Unilever, the consumer goods giant, said this morning that it was raising prices to offset a decline in sales, a day after Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, cut its profit outlook because of reduced consumer spending. It’s a stark sign of how inflation is affecting retailers, which have struggled with rising inventory, and squeezing consumers. General Motors said its quarterly profits were down 40 percent, amid rising costs and a continuing computer-chip shortage.
China’s threat against Taiwan
Although U.S. officials say they are not aware of any specific piece of intelligence indicating that China may move soon against Taiwan, the Biden administration has become increasingly anxious that this could happen. One big fear is that Beijing will cut off access to all or part of the Taiwan Strait, through which U.S. naval ships regularly pass. Any escalation in tension between China and Taiwan would have far-reaching consequences for the global economy and businesses.
The internal worries have sharpened in recent days, as the administration works to dissuade House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from going through with a proposed visit to Taiwan next month, write The Times’s Edward Wong, David E. Sanger and Amy Qin. Some analysts say there are less risky ways for the U.S. to demonstrate support for Taiwan than having Pelosi visit. Instead, Washington could send a top military officer or sign a bilateral trade agreement, which could help the island reduce its economic reliance on Beijing. Chinese officials have denounced Pelosi’s plans and threatened retaliation.
The risks to Taiwan from Chinese aggression have gained urgency since Russia’s attacks on Ukraine. And Chinese officials are acutely aware that the Biden administration has been applying lessons learned from the Russian invasion by pushing Taiwan to order missiles and smaller arms for asymmetric warfare. The goal is to make sure the democratic island has enough effective armaments and defense systems to deter Chinese leaders from trying to attack it.
A Chinese invasion of Taiwan also has the potential to cause a national security crisis for the U.S. If China cuts off exports of semiconductors from Taiwan, the U.S. military, which relies on them, would face a critical problem. A single firm, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, supplies more than 90 percent of the global supply of the most advanced category of mass-produced semiconductors. In the U.S., the Senate is expected to vote on a bill that would provide more than $52 billion for companies that build semiconductor factories in the country.
The heightened tensions come as the consequences of China’s economic slowdown are being felt globally. Taiwan’s semiconductor industry is flourishing, but rising raw material prices, gummed-up supply chains made worse by lockdowns in China, and the effects of the war in Ukraine pose significant risks to the island’s economy. “All of these are global challenges, but Taiwan is at the tip — at the most important juncture of these risks,” Syaru Shirley Lin, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said at an event in May. Any further downturn in China’s economy would have an outsized effect on Taiwan, whose exports to China hit a record last year.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Europe’s energy ministers agree to cut natural gas consumption. A deal reached this morning by the 27 E.U. ministers provided exemptions for a handful of nations that face particular energy problems. But it still calls on all nations to cut their natural gas use by 15 percent between now and the spring.
Donald Trump returns to Washington today after a long absence. The former president, who appears poised to announce a 2024 presidential run, will deliver a speech at a summit hosted by the America First Policy Institute.
Alibaba, the Chinese online shopping giant, seeks a primary listing in Hong Kong. The move is the latest signal that Chinese companies are looking for ways to mitigate risk as they find themselves under pressure from regulators on both sides of the Pacific.
M.L.B. players choose the status quo over an international draft. Despite calls to reform a system that some have argued takes advantage of Latin American children, amateur players outside the U.S. and Canada will continue to enter affiliated baseball via free agency, after Major League Baseball and its players’ union failed to come to an agreement.
Today in Elon …
October is set to be a busy month for Elon Musk, who is scheduled to appear in court for his battles with both Twitter over a deal to buy the company and the S.E.C. over his tweets concerning Tesla. He is also embroiled in a number of scandals involving his personal life, including reportedly having had an affair with the wife of Sergey Brin, the Google co-founder and a longtime friend.
Yesterday, Musk tweeted that he plans to be “heads down focused on doing useful things for civilization.” Some of what’s been happening in his world recently:
Tesla reported yesterday that it had received a second subpoena from the S.E.C. regarding Musk’s years-old tweets. The subpoena relates to the S.E.C.’s settlement with Tesla over Musk’s tweets in 2018, when he announced on Twitter that he had financing to take the automaker private (which he did not). Musk is supposed to have Tesla’s lawyers preapprove his tweets that are material to Tesla. It appears the latest subpoenas may relate to Musk’s tweets last year polling users about whether he should sell 10 percent of his shares in the automaker. So far, the settlement in 2018 doesn’t appear to have changed Musk’s habits on Twitter.
Tesla is the subject of an “open investigation” by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the company disclosed earlier this year. Tesla has been accused of having a segregated workplace, something it has denied. The investigation was disclosed in a filing for a separate case involving the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. In that case, the state agency accused Tesla of ignoring years of instances of racial discrimination and harassment at the company’s manufacturing plant in Fremont.
And Musk is firing back after The Wall Street Journal reported that he had an affair with Brin’s wife. Musk sent a picture to The New York Post of himself partying with Brin that he says was taken this past weekend, suggesting their relationship was not strained. “Nicole and Sergey’s divorce has absolutely nothing to do with me,” he told the newspaper. “We were not romantically involved in any way.”
The Journal said the dalliance took place during the Art Basel festival in Miami in December. According to a tracker on Twitter of Musk’s private jet, it landed and took off again in a four-hour span during the event.
An insider trading crackdown
Federal authorities charged nine people in four insider trading cases yesterday — a civil and criminal enforcement spree that prosecutors say signals the problem plaguing markets. The accused include a former congressman, an ex-investment banker, tech executives and a one-time F.B.I. trainee.
“The specifics of each case may vary, however they all have one thing in common — everyone involved let greed dictate their actions and made trades based on material nonpublic information,” Michael Driscoll, assistant director of New York’s F.B.I. field office, said in a statement.
A congressman tipped off at a golf outing: The former Indiana congressman Stephen Buyer was accused of using nonpublic information to buy about $1.5 million in Sprint stock before T-Mobile announced its acquisition bid. Officials also said he bought more than $1 million in shares of Navigant Consulting on insider info, right before his client, Guidehouse, said it was acquiring the company.
Investment bankers playing squash: Prosecutors say Brijesh Goel, formerly of Goldman Sachs, received confidential information about potential mergers and acquisitions that the bank was considering financing and tipped off a squash buddy from another bank. Like Buyer and other defendants in the unrelated cases announced yesterday, Goel was arrested and faces potential prison time, fines and other penalties if convicted. “Our actions demonstrate we remain committed to ensuring a level playing field for all,” Driscoll said.
“We saw pivoting in Covid. Well, what is it now? What’s the new pivot? It’s just been a vise grip of pressure emerging from the pandemic.”
— Corinne Hodges, the head of the Association of Women’s Business Centers, a national network offering financing to entrepreneurs, on how after enduring a pandemic, small businesses face new worries.
Voyager Digital’s customers want their crypto back
Depositors and creditors are fighting for access to the cryptocurrencies held by the failed platform Voyager Digital. Many still deem those assets to be superior to potential reimbursement in dollars, despite the recent crypto crash.
Voyager is also keen to hold, complaining in a recent filing that a proposal from a rival, FTX, to purchase Voyager’s digital assets with cash and repay customers who switch to its platform is actually “a lowball bid dressed up as a white knight rescue.” Voyager, which offered high yields to crypto depositors, halted withdrawals for its customers and filed for bankruptcy this month.
Voyager says FTX is selling customers short by offering dollars for crypto at “fair market value” based on depressed prices on July 5. “No customer will be made whole under the proposal, nor will any cryptocurrency be returned,” it said. Voyager’s lawyers say the deal also harms customers by ignoring the tax consequences of converting crypto to dollars. On Twitter, the founder of FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, has argued that customers suffer even more under the traditional bankruptcy process, which could drag on for years.
Some customers are demanding their digital assets. Voyager depositors who are unhappily contemplating the possibility of repayment in dollars seem to have an indefatigable faith that better times are ahead. “Crypto assets are mispriced from a long-term perspective,” wrote one self-described tech entrepreneur and crypto enthusiast, Chris Mirabs, in a letter to the court.
THE SPEED READ
Tesla records a $170 million impairment charge on its remaining Bitcoin holdings, offset by $64 million in gains from crypto sales. (WSJ)
Brexit red tape is costing Britain’s chemical industry 2 billion pounds, or $2.4 billion. (FT)
Best of the rest
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