Budweiser, the beer giant whose commercials featuring Clydesdale horses, croaking frogs and winsome puppies made it one of the most beloved Super Bowl advertisers, is opting out of the game-time broadcast this year for the first time in 37 years to focus on raising awareness for the Covid-19 vaccine.
Budweiser, an Anheuser-Busch company, said Monday that it would donate portions of its advertising budget this year to the Ad Council, a nonprofit marketing group at the helm of a $50 million ad blitz to fight coronavirus vaccine skepticism. Instead of debuting a splashy big-game commercial, as Super Bowl advertisers often do in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 7 match, the beer company released its 90-second online vaccination ad, titled “Bigger Picture.” (Anheuser-Busch will still feature prominently during the game, with ads for several of its other beer brands.)
Other Super Bowl stalwarts, including Coca-Cola, Hyundai and Pepsi, will also be missing onscreen. As the pandemic disrupted the sports industry, many companies hesitated to pay CBS roughly $5.5 million for a 30-second slot during a game that some worried could be delayed or even canceled.
In the Budweiser Covid-19 vaccination ad, the actress Rashida Jones urges viewers to “turn our strength into hope” while the melody of “Lean on Me” plays as inspirational images from the pandemic are shown. Ms. Jones, who recorded her narration while isolated from other people in a Hollywood facility, said in an interview that “obviously people want to be entertained, they want to watch funny commercials” but “what’s most important is that we prioritize this next phase.”
The Super Bowl advertising season, which usually extends beyond the broadcast into weeks of teasers, celebrity reveals, YouTube debuts and celebratory live events, is more subdued as companies struggle to adopt an appropriate tone after a year full of marketing missteps.
“You can’t pretend like everything’s OK,” Ms. Jones said. “People can sense when brands are exploiting a moment.”
In an epic contest between Wall Street traders who bet against stocks and legions of small-scale investors, the small guys are winning.
On Monday, shares of the struggling video game retailer GameStop surged more than 35 percent, adding to a recent rally that has lifted the stock by roughly 400 percent in January and making it a glaring illustration of the growing power of small investors in certain segments of the financial markets.
Shares of companies like GameStop are becoming detached from the kinds of factors that traditionally help benchmark a company’s valuation — like growth potential or profits. Analysts expect the company to report a loss from continuing operations of $465 million for 2020, on top of the $795 million it lost in 2019.
What seems to be fueling this spike is an online community of traders, who congregate in places like Reddit’s “Wall Street Bets” forum and hype up individual trades. Lately, they’ve made buying short-dated call options on GameStop’s shares — an aggressive bet that the shares will rise — a favorite position.
Market analysts and academics say a rush of new money in such short-dated call options can create a sort of feedback loop that drives the underlying share prices higher, as brokerage firms that sell the options have to themselves buy shares to hedge the contracts.
And in GameStop’s case they have found themselves going up against a different group of speculators. The company’s struggles have also made it a favorite target for short-sellers — who bet on a stock’s decline by selling shares they don’t actually own. Short sellers profit when a stock has plunged and they can buy those same shares back at a lower price.
Of course, with GameStop’s shares surging, those investors are losing a lot of money. And their rush to get out of the trade by buying shares can cause a surge in prices, too, called a short squeeze.
On Monday, the small traders on Wall Street Bets and the messaging site Discord were encouraging each other to hold on to their positions as the short-sellers ran for the exits.
“Am I too late to get on the GME rocket?,” one commenter on Wall Street Bets wrote shortly after 10 a.m.
“No buy the dip,” another responded.
On Discord, the message was clear.
“GME ONLY UP,” one commenter wrote.
Google said it will make company buildings, parking lots and open spaces available to serve as temporary vaccination clinics in partnership with health care providers and public health officials.
In a blog post on Monday, Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said the company will start by opening sites in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City, with plans to expand to other sites nationwide.
The move is part of a series of measures to help accelerate vaccination efforts. Google also said it plans to contribute $100 million in ad credits to health organizations to educate people about the vaccine and $50 million for groups working on fair access to the vaccine.
It will also include more information in search results and maps to help people find vaccination locations with details about who is eligible and whether appointments are necessary. Google said it will provide local distribution information in search results in the coming week so people can determine whether they are eligible to receive a vaccine.
Are $2,000 stimulus checks a good way to help the economy and fight poverty or a misuse of government resources?
The centerpiece of President Biden’s coronavirus economic relief plan — to send Americans another $1,400 in addition to the $600 already authorized by Congress — polls well with the public, but some economists and politicians from both parties have reservations.
In The Morning newsletter, David Leonhardt lays out three main arguments both for and against the idea, based on his conversations with experts:
The case for the checks
1. People need help. Almost 10 million fewer Americans are working now than when the pandemic began, and normal life is still months from returning. The checks will let people decide for themselves how to spend the money, and much of this spending will stimulate the economy and create jobs.
2. It’s simple. At a time when many people don’t trust the government, easy-to-understand policies can build trust. The Obama administration designed a complex stimulus program in 2009 and didn’t get much political credit for it.
3. It’s surprisingly progressive. The check means much more to a poor or working-class family than it does to an upper-middle-class family. (Very affluent families don’t qualify for the checks.)
The case against the checks
1. Many people don’t need the money. Neither house prices nor stock prices have fallen — and many people’s expenses have declined — leaving most Americans financially better off than a year ago. As a result, many people will save the money the government sends them.
2. It’s possible to target the money. Mr. Biden’s stimulus could instead increase unemployment benefits even more than it now proposes. Or it could do more to help small businesses stay open. Or more to expand child care.
3. F.D.R. wouldn’t have done it. Sending people money does little to address the country’s deepest problems — like climate change and the underlying causes of inequality. Those problems require coordinated government action.
“I don’t ever remember F.D.R. recommending sending a damn penny to a human being. He gave ’em a job and gave ’em a paycheck,” Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, has said.
AMC Entertainment, the world’s largest multiplex operator, avoided yet another brush with death on Monday, revealing in a securities filing that it had found enough money to keep running until July if attendance does not begin to recover, and the full year if it does.
AMC’s chief executive, Adam Aron, had said in mid-December that AMC needed to raise another $750 million to squeak through. By early this month, it had lined up $204 million. In the filing on Monday, the company said that it had secured another $713 million, bringing the total to $917 million — and averting bankruptcy for the fifth time in less than a year. AMC had previously raised more than $1 billion in fits and starts.
The latest lifeline came, in part, from Odeon, AMC’s European chain. The company was able to refinance an existing line of Odeon credit and come up with $411 million.
AMC had about $308 million in cash at the end of the year, according to the filing, and had a monthly average cash burn rate in October, November and December of $124 million. About 438 of the company’s 593 theaters in the United States are open, albeit with limited seating and operating hours (and no major movies to play); 86 of 360 locations are open overseas.
Mr. Aron has had one of the wildest corporate rides of the pandemic, which has severely tested chief executives everywhere. And it is not over yet. Even with the new funding, AMC will need to convince landlords to extend rent deferrals that were negotiated early in the pandemic. Theater owners also need film studios to begin releasing major movies. Last week, studios announced more postponements, leaving “Black Widow” (May 7) as the next would-be blockbuster on Hollywood’s release schedule.
The pandemic has also thrust Mr. Aron, 66, to the front lines of the streaming wars. Over the past six months, his industry has blasted him as a traitor one minute, when he agreed to drastically shorten the exclusive window that AMC receives to play Universal films, and hailed him as a trailblazer the next, with two other chains, Cinemark Holdings and Cineplex, following AMC’s lead.
Even if he does manage to steer AMC through the pandemic, Mr. Aron faces bone-chilling challenges on the other side. At best, the company will emerge deep in debt. Moviegoing could surge with pent-up demand. Or the masses, now trained to expect instant access to major films on streaming services or online rental platforms, could be reluctant to return.
Nobody really knows.
The tit-for-tat trade restrictions between China and the United States under the Trump administration, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, have given China a surprising edge.
China has for the first time surpassed the United States as the top place for foreign direct investment, an important measure of a country’s economic health.
Foreign investment in the United States fell by almost half, or 49 percent, in 2020 to $134 billion, according to figures released on Sunday by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
The decline in the United States mostly centers on overall trade, financial services and mergers and acquisitions, the study indicated.
China, where the coronavirus outbreak was first detected, notched a slight 4 percent rise to $163 billion, led by investments in the country’s growing high-tech sector and in mergers and acquisitions. China, the world’s most populous nation, ordered strict lockdowns and masking requirements, rules that appear to have helped contain the spread of the virus within its borders.
Foreign direct investment plunged for most countries as they struggled to contain the virus. Investment in Europe was wiped out, and globally, the flow of foreign investment altogether fell by 42 percent.
Developed nations such as the United States are typically attractive destinations for such investments because of their skilled work force, open markets and consistently enforced regulations.
For years, China’s manufacturing prowess and its rising consumer base have attracted foreign companies such as Apple, but its stringent guidelines around foreign ownership of its companies and its sometimes unclear enforcement rules made such investments tricky.
But the surging clout of consumers has been hard for multinational corporations to ignore. As foreign investors set up shop, Chinese citizens bought and created enormous wealth. The country is stutter-stepping its way from becoming an economy driven by manufactured exports to one driven by its own consumers.
The United Nations group expects foreign direct investment across the globe to remain weak for 2021.
Late-year tax changes approved by Congress are now forcing the I.R.S. to push back the start of tax filing season, reports The New York Times’s Ann Carrns.
Even so, the I.R.S. said, most taxpayers due a refund for the 2020 tax year will get it within three weeks if they file electronically and have the money deposited directly into their bank account. The average refund in recent years has been more than $2,500. Many families use refunds to pay bills or use it as a kind of forced savings plan.
Typically, the Internal Revenue Service begins accepting and processing individual income tax returns in late January. But the agency has pushed back the start of filing to Feb. 12 for returns for the tax year 2020.
The I.R.S. Free File program is ready to use now, if you are comfortable preparing your own tax return. Free File, a partnership between the I.R.S. and tax software companies, is available to people with adjusted gross income of $72,000 or less. The program offers free online preparation and filing of federal returns, but some providers charge fees for state returns. You can complete your return now, and it will be transmitted to the I.R.S. starting Feb. 12.
This is shaping up to be another challenging tax season for the Internal Revenue Service, which has struggled in recent years with reduced budgets that have forced it to make do with fewer workers and outdated computer systems. During the pandemic, it has also had the extra work of distributing stimulus checks.
For four years, China’s leader has tried to portray himself as the antithesis of former President Donald J. Trump on issues ranging from trade and technology policy to support for the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Xi Jinping, China’s top official, grabbed one more chance to do so on Monday, while offering few clues about what specific policies he might pursue with the Biden administration.
Addressing the World Economic Forum’s online “Davos Agenda” gathering, Mr. Xi called for international cooperation on everything from halting the pandemic to restarting global economic growth. He repeatedly assailed unilateral policies without ever mentioning either Mr. Trump or the United States.
“History and reality have made it clear time and again that the misguided approach of antagonism and confrontation, be it in the form of Cold War, hot war, trade war or tech war would eventually hurt all countries’ interests and undermine everyone’s well-being,” he said.
Mr. Xi said that the Group of 20 should be strengthened “as the premier forum for global economic governance.” China has long favored the Group of 20 as a broad forum that includes it and some of its allies.
The group has to a considerable extent supplanted the Group of 7 industrialized democracies as the main venue for economic coordination. The Group of 7 atrophied during Mr. Trump’s presidency, as his relations were often frosty with American allies in Europe, Canada and Japan. The Group of 7 heads of state were not even able to gather at Camp David, Md., last March because of the pandemic.
One question facing the Biden administration lies in whether to strengthen the Group of 7 once more as a bastion of democracy or whether to accept a more prominent role for the Group of 20.
The British online fast-fashion retailer Boohoo said Monday it would buy the Debenhams brand name and website for 55 million pounds, or $75 million, a few weeks after the 242-year-old department store chain began to wind down its operations after going into administration in April.
The deal is the latest reflection of the seismic reordering underway in the global retail hierarchy caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Strong businesses with agile supply chains and e-commerce operations are growing stronger, while weaker — often older — rivals with large brick-and-mortar footprints and more traditional models have started to fall away.
Asos, another online fast-fashion retailer, confirmed Monday that it was in exclusive talks with administrators for Philip Green’s retail group Arcadia to buy its fashion brands portfolio, which includes Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and HIIT. Arcadia filed for bankruptcy protection late last year.
A closing-down sale at 124 Debenhams stores began in December, as the administrators continued to seek offers for all or parts of the business. Now Boohoo, known for its $5 bikinis and tie-ins with reality TV stars, will buy Debenhams’ intellectual property rights in a cash deal — though none of its stores or stock will be included. The company took the same approach when acquiring several other British brands teetering on bankruptcy, including Oasis and Karen Millen.
It said that Debenhams was expected to relaunch on Boohoo’s web platform in early 2022.
“Our acquisition of the Debenhams brand is strategically significant as it represents a huge step which accelerates our ambition to be a leader, not just in fashion e-commerce, but in new categories including beauty, sport and home ware,” said Boohoo’s executive chairman, Mahmud Kamani. “Our ambition is to create the U.K.’s largest marketplace.”
Neither Asos nor Boohoo are looking to acquire stores, so Debenhams’ remaining 118 department stores and more than 400 store sites occupied by Arcadia brands are likely to close for good, putting tens of thousands of jobs at risk.
Boohoo, co-founded by Mr. Kamani in Manchester in 2006, came under public scrutiny last year after investigations into working conditions at garment factories in Leicester found many workers were being paid less than the minimum wage.
It’s been more than two years since bankers kept their name badges obscured behind ties at a high-profile investment conference in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, held weeks after the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents.
After a wave of cancellations at that 2018 event, the following year’s Future Investment Initiative, often called “Davos in the Desert,” saw many business leaders attend as the immediate furor over the killing subsided.
The next installment of the two-day conference begins on Wednesday, and even more — and more senior — executives are expected to appear.
Some of Wall Street’s biggest names are scheduled to attend, mostly virtually, according to the conference’s itinerary. Executives on the program include David Rubenstein of Carlyle, Ray Dalio of Bridgewater, Larry Fink of BlackRock, David Solomon of Goldman Sachs and James Gorman of Morgan Stanley. In 2019, Morgan Stanley and Goldman sent lower-ranking execs to the conference, not their C.E.O.s.
The event could serve as a morality test for business under a new White House administration. Joseph R. Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the campaign trail, and “the atmospherics are going to change,” said Gregory Gause of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. Last Friday, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Adam Schiff, asked for declassification of a U.S. government report on the Khashoggi killing.
Companies contacted by DealBook often pointed to the important business relationships they have with cash-rich Saudi Arabia and others in the region.
“We have long standing clients in the region and continue to serve them,” a Goldman Sachs spokesman said.
A representative for BlackRock said that Mr. Fink “has been very public about the need for continued reform in Saudi Arabia and believes that engagement and public dialogue by global leaders like himself can help encourage Saudi Arabia’s path of reform.”
Representatives for Carlyle and Bridgewater declined to comment, while a representative for Morgan Stanley did not return a request for a comment.
Mr. Gause of Texas A&M questioned the logic of withdrawing corporate ties from Saudi Arabia but keeping them in, say, China, which faces its own criticisms over human rights abuses. But Thor Halvorssen, the founder of the nonprofit Human Rights Foundation, which has funded “The Dissident,” a documentary about Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, said that those attending the event gave the crown prince valuable legitimacy. “The message is, ‘Look, the world’s money and the powerhouses of finance and industry are my puppets,’” he said.
Stocks were mixed. The S&P 500 fell while the Nasdaq composite rose slightly ahead of a earnings reports this week from a number of big technology companies.
Apple stood out among the big tech stocks, with a gain of more than 2 percent. Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook were slightly higher.
Most European indexes were lower, with concerns growing about the pace of the vaccination rollout and the latest business surveys recording a big decline in expectations for Germany’s economy.
The Stoxx Europe 600 fell 0.2 percent, led by losses in financial and energy companies. The CAC 40 in France, DAX in Germany and FTSE 100 in Britain all dropped more than 1 percent.
In Britain, there has been a shake-up in the retail industry, with newer online brands sweeping up the old guard: Shares in Boohoo, the fast-fashion online retailer, jumped as much as 5.7 percent after it said it would buy the brand of Debenhams, a two-century-old chain of department stores that fell into insolvency last year. The stores are likely to be shut down.
Shares in ASOS, another online retailer, climbed as much as 6.4 percent after it confirmed that it was in talks to buy some of Arcadia’s most popular brands, including Topshop, following the collapse of the downtown fixture.
The Turkish-owned Godiva chocolatier announced it would close or sell all 128 brick-and-mortar locations in North America by the end of the first quarter in response to the turmoil in retail wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. Its retail operations across Europe, the Middle East and Greater China will remain, and U.S. consumers will be able to continue to purchase online and at retail partners stores.
Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, will buy Ubitricity, a European provider of on-street charging points for electric vehicles, the companies said Monday. Shell and other oil giants are investing not only in cleaner energy sources like wind and solar but in infrastructure, like charging points for delivering it. Ubitricity, which was founded in Berlin and has a large presence in Britain, installs its plugs at lamp posts and other street features.
Google said Monday it would allocate $150 million to promote education and equitable access to coronavirus vaccines around the world. The effort will include ad grants to nonprofit organizations to spread public health service announcements; expanded information when people search for information on local services; and space in Google buildings, parking lots and other facilities for vaccination clinics.