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Oil Prices Hit Six-Year Highs After OPEC Plus Fails to Reach a Deal

Daily Business Briefing

July 6, 2021, 1:08 p.m. ET

July 6, 2021, 1:08 p.m. ET

Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Oil prices touched their highest levels in years on Tuesday, a day after OPEC, Russia and their allies failed yet again reach agreement on production increases. A teleconference planned for Monday never started, following meetings on Thursday and Friday that did not reach a deal.

West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark rose as high as $76.98 a barrel earlier in the day, its highest in more than six years, before retreating from that mark. By midmorning in New York the price was down about 1 percent to $74.33 a barrel. Brent crude, the global benchmark, dropped about 2 percent to around $75.45 a barrel after having climbed as high as $77.84 earlier.

The spike reflected worry that the deadlock in OPEC Plus, the alliance of oil producers, means that too little oil would reach the markets at a time of growing consumption as the effects of the pandemic ease and summer travel booms.

The United Arab Emirates, which has invested in its oil capacity in recent years, is insisting on higher levels of production over objections from Saudi Arabia, a longtime ally, and other producers. Mediation efforts have so far not bridged the gap, and a new meeting has not been scheduled. The disarray in OPEC Plus raises the risk of a price war among producers, like the one in spring of 2020, but some analysts think the group is more likely to figure out a way of gradually drip-feeding more oil into the market in the coming months, a move that would soften price jumps.

In a note to clients on Tuesday, analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote that many OPEC Plus countries had not made the investments to increase output to meet growing demand, presenting producers like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Russia with “an opportunity to bring production to or near” record levels.

The Saudis, who have the ability to increase their output by more than three million barrels a day from the 8.5 million barrels a day in May, could intervene if the market overheats. The Biden administration has been slow to react to rising prices in recent months, but it is beginning to take notice.

All OPEC Plus members seem to agree on the need to raise output, but the deadlock has so far blocked a deal.

On the table at the meetings was a proposal by Saudi Arabia and Russia to increase production by 400,000 barrels a day each month for the rest of this year, beginning in August, eventually raising total output by two million barrels a day.

The Saudis want to make that increase conditional on extending an OPEC Plus output agreement from spring 2020 beyond its expiration date of April 2022. The United Arab Emirates wants any extension coupled with an upward recalculation of its production quota, which it says does not fairly reflect its current output capacity.

Evan Agostini/Invision, via The Associated Press

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones said on Tuesday that she would join the faculty of Howard University, a surprise announcement that came less than a week after the University of North Carolina’s board of trustees voted to grant her tenure, reversing its earlier decision.

Ms. Hannah-Jones, a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, had been appointed as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at U.N.C.’s Hussman School of Journalism and was supposed to start there this month. But her appointment had drawn criticism from conservative board members who took issue with her involvement in The Times’s 1619 Project, which re-examined slavery in the United States.

The board initially failed to approve tenure recommendations from the journalism school’s dean and faculty, effectively denying her tenure. Weeks later, after U.N.C. staff, students and prominent alumni spoke out against the board’s decision, and after Ms. Hannah-Jones said she had retained legal counsel and was considering filing a discrimination suit, the board reversed and offered her full tenure.

Ms. Hannah-Jones said Tuesday that the decision to decline the offer had been difficult and that the treatment of her by U.N.C., where she received a master’s degree, had been deeply painful.

“I, literally since the second grade, have been in white institutions,” she said in an interview, describing how she had to show again and again that she was worthy. “I’ve proven all that I’m going to prove. And I just really wanted to use the talent, the platform, the resources that I have managed to commit over time and to bring them to a Black institution where I won’t have to prove that, and where I can help other young, Black journalists — who come, many of them, from disadvantaged backgrounds themselves — to be able to compete.”

Ms. Hannah-Jones, whose honors include receiving a “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, will be a tenured member of Howard University’s Cathy Hughes School of Communications, serving as the newly created Knight Chair in Race and Journalism. She will also found at the university the Center for Journalism and Democracy, which will train and support aspiring reporters in investigative skills and analytical expertise.

The author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, another MacArthur fellow, will also join the faculty of Howard University, which is one of the country’s leading historically Black colleges and universities.

“It is my pleasure to welcome to Howard two of today’s most respected and influential journalists,” said Wayne A. I. Frederick, Howard University’s president. “At such a critical time for race relations in our country, it is vital that we understand the role of journalism in steering our national conversation and social progress.”

Ms. Hannah-Jones said she had received offers from many prestigious universities and chose Howard University because she had long wanted to help develop Black journalists and contribute to Black institutions.

“I was always conflicted about whether the place that had the most need for me, where the students had the most need for me, was going to be a predominantly white institution,” she said. “After what happened with North Carolina became public, after I started seeing the extent to which there was political intervention in this, it just became very clear to me that this was what I wanted to do now — that I didn’t need to try to find a workaround to try to work with H.B.C.U.s, that I could just go there.”

U.N.C. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 1619 Project traced the legacy of American slavery through essays, photography and a five-part podcast, and Ms. Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary last year for her introductory essay. The project has faced criticism from some historians, who have expressed reservations about some of its assertions. After publishing the project, The New York Times issued a clarification that only “some” colonists fought for independence primarily to defend slavery.

Jake Silverstein, the editor of The Times Magazine, has defended Ms. Hannah-Jones and her writing. “There’s no doubt that, given the chance to learn from Nikole, future graduates of the Center for Journalism and Democracy will create the sort of revealing and unflinching journalism that has been a hallmark of her work for decades,” he said in a note to New York Times staff on Tuesday.

Ms. Hannah-Jones will continue to write for the magazine, he said.

AAA said on Tuesday that gas prices were expected to increase another 10 to 20 cents through the end of August.

The average price of a gallon of regular in the United States has risen to $3.13, according to AAA, up from $3.05 a month ago. A year ago, as the pandemic kept people home, a gallon of gas cost just $2.18 on average.

The rise comes amid a breakdown in talks among OPEC and its allies over whether to expand oil production as global demand recovers from pandemic-induced lockdowns. Meetings on Thursday and Friday did not produce a deal, and a meeting slated for Monday did not happen. There is not a meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

“Robust gasoline demand and more expensive crude oil prices are pushing gas prices higher,” Jeanette McGee, an AAA representative, said in a statement. “We had hoped that global crude production increases would bring some relief at the pump this month, but weekend OPEC negotiations fell through with no agreement reached. As a result, crude prices are set to surge to a seven-year high.”

West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark U.S. crude, rose as high as $76.98 a barrel on Tuesday, its highest in more than six years, before dropping nearly 2 percent to about $76.75. Brent crude, the global benchmark, was down about 3 percent to around $74.90 a barrel after having climbed as high as $77.84 earlier.

Americans are also keeping a close eye on Tropical Storm Elsa, which is headed for the Gulf of Mexico and parts of Florida. The storm is unlikely to cause disruptions to Gulf Coast crude and gasoline productions as winds recede, according to AAA.

A phone showing the app for Didi, the big ride-hailing company based in China. Since its shares were listed on Wall Street last week, the company has come under regulatory scrutiny by the Chinese authorities.
Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

Didi, the giant Chinese ride-hailing platform, dropped more than 20 percent in early trading Tuesday after China’s government ordered that the service be removed from app stores less than a week after it went public in New York.

Late on Sunday, China’s internet regulator said there were “serious” problems related to the collection and use of customer data. Without explaining the problem, it said that Didi needed to correct them and “earnestly safeguard” users’ personal information. The drop in premarket trading reflected the first chance investors could react to China’s actions, as U.S. markets were closed on Monday for the July 4 holiday.

Didi Global listed shares on the New York Stock Exchange last week with a $14-a-share offering price. A few days after it went public, the same Chinese regulator issued another surprise announcement, saying on Friday that new user sign-ups on Didi would be suspended while the authorities conducted a “cybersecurity review.”

On Tuesday, the shares were trading at around $12 each.

The moves are part of a fast-moving effort by China to control the country’s internet industry. On Monday, the authorities said that user registrations on three other Chinese platforms were being suspended for cybersecurity reviews. The two companies behind those platforms have also listed shares recently in the United States: Full Truck Alliance, which connects freight customers and truck drivers, and Kanzhun, which runs a job-hunting platform.

Both of those companies also tumbled.

  • The S&P 500 index declined slightly in early trading, while trading in Europe was mixed.

  • Oil prices jumped to their highest since late 2014 after OPEC and its oil producing allies failed to reach an agreement on proposed production increases, ending a third day of meetings without a deal. Futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, touched the highest since November 2014 before giving up some of those gains.

Raymond Zhong contributed reporting.

Hundreds of companies around the world are reeling after a software provider to small and midsize businesses was hit last week by a major cyberattack. Russian cybercriminals are suspected of orchestrating what some experts are calling a “global supply chain hack.”

The Swedish grocery chain Coop had to close at least 800 stores on Saturday, while a pharmacy chain and 11 schools in New Zealand were also affected. Linking all of them was Kaseya, which makes systems management software that was in the middle of performing updates to guard against such an attack. Although Kaseya said that fewer than 40 customers had been affected, that group serviced hundreds of others, amplifying the effect.

Some companies were asked for as much as $5 million to regain control of their data, about $70 million in total.

REvil, which was accused of orchestrating an attack on the meat processor JBS in May, was identified as a likely culprit. President Biden confronted President Vladimir Putin of Russia last month over Moscow’s ties to cybercrime, but over the weekend, he said “The initial thinking was it was not the Russian government, but we’re not sure yet.”

Sarah Friar, the chief executive of Nextdoor, which will be listed on the public markets by way of a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.
Peter Prato for The New York Times

Nextdoor, the neighborhood-focused social network based in San Francisco, announced its plans to go public on Tuesday, raising $686 million for the 10-year-old start-up and valuing the company at roughly $4.3 billion.

But instead of completing a traditional initial public offering process, Nextdoor will be listed on the public markets by way of a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, a type of financial vehicle that has grown increasingly popular in recent years among tech companies.

Nextdoor’s SPAC will be backed by an affiliate of Khosla Ventures, a blue-chip Silicon Valley firm, and will include participation from firms such as T. Rowe Price Associates, Baron Capital Group and Dragoneer Investment Group, along with existing investors that include Tiger Global.

Over the past year, these buzzy financial vehicles have come under increased regulatory scrutiny as private equity firms and investors create record amounts of so-called blank check companies in the hunt to take promising start-ups public. Executives at companies like Reddit have mulled going public via SPAC, while hundreds of new SPACs have been created in the first half of 2021 alone.

Sarah Friar, Nextdoor’s chief executive, said in an interview that going the SPAC route made the most sense for the company, allowing it to be more closely involved and counseled by a smaller, more targeted group of investors. Ms. Friar also said it gave Nextdoor a better sense of certainty about how much money it would raise, rather than the riskiness that could come with a traditional I.P.O. process.

“We’ve been prepping for this now for a couple of years,” Ms. Friar said. “We are ready, and we’ll do this right.”

Founded in 2011, Nextdoor rose to prominence early on as a kind of “Facebook for neighborhoods,” slowly meting out invitations to people who lived in specific areas and could form small, tight-knit social groups based on proximity. Using the site’s web and mobile apps, neighbors discussed everything from yard sales to finding child care to concerns about crime.

Nearly 10 years later, Nextdoor has ballooned to more than 275,000 “neighborhoods” across 11 countries. As the network grew, Nextdoor began making money by selling advertising to businesses, which pay the company to post sponsored content inside users’ feeds. Ads run the gamut from national brand marketers to small and midsize businesses to local service providers.

Nextdoor plans to use the new funding to invest in expanding its products and acquire more users, Ms. Friar said, while also using capital to further develop its self-serve advertising platform aimed at small and midsize businesses. It also plans to hire more engineers and other employees.

Critics of Nextdoor have assailed the platform for being a haven for racism and targeted online harassment. Complaints often involve users who have flocked to Nextdoor to lodge racially motivated grievances about their neighbors or to engage in toxic behavior or harassment.

Since Ms. Friar became chief executive in 2018, she has made it a priority to clean up areas of the platform that have created problems. The company has added anti-racial profiling steps and includes ways to make users slow down and become more thoughtful about certain kinds of posts, like those about suspected crimes. Ms. Friar said the new funding would also pay for products that handle such content moderation issues.

In addition, Ms. Friar, the company’s three original founders and its earliest investor plan to contribute a portion of their shares in Nextdoor to form the Nextdoor Kind Foundation, a nonprofit foundation “dedicated to helping neighbors rejuvenate their neighborhoods through targeted grants.” The foundation will solicit ideas from people who want to improve their communities, whether it is to “plant a garden, paint a community center, or repair the playground,” according to the company.

Shares of Nextdoor will be publicly traded on the Nasdaq stock exchange under the stock ticker symbol “KIND.”

  • The British auto industry’s prospects for surviving Brexit improved further Tuesday after Stellantis, the newly formed holding company for brands including Fiat, Peugeot, Citroën, Jeep and Opel, said it would build electric cars at an existing plant in Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool. The factory will produce battery powered Vauxhall, Opel, Peugeot and Citroën brand cars and light commercial vehicles starting in 2022, Stellantis said, noting that the British government will provide an unspecified proportion of the 100 million pounds, or $140 million, needed to refit the factory. The announcement comes after Nissan said last week it would build a new generation of electric cars at its plant in Sunderland, England.

  • BoltBus, the bus service known for offering its passengers Wi-Fi and $1 lottery seats, is shutting down operations indefinitely after months of low ridership during the pandemic, according to Greyhound, its parent company. The discount bus operator announced last month that it was transferring most of its routes to Greyhound so it could “undergo renovations.” BoltBus had suspended service earlier during the pandemic, but its parent company said this week that the operator had no plans to put its buses back on the road.

  • Tyson Foods is recalling nearly 8.5 million pounds of frozen chicken that may have been contaminated with listeria, the Agriculture Department said. The voluntary recall was issued after Agriculture Department investigators were notified last month about two people who had been sickened with listeriosis, the department said in a statement on Saturday. An investigation found evidence linking those cases to frozen chicken from Tyson Foods, the agency said. Investigators eventually identified three cases linked to the recalled products, including one death, the department said.

On July 20 Mr. Bezos is scheduled to fly aboard the first manned spaceflight of his rocket company, Blue Origin.
Nick Cote for The New York Times

Andy Jassy was elevated to chief executive of Amazon on Monday, taking the reins from its founder, Jeff Bezos, in one of the most closely watched executive handoffs in years.

In recent years, Mr. Bezos has stepped back from much of Amazon’s day-to-day business, focusing instead on strategic projects and outside ventures, like his space start-up, Blue Origin, giving his deputies even more autonomy.

Mr. Bezos, 57, re-engaged on day-to-day matters early in the pandemic. But in February, he announced that he planned to step down from running Amazon and would become executive chairman of the company’s board. On July 20, he is scheduled to fly aboard the first manned spaceflight of his rocket company.

Mr. Bezos anointed Mr. Jassy, 53, a long-serving deputy who built and ran the cloud computing division, to take over as chief executive. Mr. Jassy has worked so closely with Mr. Bezos that he has been viewed as a “brain double,” helping conceive and spread many of the company’s mechanisms and internal culture.

Shifts at the top have trickled down, Karen Weise reports for The New York Times. With Mr. Jassy’s ascent, Amazon Web Services needed a new chief executive. It hired Adam Selipsky, who ran Tableau, a data visualization company that Salesforce acquired in 2019. Mr. Selipsky had worked at AWS until 2016, when the cloud business was a less than a third the size it is now.

Amazon is facing a shift that earlier generations of tech companies experienced as they grew and their strong founders stepped aside, said David Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School who served on Intel’s board for 29 years. Even before a founder leaves, executives sense a business is approaching a new era, he said.

“People get the idea that Jeff is going to be transitioning, and that leads people to start thinking about other options,” he said, adding that as companies get large, executives can often find less bureaucracy and more financial upside if they leave.

Shana Gonzales, who owns four Checkers franchises in the Atlanta area, said she has had difficulty finding workers to meet demand.
Lynsey Weatherspoon for The New York Times

An increase in automation, especially in service industries, may prove to be an economic legacy of the pandemic.

Businesses from factories to fast-food outlets to hotels turned to technology last year to keep operations running amid social distancing requirements and contagion fears. Now the outbreak is ebbing in the United States, but the difficulty in hiring workers — at least at the wages that employers are used to paying — is providing new momentum for automation, Ben Casselman reports for The New York Times.

  • After having trouble finding workers, a Checkers franchisee put in a system from Valyant AI, a Colorado-based start-up that makes voice recognition systems for restaurants, to take drive-through orders. Now customers are greeted by an automated voice designed to understand their orders — including modifications and special requests — suggest add-ons like fries or a shake, and feed the information directly to the kitchen and the cashier.

  • Self-checkout lanes at grocery stores have reduced the number of cashiers; many stores have simple robots to patrol aisles for spills and check inventory; and warehouses have become increasingly automated. Kroger in April opened a 375,000-square-foot warehouse with more than 1,000 robots that bag groceries for delivery customers. The company is even experimenting with delivering groceries by drone. Other companies in the industry are doing the same.

  • With air travel off limits, a manufacturer used augmented-reality technology in its factories to bring in experts to help troubleshoot issues at a remote plant.

Technological investments that were made in response to the crisis may contribute to a post-pandemic productivity boom, allowing for higher wages and faster growth. But some economists say the latest wave of automation could eliminate jobs and erode bargaining power, particularly for the lowest-paid workers, in a lasting way.

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