President Joe Biden this weekend worked to rally the Group of Seven to offer a collective rebuke to China over forced labor, human-rights abuses, and other “non-market” practices.
The leaders on Saturday found they had a “very strong and shared foundation” for a joint approach to China, a senior US administration official said in a press briefing.
“And more than just speaking out, taking action, responding to forced-labor in supply chains, again, including from Xinjiang,” the official said, referencing a region where human rights groups say China has committed crimes against humanity.
Biden has made slowing China’s growing economic power and international reach the centerpiece of his foreign policy agenda for his first overseas summit. The G7 nations – US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the EU – yesterday announced a multi-billion-dollar infrastructure plan to rival the international spending of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Senior US officials, who spoke to the press on the condition of anonymity, detailed areas where the US and its allies were seeing “convergence” during Saturday’s talks in Carbis Bay, England.
The administration said Biden had urged other G7 members to speak out about China’s “practices that are harmful and distorted to the global economy.”
Biden spoke about China in his breakout one-on-one sessions with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron, according to official readouts.
But it was unclear whether Biden would be able to steer the group to include the type of strong, disapproving language the US favors in the official G7 communiqué, which is expected after the summit wraps on Sunday.
Some senior UK officials, for example, have sought to keep human-rights abuses in China off the table, partly because the UK has worked to build up trade with China, Politico reported.
Officials from Italy, Germany, and the EU also each expressed concern on Saturday about putting stress on their economic ties to China, The New York Times reported.
Japan in April expressed similar concern during a White House visit, The Washington Post reported.
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in London told Reuters that the “days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone.”
The spokesperson said: “We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equals, and that world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries.”
MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell has launched a UK-based subsidiary of his company.
Products targeting UK consumers will be manufactured in a factory based in the West Midlands city of Coventry.
In a video advertisement on its UK website, the company said: “With its unique technology and design, MyPillow has taken America by storm and now it’s available here in the UK for the first time.”
Several products are advertised on the site, with prices ranging from £17 to £119.
According to a report by The Scotsman, the Coventry factory employs a monthly average of three employees and is based in a nondescript industrial park.
MyPillow did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Lindell has remained under the spotlight in recent months for reasons other than his business interests. He has repeatedly claimed that the 2020 US election was rigged, despite a lack of evidence. At a political rally on Saturday, he continued to double down on these claims.
Back in April, Lindell filed a lawsuit against Dominion Voting Systems for $1.6 billion, claiming the company was trying to stifle free speech. The suit was part of an ongoing fight that began when Dominion sued Lindell for $1.3 billion in damages for spreading claims that its machines enabled voter fraud.
Lindell also told Insider’s Grace Dean in February he expected to lose $65 million in pillow revenue this year because of retailer boycotts over his fraud claims.
In April, Lindell confirmed that Costco had pulled his products. It was the second-largest retailer to cut ties with him.
Most recently, Lindell’s lawyers said he is set to lose $2 billion as a result of his latest lawsuit against Dominion and Smartmatic.
Many people think bitcoin transactions can be anonymous or untraceable, but they’re misunderstanding how the process works, Ben Weiss, CEO of crypto ATM operator CoinFlip, said at a webinar on digital assets this week.
“It’s not anonymous. It’s pseudo-anonymous. You can’t buy any large amount of bitcoin without KYC or ID or driver’s licenses,” he said, referring to “know your customer” and similar identification checks.
“Bitcoin is actually more transparent in many ways than typical things in the financial system,” he added.
The perception is that because the digital currency is often associated with illegal activity, then it must shield the identity of the user. But that is not true, Weiss said.
The bitcoin addresses may not have names registered to them, but in practice, they can be linked to real-world identities, he noted. That’s because every investor is required to log their personal information before they buy the cryptocurrency.
What isn’t well-known is that relevant enforcement agencies can track down bitcoin purchases, if they are prepared to put in sufficient effort, Weiss said.
That’s why one of the most stupid things anyone could do would be to attempt to launder dirty money using bitcoin, Weiss said. The US government can track bitcoin transactions with the help of blockchain analysts and through serving seizure warrants authorized by district courts, he said.
“You’re really playing with fire if you tried to today,” he said, adding that bitcoin transactions are more traceable than cash.
Tax is one area where some people are still learning that they are out in the open when it comes to cryptocurrency transactions. Many US taxpayers may not realize that if they fail to report crypto assets when filing their annual returns, these may be discovered and there may be consequences. Transactions on the blockchain are not hidden, and the records are public.
To hunt out unreported crypto-related income, the US Internal Revenue Service has launched “Operation Hidden Treasure“. A dedicated team of IRS criminal investigation professionals is seeking out and targeting taxpayers who are not listing cryptocurrency transactions on their tax returns.
MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell’s latest political rally featured a speech by former President Donald Trump, in which he railed against voter fraud again.
Trump delivered his comments via satellite at the Saturday event. He repeated unfounded claims about fraud during the 2020 election and took aim at President Joe Biden’s efforts to reverse his policies.
Trump seemed to respond directly to the Biden administration’s announcement on Friday that it would pull more than $2 billion in funding Trump had diverted to pay for a wall along the southern border.
“All Biden had to do – all he had to do was leave it alone,” Trump said. “So we went from the most successful, the safest border in the history of our country – think of that – to the worst and most dangerous border.”
After Trump spoke to the crowd in New Richmond, Wisconsin, droves of attendees could be seen walking out of the event. A series of videos posted on Twitter on Saturday showed attendees leaving as the pillow pitchman spoke.
Victoria’s Secret is cutting back on deals and raising prices, and Wall Street is on board.
In a note to clients this week, UBS analysts Jay Sole and Mauricio Serna reiterated their recommendation to buy L Brands stock (the parent company behind Victoria’s Secret) and shared data that showed the level of promotions in Victoria’s Secret stores – which includes its Pink brand – was “declining at a surprisingly fast rate.”
UBS said the average price of an item listed on Victoria’s Secret’s website in May 2021 was $44, a huge 83% increase from May 2019.
It also found that a quarter of the products on its site were on sale in May 2021. This is still a substantial number but a notable improvement on the level of promotions over the past four years, which floated around the 40% to 60% mark.
“This boosts our confidence that the Victoria’s Secret turnaround is real,” these analysts said.
Victoria’s Secret has been strongly criticized by Wall Street in the past for constant promotions in stores. Analysts said these not only erode profit margins but also dampen the brand image and make it almost impossible to encourage customers to pay full price.
It wasn’t uncommon to see 40%-off sale signs littered around its stores between 2018 and 2019, and underwear deals such as five pairs of panties for $28. And major discounts of this kind are usually a sign that retailers are looking to clear unwanted inventory.
In 2019, the company promised to cut back on these promotions and tighten inventory levels but shortly after, discounts began to creep back in. At the time, UBS analysts said that price increases could be putting off customers, causing Victoria’s Secret to go back on its progress.
Victoria’s Secret’s price points have been a contentious subject as some shoppers previously said they felt the brand was still overpriced despite all the deals and discounts. And others said the quality of the clothing didn’t match these price points.
But Victoria’s Secret’s growth over the past few quarters – same-store sales were up 9% in the first quarter of the year versus 2019 and operating income, a measure of profitability, increased by $213 million or 665% – indicates that consumers are becoming comfortable paying more for its apparel and lingerie and that it has a better handle on its inventory levels.
Gabriella Santaniello, analyst and founder of retail research firm A-Line Partners, told Insider that the pandemic enabled Victoria’s Secret to have a “reset,” and cut back on its inventory, which has facilitated more full-price sales, she said.
More inclusive marketing pays off
The company has made considerable changes to its marketing in the past year. And experts say efforts to update its brand image, which critics previously said was out-of-date and oversexualized, have also helped to boost sales.
The marketing is “more subtle and appropriate,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, told Insider. It has “fewer sexual overtones and focuses more on more on celebrating women. That has resonated and has pulled some shoppers back to the brand,” he said.
And it matches up to what’s shown in stores, Santaniello said: “For example, they recently brought in plus-sized mannequins, which reflects their use of plus-sized models in their advertising.”
Still, the company needs to keep this “360 focus” long-term, she said. “They need to make sure they do not waiver because it will come across as inauthentic and that’s why they haven’t really been successful with the turnaround over these past few years.”
President Joe Biden’s administration has restored about $929 million in funding for the California high-speed rail project, reversing a cancellation by President Donald Trump’s administration.
In May 2019, the administration said the state hadn’t stuck to its original plan for the high-speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Federal Railway Administration mentioned in a letter that month California’s “repeated failure to submit critical required deliverables” and make progress on the project.
California and its High-Speed Rail Authority responded this year with a legal action against a grouping of federal agencies and officials, including the transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg.
They requested that the grant funding be restored, saying the Trump administration’s cancellation was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.”
The parties entered talks in March, according to Reuters. A month later, Biden introduced a sweeping infrastructure proposal with about $80 billion for upgrades to Amtrak and other federal and state rail services, although high-speed rail projects were notably absent.
The parties reached a settlement on Thursday, June 10, which restored the funding and barred California from bringing future claims over the funding cancellation.
California politicians praised the funding, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi releasing a statement saying it was “great news for our state and nation.” She said the funding would keep the “transformative project moving down the track.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the news on Thursday night, saying the project had more than 35 active construction with an average of about 1,100 workers on site each day.
“Tonight’s action by the federal government is further proof that California and the Biden-Harris Administration share a common vision – clean, electrified transportation that will serve generations to come,” he said in a statement.
California voters in 2008 approved $9.95 billion in bonds to partially fund the project. In the 12 years prior to that, the state had spent about $60 million on “pre-construction” activities, according to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, a nonpartisan advisory group. The total project was expected to cost about $68 billion.
When completed, the train promises to be among the quickest in the US. Hitting speeds over 200 miles per hour, it will make the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about 2 hours and 40 minutes, according to the state.
Newsom and Trump traded tweets about high-speed rail in 2019, before the Trump administration cancelled the $929 million.
“California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars,” Trump said on Twitter. “They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now. Whole project is a ‘green’ disaster!”
Newsom called Trump’s tweet “fake news,” adding: “This is CA’s money, allocated by Congress for this project. We’re not giving it back.”
Construction on the first leg was expected to be completed in 2029.
This year’s extreme volatility in the cryptocurrency market has troubled regulators and given big investors pause for thought. But it doesn’t faze Gene Hoffman, president and COO of Chia, the new $500 million “green” token.
“During adoption phase, volatility is almost required,” he told Insider in an interview. “It’s kind of like saying that we’re gonna adopt the internet in the late 90s without having volatility in internet stocks. Was not going to happen that way.”
In the heady days of the late 1990s, traders chased anything remotely connected to the internet. Amazon was one of the market darlings at the time and could often rise or fall anywhere up to 60% in a month in the run-up to the bust in early 2000.
Cryptocurrencies have swung wildly throughout May and June, losing as much as $460 billion in a single day last month after China – home to most of the world’s crypto mining capacity – said it would clamp down on banks to prevent them from providing crypto-related services. Furthermore, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted his concern about bitcoin’s energy use, calling it “insane”. Around the same time, his company stopped accepting bitcoin as payment for its luxury electric vehicles.
Chia’s XCH token, which only began trading on May 3, has been no exception. It debuted at $1,498 and fell by two thirds in just three days. It has since swung from highs above $1,600 to lows this week below $540, according to data from CoinMarketCap.com.
But Hoffman thinks these are just teething problems before there is the mass adoption of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology that underpins them.
And others agree – billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban has likened cryptocurrencies to the dotcom bubble of the late 1990s. Cuban said in January he expects some coins will survive future crashes to become the crypto world’s equivalent of Amazon or eBay.
Chia was founded by BitTorrent inventor Bram Cohen in 2017, and promotes its “proof of space and time” process as a much more energy-efficient way of mining coins than bitcoin’s “proof of work.” The company raised $61 million in its latest funding round.
Proof of work is an algorithm in blockchain technology that is used to confirm bitcoin transactions and rewards miners with new coins. It’s also highly energy intensive and makes bitcoin one of the less climate-friendly coins out there. Rival coin ether’s ethereum network is soon moving to a “proof of stake” process, which is slightly different and is far more energy-efficient, for example.
Chia’s XCH token earns its green credentials from the energy use of its mining process. Rather than “mining” for coins, the network’s users “farm” them.
Chia “farmers” generate and store cryptographic numbers into “plots” onto their hard drives or solid state drives (SSDs) – a newer, faster type of storage device. A farmer’s plot can win the chance to create a block and receive a reward on the blockchain based on the proportion of total space a farmer has filled up compared to the whole network.
A server – called the “Timelord” – verifies the block and awards XCH tokens to the farmer in a process the company calls “proof of space and time”.
“There’s no free lunch,” Hoffman said. “It’s hard to say that being a thousand, 10,000 times more efficient for the same security isn’t a massive innovation.”
Hoffman also said that burning through SSDs can be avoided: “If you use the $79 cheap-y SSD and try to plot a bunch against it you might burn that up, but the $99 will last you a lifetime,” he said. “So the people who are complaining about that are buying the wrong tool for the job.”
Regulation is key to survival
Aside from bitcoin’s carbon footprint, the prospect of ever-tighter regulatory scrutiny has been one of the key drivers in the drop from the token’s record high around $65,000 in April, to closer to $30,000 now. And this hasn’t just affected bitcoin. Ether, Ripple’s XRP, meme currency dogecoin, Polkadot’s DOT, or Cardano’s ADA are all down sharply from the highs of earlier this year as a result.
Hoffman said Chia embraces government regulation – a major incentive behind the company’s plans to go public “relatively quickly,” possibly via a blank-check company, or SPAC.
“Everyone who’s kind of merged their equity with their coin has generally been doing an illegal securities offering, and that can’t scale, that cannot be adopted, that cannot become the thing that governments run central bank digital currencies on,” Hoffman said.
Part of cryptocurrencies’ appeal is their decentralized nature – no one government or central bank controls them – and the degree of anonymity they afford their users.
But Hoffman believes people want transparency.
“You want to see the audited financials and the quarterly reports,” he said. “These are not crazy ideas if you’re trying to build trust.”
And he hopes that by listing his company on the stock exchange, and keeping its corresponding XCH token as a separate asset, investors will be protected against wild swings in coin prices when using it.
Fast-food chain Taco Bell is the latest company to get in on the huge vaccination drive taking place across the state of California. It is offering free tacos to customers who have received at least one dose of their COVID-19 vaccines from Tuesday.
Customers who show their vaccination card at participating California Taco Bell restaurants will be eligible for a Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos taco at no cost, the company said in a press release.
The company announced its offer as part of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Vax for the Win incentive program.
Mark King, CEO of Taco Bell Corp, said in the press release: “It’s been a tough year, and we are all ready to put COVID-19 behind us.”
“We are thrilled to do our part and give back to our home state with something everyone knows and loves to celebrate those who have made the decision to get vaccinated,” he added.
At least 70% of Californian adults have received at least one dose of immunization, according to Newsom. However, there is still a large population of young people who need to get vaccinated or receive their second dose.
The brand hopes the effort will increase vaccinations in these specific groups to help reopen the state in a safe manner.
Bitcoin may have to slide below $30,000 before institutional buyers are lured back into the market and start pushing the price up again, according to a crypto expert at JPMorgan.
One of the key reasons for the recent tumble in bitcoin’s price has been a sharp decline in interest from big players, Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou, a managing director and global market strategist at JPMorgan, told Insider.
Panigirtzoglou said major buyers were drawn towards bitcoin as the price started shooting up in 2021. But he said the soaring cost then began to put them off.
“If you ask, right now, institutional investors whether $50,000 or $60,000 is looking like an attractive level for bitcoin, they will most likely say no,” Panigirtzoglou said.
“I fear we might need to see bitcoin moving below $30,000 for that institutional interest to pick up considerably.”
Panigirtzoglou’s view differs from some strategists, who think a drop below $30,000 would likely spell further trouble for bitcoin. Edward Moya, senior market analyst at currency firm Oanda, said on Tuesday that “a break of $30,000 could see a tremendous amount of momentum selling.”
Bitcoin traded at around $37,500 on Friday. That was more than 40% off April’s record high of close to $65,000, but it was around 25% higher than at the start of the year.
Despite bitcoin’s rally in recent days, Panigirtzoglou said he saw little sign that institutions were moving back in. “If I look at these bitcoin fund flows, there is no evidence here of a buying-the-dip mentality,” he said.
He pointed to the futures market, where prices for bitcoin futures have been trading lower than the spot price. Panigirtzoglou said this suggested demand from major institutions – who often use bitcoin futures to gain exposure – was weak.
Bitcoin soared in the first few months of 2021, and was at one point up more than 120% for the year, spurred on by companies such as Tesla adopting the cryptocurrency.
Yet the price began to crater in May after Tesla boss Elon Musk said the electric car company would no longer accept bitcoin as payment due to its “insane” energy use. A fresh crackdown by Chinese authorities also soured the mood.
However, Panigirtzoglou said there were signs as early as March and April that institutional interest was waning, particularly in a sharp slowdown of flows into bitcoin products such as Canada’s exchange-traded funds.
Panigirtzoglou, who edits JPMorgan’s weekly flows and liquidity note, which regularly looks at bitcoin, said the lesson from 2018’s price crash was that the current phase of lower prices could last months.
He said one important metric of whether institutional demand was picking up again would be rising futures prices relative to the spot price. Another positive signal would be if the share of bitcoin in the cryptocurrency market began to grow again, after shrinking in recent months.
Some are offering free accommodation and college tuition to staff, while others are hiking up wages. Some are even giving rewards like free food and a $50 payment to applicants just for turning up for interviews.
“Everybody is hiring at the exact same time,” Danny Meyer, chair of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, said.
Some companies have been hiking up wages or offering education perks to attract more workers, while others have turned to one-off payments like sign-on bonuses and free iPhones because they’re cheaper for companies in the long run.
Some companies are introducing education perks to both attract new workers and create better retention rates.
Chipotle is expanding debt-free degree options for employees to include agriculture, culinary, and hospitality programs.
Waste Management, which already paid for employees to earn bachelor’s and associate degrees alongside qualifications in data analytics and business management, is expanding these scholarships to the spouses and children of workers. It told The New York Times that this would cost the company between $5 and $10 million in the first year alone.
Meatpacker JBS USA is also offering to pay for college degrees for workers as well as one child per employee.
Free hotel stays
Omni Hotels and Resorts told The New York Times that it was offering free hotel stays for some summer employees while they work. More widely, it is giving new employees three free nights at an Omni hotel of their choice.
“We have never taken guest rooms out of inventory for housing before,” Joy Rothschild, the company’s chief HR officer, said.
The chain is also providing members of its culinary team with a free set of knives alongside weekly sit-downs with executive chefs.
“We needed to do something to grab the attention of culinary students,” Rothschild said. “I’ve seen a lot of people offering monetary incentives, but we didn’t feel that was enough. The college students coming want something more than the paycheck.”
One McDonald’s restaurant in Altamont, Illinois, is giving away iPhones to new recruits if they stay for six months.
Sign-on and retention bonuses
A late April survey by Korn Ferry found that, of more than 50 major US retailers, 29% said they had introduced a sign-on bonus to attract new hires amid the labor shortage, per CNN.
Supermarket chains including Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, Sheetz, and Tops Markets are offering new hires sign-on bonuses as high as $2,000. Meanwhile, Omni Hotels and Resource is offering a $250 signing bonus, plus a $500 retention bonus if they stay until the end of the season.
A staffing-firm employee told the Cleveland Fed he’d turned away prospective clients that offered starting wages of less than $13 an hour because he wouldn’t be able to find workers at that wage.
“The only way to attract, not necessarily the people who left the [hospitality] industry, but newcomers to the industry, is we have to change the industry,” Amanda Cohen, owner of New York City restaurant Dirt Candy, told The Guardian. “We have to pay more, we have to make this a viable profession.”
But this isn’t always enough. A manufacturer in the Dallas area said that, even with a starting hourly wage of $14, their company was unable fill more than 20 open positions. Texas uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
But wage hikes are working for some. An ice-cream parlor in Pittsburgh told MSNBC that it had received “well over 1,000 [job] applications” after it more than doubled its wage to $15 an hour. Its owners found that customer service improved and its bottom line wasn’t affected by the move.
Whataburger promoted all managers to “operating partner” and raised salaries to at least $100,000, while JBS told The New York Times that it had raised hourly pay by more than 30% over the last year.
And it’s easier for some types of company to pay staff more than others. David Bloom, chief development and operating officer at Wing Zone and Capriotti’s, told Insider that the two fast-casual chains could afford to raise wages because they were “premium” brands, and their customers would still return even if they offset the higher wages with price increases.
“That’s a competitive advantage from our standpoint because of the category we’re in,” Bloom said.
Ryan Stansbury, vice-president of franchise development at PJ’s Coffee, told Insider that the labor shortage was a “challenge” for the chain, but that its take-home pay had helped attract staff. He said that most baristas made more than their state’s minimum wage, alongside $3 to $5 in tips.
The labor shortage comes as some companies, including Costco, Target, and Amazon were already hiking up wages because of the push for a $15 federal minimum wage.
“Employers needing to attract people now means that the wage increases are just happening faster than they would otherwise have been happening, but they were happening anyhow,” Bloom said.
Some companies are giving perks to people who just show up to interviews
One McDonald’s in Tampa, Florida, offered $50 to anyone who came in for a job interview. But the owner of the location told Insider that this still wasn’t enough to attract many people to apply – and he was considering raising wages instead.
And during its national hiring day in May, Applebee’s offered free appetizers to everyone who came for interviews as it tried to fill 10,000 roles. Around 40,000 people showed up, the chain’s president told The New York Times.