper lease — offer a look below the surface.
One measure of relief came when President Biden extended by two months a federal eviction moratorium that was scheduled to expire at the end of January, as states and cities also moved to extend their own eviction moratoriums. In addition, $25 billion in federal rental aid approved in December is set to be distributed.
But for every million or so households who are evicted in the United States each year, there are many more millions who move out before they miss a payment, who cut back on food and medicine to make rent, who take up informal housing arrangements that exist outside the traditional landlord-tenant relationship.
Corporate earnings continue to come in better than expected, defying initial forecasts of another pandemic-fueled decline and forcing analysts to upgrade their expectations.
Blue-chip companies hoping to keep the streak alive this week include:
In tech, Cisco, Lyft and Twitter on Tuesday, and Uber on Wednesday.
In consumer brands, Coca-Cola on Wednesday, and Kraft Heinz and PepsiCo on Thursday.
In other notable names, DuPont and Fox on Tuesday, General Motors on Wednesday, and AstraZeneca and the Walt Disney Company on Thursday.
Bumble is scheduled to make its market debut midweek, and is predicted to raise about $1 billion in an I.P.O. that values the online dating company at around $6 billion.
Amid the so-called meme stock frenzy, it is perhaps fitting that a cryptocurrency based on a meme has been swept up in the mania.
Dogecoin, a digital currency created as a joke, is now the world’s 10th largest cryptocurrency, according to CoinMarketCap. Its price is up by more than 1,600 percent so far this year, pushed in recent days by celebrity cheerleading from the likes of Tesla’s Elon Musk, the rapper Snoop Dogg and the rocker Gene Simmons of Kiss, who all promoted Dogecoin on social media.
Dogecoin is called the “fun and friendly internet currency” by its creators. The token was created in 2013 as meme-based satire about the proliferation of dubious crypto coins at the time. The “Doge” internet meme, featuring a perpetually surprised Shiba Inu dog, was gaining viral fame at the time.
Dogecoin holders often use the tokens to give each other small tips in online forums or band together to take on unlikely causes, like sponsoring Jamaica’s two-man bobsled team at the Winter Olympics in 2014.
Speaking on the audio-sharing app Clubhouse last week, Mr. Musk said his enthusiastic support of Dogecoin — he came out of a self-imposed Twitter hiatus to tweet about it — was itself a multilayered joke. “Dogecoin was made as a joke to make fun of cryptocurrencies, but fate loves irony,” he said. “The most ironic outcome would be that Dogecoin becomes the currency of Earth in the future.”
Whatever he thinks about Dogecoin, there is no doubting that Mr. Musk is serious about Bitcoin. Tesla on Monday announced that it had bought $1.5 billion in Bitcoin and would explore accepting it as payment for its vehicles.
By midmorning on Monday, Dogecoin was up by 30 percent, double the gain in Bitcoin.