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There’s a Covid-19 case in the office. Who should the company tell?

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Putting away tables on Thursday evening at a restaurant in London, where new coronavirus regulations mandate 10 p.m. closing.
Credit…Tolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • Global markets were mostly lower on Friday, following a turbulent session on Wall Street where hopes for an agreement between the White House and lawmakers over a pandemic relief package were balanced against persistently grim jobless-claims numbers.

  • Wall Street was poised for a downturn when trading starts later in the morning.

  • European indexes were slipping, with Germany’s DAX down 1.1 percent, and France’s CAC 40 trading 1.2 percent lower. In Asia, the Nikkei in Japan ended the day 0.5 percent higher, while China’s Shanghai Composite lost 0.1 percent.

  • Oil futures continued an upswing that started on Thursday, up about 0.4 percent for the day, while 10-year Treasury notes were unchanged.

  • It’s been a mostly down week for European markets, after a surge in coronavirus cases has led several European governments to mandate tighter restrictions, further clouding the timeline for a recovery. On Friday, the benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 was trading 4.6 percent lower than last week’s close.

  • In Britain on Thursday Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced new measures to support jobs and employers through the next six months. The centerpiece of his plan, a program to partially top up the pay of employees who return to work on fewer hours, is less generous than the current wage-support measure, and it was unclear how many businesses would take part.

  • News in Washington offered some respite. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi had agreed to resume talks on another economic relief package. The remarks moved markets higher.

  • But at the same congressional hearing, the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, underscored the need for fiscal support. Without more help, “we’ll see sooner or later, probably sooner, that the economy has a hard time sustaining the growth that we’ve seen — that’s the risk,” Mr. Powell said.

  • The comments came after the release of new data on unemployment claims in the United States, which showed that applications for jobless benefits rose to 825,000 last week, a sign that improvements in the economy are losing momentum.

Mnuchin and Pelosi inch toward resuming stimulus talks as economy continues to struggle.

Top Democrats on Thursday were crafting a $2.4 trillion package — about $1 trillion less than the measure the House approved in May — that could either serve as a new basis for the Democratic position in negotiations or be voted on as a stand-alone package in the coming days, according to a senior Democratic aide.

A rise in new claims for state jobless benefits signals continuing layoffs.

About 825,000 Americans filed for state unemployment benefits last week. That is up from 796,000 a week earlier, though it is far below the more than six million people a week who were filing for benefits during the peak period of layoffs in the spring. By any measure, however, hundreds of thousands of Americans are losing their jobs each week, and millions more laid off earlier in the crisis are still relying on unemployed benefits to meet their basic expenses. Applications for benefits remain higher than at the peak of many past recessions, and after falling quickly in the spring, the number has declined only slowly in recent weeks.

Tech stocks dragged stocks to their fifth decline in the last six sessions.

Stocks have been retreating since that Sept. 2 peak, as investors rotated out of the high-flying tech shares and concerns grew about the state of the economy. A key worry has been Washington’s inability to reach a deal on a new economic aid package, and the gridlock between Democrats and Republicans has only worsened since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last week.

Disney delays the release of ‘Black Widow,’ ‘West Side Story’ and other films.

Movie theaters, already starved for new Hollywood films to show, were handed new setbacks on Wednesday: Walt Disney Studios said it would hold off releasing several major films, including “Black Widow,” a Marvel superhero spectacle, and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”

Britain issues a U-turn for office workers, urging them to stay home.

Companies that had been under pressure from British government ministers to get employees back to the office were scrambling to change their guidance for staff. Some had organized rotation systems to alternate different teams in the office to ensure social distancing. Others supplied personal protective equipment, created one-way systems to move around offices and reconfigured desk spaces. Both JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs were at about 30 percent capacity in their London offices.

Wall Street climbs, snapping a losing streak as tech rallies

The S&P 500 rose more than 1 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite climbed nearly 2 percent. Amazon and Twitter gained more than 6 percent to become the best performing stock in the S&P 500.

President Trump says China must cede control of TikTok or he ‘won’t make the deal.’

Asked about reports that TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, would still own 80 percent of the service after the deal, President Trump said that they would “have nothing to do with it, and if they do we just won’t make the deal.” He said Oracle and Walmart, which under the deal would take a 20 percent stake in the new company, TikTok Global, would control the service.

Wall Street continues slide as virus cases rise and Washington gridlock worsens.

Shares of companies that are sensitive to the pandemic and the return of restrictions on travel in particular fared poorly on Monday. Delta Air Lines fell more than 9 percent, for example. Sectors of the market relatively immune to the ups and downs of the business cycle, including some large-cap technology companies fared better. Apple and Netflix climbed more than 3 percent. Countries around the world are reporting significant increases in coronavirus cases, just as cooler weather comes to the northern hemisphere, drawing more people inside.

  • Costco reported a 14.1 percent increase in comparable sales for the quarter that ended on Aug. 30, excluding gas and currency effects. The company’s sales jump is nearly twice as high as the spring quarter, when Costco struggled to keep items in stock after the virus struck and Americans rushed to buy groceries, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies. The company reported profit of about $1.4 billion, compared with roughly $1.1 billion during the same period last year.

Infections at JPMorgan Chase have raised a debate about disclosure.
Credit…Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As workers return to offices in greater numbers, managers face this inevitable situation: An employee tests positive for Covid-19, possibly exposing others at the workplace. Who should be told about it?

Traders at JPMorgan Chase in Manhattan recently complained when they found out about a coronavirus case in their building via news reports. The bank only informs people on the same floor, or who have otherwise had potential contact with the infected person. That’s one way to do it, and there are others. The DealBook newsletter asked experts to debate the pros and cons of four major approaches.

Tell nobody

“As an employer, I owe a duty of care to all my employees. They have a right to know,” said Anthony Gentile, a partner at the law firm Godosky & Gentile. This isn’t a hypothetical question for the litigator. When employees at the 20-person New York firm tested positive early in the pandemic, everyone was alerted and the office was closed.

“Do not tell nobody!” the Cornell employment law professor Stewart Schwab warned, gasping at the notion.

Tell only those in possible contact

This is the JPMorgan approach, shared by many other companies. The risk of telling a narrower group of people, lawyers warn, is that it may reveal, explicitly or otherwise, who tested positive — and it’s important to protect an employee’s confidentiality. More-limited disclosures may also rankle employees who work in the general vicinity but not directly with the infected person.

Tell everyone in the building

Technically, the workplace is a manager’s “zone of duty,” Mr. Gentile said. That could mean notifying anybody who could have shared air or space with the infected person, but he suggested circumspection with clients.

Tell everyone in the company

Strictly speaking, if there’s no possible contact — in a lobby, elevator or elsewhere — it’s probably not necessary for everyone to know. But wide disclosure can cultivate a culture of transparency and openness, Mr. Schwab said. (It can also become overwhelming at a big company where a lot of cases may be inevitable.) He isn’t totally sold on this approach, but isn’t opposed either.

The editors and reporters for the DealBook newsletter listen to many corporate conference calls, sift through a lot of company reports and otherwise digest all of the most important business news. These are some of the quotes that caught our attention this week:

🤑 “It’s not like Tesla’s profitability is crazy high. Our average profitability for the last four quarters is like maybe 1 percent. So just to be clear, it’s not like we’re minting money. Our valuation makes it seem like we are, but we’re not.” — Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, setting the record straight

🏨 “People had to make sure they had a room before they actually showed up. That’s much less the case now.” — Leeny Oberg, Marriott’s chief financial officer, on the way hotels work now

🍝 “You wake up every day and you’re $300,000 short just in that one restaurant. That’s our best restaurant in the Olive Garden system. We do over $15 million there, and now we’re doing $2,500 a day.” — Gene Lee, the chief executive of Darden Restaurants, on the urgency of reopening the Olive Garden in Times Square

👎 “The whole thing is a crock.” — Barry Diller, the chairman of Expedia and IAC, on TikTok’s complex takeover saga

🍓 “The red berry shape reflects our heritage and the values the company was built on. The green shape is our innovative mind-set and ability to pivot to any challenge. The darker green represents our growth, teal is our people and culture, and purple represents the creativity that we hope will propel the company forward.” — Kara Buckler, the director of creative services at J.M. Smucker, on the company’s new logo

The Miami Herald said it would no longer publish Libre, a paid advertising supplement in El Nuevo Herald, a sibling publication.
Credit…Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

A top editor of The Miami Herald’s Spanish-language sister publication, El Nuevo Herald, has resigned and its publisher has been demoted after a racist and anti-Semitic column was published in a paid insert inside the newspaper this month.

Kristin Roberts, vice president of news at McClatchy, which publishes The Herald and El Nuevo Herald, announced the leadership shake-up on Thursday in an email to staff, which The New York Times obtained.

Ms. Roberts said Nancy San Martin, El Nuevo Herald’s managing editor, had resigned.

Aminda Marqués González, the executive editor and publisher of The Herald and El Nuevo Herald, will no longer be publisher, a job she had held since April 2019, but will remain executive editor.

The column was published on Sept. 11 in Libre, a Friday supplement in El Nuevo Herald. The author, Roberto Luque-Escalona, took aim at American Jews who support Black Lives Matter.

“What kind of people are these Jews?” Mr. Luque-Escalona wrote. “They are always talking about the Holocaust, but have they now forgotten Kristallnacht, when Nazi thugs razed Jewish businesses throughout Germany? The same is being done by B.L.M. and Antifa, only the Nazis did not rob; they only destroyed.”

Ms. San Martin and Ms. Marqués apologized to readers several days after the column was published, saying: “The fact that no one in leadership, beginning with us, had previously read this advertising insert until this issue was surfaced by a reader is distressing.”

In a statement last week, McClatchy said an internal review had resulted in a termination of the company’s commercial relationship with Libre.

Credit…Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images

Fox News won a legal victory on Thursday after a federal judge dismissed a defamation suit brought against its host Tucker Carlson by a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Donald J. Trump before he was president.

The suit, filed last year, stemmed from a 2018 episode of Mr. Carlson’s show in which he accused the model, Karen McDougal, of extorting Mr. Trump. She sold the rights to her story of an affair to The National Enquirer in 2016, which did not publish the story, a transaction that involved Mr. Trump’s former longtime lawyer, Michael D. Cohen.

Ms. McDougal said Mr. Carlson’s remarks harmed her reputation, but Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil, of United States District Court in Manhattan, said the host’s comments were protected by the First Amendment.

“The statements are rhetorical hyperbole and opinion commentary intended to frame a political debate, and, as such, are not actionable as defamation,” she wrote.

In reaching her decision, Judge Vyskocil relied in part on an argument made by Fox News lawyers: that the “general tenor” of Mr. Carlson’s program signals to viewers that the host is “engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘nonliteral commentary.’” The judge added: “Given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer ‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’” about the host’s on-air comments.

In other words, Mr. Carlson’s viewers may not necessarily believe everything they hear.

A lawyer for Ms. McDougal, Eric R. Bernstein, said in an email on Thursday that the decision was “unfortunate” and that he and Ms. McDougal were considering their options.

Fox News said in a statement: “Karen McDougal’s lawsuit attempted to silence spirited opinion commentary on matters of public concern. The court today held that the First Amendment plainly prohibits such efforts to stifle free speech.”

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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