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An Entirely Too Familiar American (anti)Inflationary Anecdote

One of the more compelling aspects of the last LABOR SHORTAGE!!!!, in an outright contradictory way, was how it was made up of entirely anecdotes. Lacking data, especially wage data, the narrative was instead kept up and alive by the media hyping every…

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One of the more compelling aspects of the last LABOR SHORTAGE!!!!, in an outright contradictory way, was how it was made up of entirely anecdotes. Lacking data, especially wage data, the narrative was instead kept up and alive by the media hyping every small creative innovation companies were using if only to avoid having to actually pay their workers and prospective workers the market-clearing price.



The stories have returned in 2021 already granted a similar seriousness if for those same reasons. Inflation sells, or at least the idea of it is in demand.

But the data remains ambiguous – at best. And even where this is the case, there’s more to question than to commend from the perspective of any prospective labor shortfall. Like JOLTS data released yesterday, the raw numbers appear to support the idea that companies once again aren’t willing to pay what’s required to satiate their purported overdrive for workers.

It could be a number of possible reasons but the most likely, certainly in my view (FWIW), is likely to have started with low starting pay supplemented by promises of better pay down the road. Companies, especially small and medium-sized businesses, the same who claim to be most hard-pressed to find workers, are and have been deeply hurt by the recession. Thus, the pay mis-match.

Also like 2018, but having been taken now to an extreme in the wake of the deep, damaging 2020 recession. Businesses may want some more workers but just don’t have the true capacity (or sustained optimistic vision to take risks) to pay them enough.

Or pay them at all?

Since the labor shortage has been all about anecdotes, this one’s a real doozy:

American Airlines is asking its headquarters employees to volunteer at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport this summer as the carrier faces an influx of summer passengers due to pent-up pandemic demand…Those headquarters employees, who work in fields such as network scheduling, planning and communications, won’t be paid for the additional shifts and must volunteer outside of their normal job duties. [emphasis added]

The airline had let go about 30% of its support staff in the wake of last year’s devastating downturn – despite having been handed billions in PSP’s (Payroll Support Program under the CARES Act) generosity. With “recovery” now underway, American does appear “desperate” for workers if only in the sense they aren’t so impatient they’re willing to pay anything greater than quite literally zero.

At least the company states it won’t require existing workers to “volunteer”, not explicitly, anyway. Take this job and shove it?




This certainly doesn’t prove, conclusively or otherwise, the anti-shortage theory, but it is certainly one labor market anecdote consistent with recent data and that specific interpretation of it.

As is any number of secondary data sources, accounts like consumer credit, revolving credit, in particular. In the wake of the last big “recession” in 2008-09, revolving balances were paid down by prudent consumers increasingly aware of labor market insufficiency that in the media was always called recovery (or at least green shoots). Maybe they were still employed, yet hard pressed to ignore the real and rising possibility they could very well be next on the already-stretched unemployment line.

Employing spare cash to reduce discretionary debt rather than spend and borrow as QE/monetary policy had anticipated and counted on, it was quite understandable outside that worldview. And it repeated in the same way last year, continuing up until just recently.

According to the Federal Reserve’s figures (which are subject to big revisions at times, so keep that in mind), this systemic credit card “glut” may have bottomed out in February. There was a small rebound in aggregate revolving balances during that month ($3.1 billion) then an even smaller one in March ($1.4 billion, despite huge payroll estimate) but then another decline in April (the latest estimate for -$2.0 billion).

While it doesn’t rule out the initial stages of recovery, it doesn’t exactly paint the picture of an unambiguous start to one, either. Rather, this is at best too much like all these things posted above along with another possible unwelcome comparison adding to them – looking too much like 2011 when macro factors determining revolving credit reached that trough but failed to reignite immediately.

If the 2010-12 period was notable most for its lack of recovery (someone even termed it a “new normal” it was so unrecovery-like, a name which stuck for that reason) then to see at least a few months go sideways right now in the same way doesn’t bode well.

The same is true for the rest of the consumer credit data – exclusive, of course, of the federal government’s non-economic involvement in it. The feds lend to practically anyone at any pace according to an entirely different doctrine.


Outside of the government, consumer credit in April 2021 increased year-over-year on base effects alone. Compared to December 2019 – the last peak – total consumer credit is still down more than 3.5% which remains firmly in recession territory.

This, too, would be consistent with companies who claim to be desperate for workers as the economy rebounds but since a rebound isn’t a recovery they don’t appear to be willing (or able; see: American Airlines) to pay the rate workers want and demand which then negatively affects how consumers as workers manage their own finances (acknowledging the massive binge on goods more than balanced by the continued recession in services spending).

With COVID and the pandemic fading further into history, what’s being exposed is today an economy that may have been more damaged and susceptible than has been believed up to this point. First, in the initial days of reopening, there was the “V” explosion – if in expectations rather than reality because it never happened, nor did it last very long.

This was followed – if first forced by last year’s “unexpected” summer slowdown – by the second try for a “V”, this other one predicated on believing government “stimulus” could comprehensively mitigate, if not better (inflation), any longer run damage. If Uncle Sam would just pay everyone, including airlines, this will all go away.

But as 2021 emerges into the light of a more likely COVID-free world, we take these first steps looking around at an all-too-familiar landscape. The economy gets knocked down and doesn’t ever want to, or is not able to, get back up again.

Inflation? Businesses that can’t pay workers, no matter how much they claim to be desperate for them, aren’t going to be able to sustain let alone achieve it. Not from this.

Bond yields. Eurodollar futures. Etc. Rinse. Repeat. Especially since mid-March (or Feb 24-25-26).

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Economics

Extra Crunch roundup: TC Mobility recaps, Nubank EC-1, farewell to browser cookies

What, exactly, are investors looking for?

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What, exactly, are investors looking for?

Early-stage founders, usually first-timers, often tie themselves in knots as they try to project the qualities they hope investors are seeking. In reality, few entrepreneurs have the acting skills required to convince someone that they’re patient, dedicated or hard working.

Johan Brenner, general partner at Creandum, was an early backer of Klarna, Spotify and several other European startups. Over the last two decades, he’s identified five key traits shared by people who create billion-dollar companies.


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“A true unicorn founder doesn’t need to have all of those capabilities on day one,” says Brenner, “but they should already be thinking big while executing small and demonstrating that they understand how to scale a company.”

Drawing from observations gleaned from working with founders like Spotify’s Daniel Ek, Sebastian Siemiatkowski from Klarna, and iZettle’s Jacob de Geer and Magnus Nilsson, Brenner explains where “VC FOMO” comes from and how it drives deal-making.

We’re running a series of posts that recap conversations from last week’s virtual TC Mobility conference, including an interview with Refraction AI’s Matthew Johnson, a look at how autonomous delivery startups are navigating the regulatory and competitive landscape, and much more. There are many more recaps to come; click here to find them all.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

How contrarian hires and a pitch deck started Nubank’s $30 billion fintech empire

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Founded in 2013 and based in São Paulo, Brazil, Nubank serves more than 34 million customers, making it Latin America’s largest neobank.

Reporter Marcella McCarthy spoke to CEO David Velez to learn about his efforts to connect with consumers and overcome entrenched opposition from established players who were friendly with regulators.

In the first of a series of stories for Nubank’s EC-1, she interviewed Velez about his early fundraising efforts. For a balanced perspective, she also spoke to early Nubank investors at Sequoia and Kaszek Ventures, Latin America’s largest venture fund, to find out why they funded the startup while it was still pre-product.

“There are people you come across in life that within the first hour of meeting with them, you know you want to work with them,” said Doug Leone, a global managing partner at Sequoia who’d recruited Velez after he graduated from grad school at Stanford.

Marcella also interviewed members of Nubank’s founding team to better understand why they decided to take a chance on a startup that faced such long odds of success.

“I left banking to make a fifth of my salary, and back then, about $5,000 in equity,” said Vitor Olivier, Nubank’s VP of operations and platforms.

“Financially, it didn’t really make sense, so I really had to believe that it was really going to work, and that it would be big.”

Despite flat growth, ride-hailing colossus Didi’s US IPO could reach $70B

Image Credits: Didi

In his last dispatch before a week’s vacation, Alex Wilhelm waded through the numbers in Didi’s SEC filing. The big takeaways?

“While Didi managed an impressive GTV recovery in China, its aggregate numbers are flatter, and recent quarterly trends are not incredibly attractive,” he writes.

However, “Didi is not as unprofitable as we might have anticipated. That’s a nice surprise. But the company’s regular business has never made money, and it’s losing more lately than historically, which is also pretty rough.”

What’s driving the rise of robotaxis in China with AutoX, Momenta and WeRide

AutoX, Momenta and WeRide took the stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to discuss the state of robotaxi startups in China and their relationships with local governments in the country.

They also talked about overseas expansion — a common trajectory for China’s top autonomous vehicle startups — and shed light on the challenges and opportunities for foreign AV companies eyeing the massive Chinese market.

The air taxi market prepares to take flight

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

“As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors,” Aria Alamalhodaei writes. “A quick peek at comments and posts on LinkedIn reveals squabbles among industry insiders and analysts about when this emerging technology will truly take off and which companies will come out ahead.”

But while some electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) companies have no revenue yet to speak of — and may not for the foreseeable future — valuations are skyrocketing.

“Electric air mobility is gaining elevation,” she writes. “But there’s going to be some turbulence ahead.”

The demise of browser cookies could create a Golden Age of digital marketing

Though some may say the doomsday clock is ticking toward catastrophe for digital marketing, Apple’s iOS 14.5 update, which does away with automatic opt-ins for data collection, and Google’s plan to phase out third-party cookies do not signal a death knell for digital advertisers.

“With a few changes to short-term strategy — and a longer-term plan that takes into account the fact that people are awakening to the value of their online data — advertisers can form a new type of relationship with consumers,” Permission.io CTO Hunter Jensen writes in a guest column. “It can be built upon trust and open exchange of value.”

If offered the right incentives, Jensen predicts, “consumers will happily consent to data collection because advertisers will be offering them something they value in return.”

How autonomous delivery startups are navigating policy, partnerships and post-pandemic operations

Nuro second gen R2 delivery vehicle

Image Credits: Nuro

We kicked off this year’s TC Sessions: Mobility with a talk featuring three leading players in the field of autonomous delivery. Gatik co-founder and chief engineer Apeksha Kumavat, Nuro head of operations Amy Jones Satrom, and Starship Technologies co-founder and CTO Ahti Heinla joined us to discuss their companies’ unique approaches to the category.

The trio discussed government regulation on autonomous driving, partnerships with big corporations like Walmart and Domino’s, and the ongoing impact the pandemic has had on interest in the space.

Waabi’s Raquel Urtasun explains why it was the right time to launch an AV technology startup

Image Credits: Waabi via Natalia Dola

Raquel Urtasun, the former chief scientist at Uber ATG, is the founder and CEO of Waabi, an autonomous vehicle startup that came out of stealth mode last week. The Toronto-based company, which will focus on trucking, raised an impressive $83.5 million in a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures.

Urtasun joined Mobility 2021 to talk about her new venture, the challenges facing the self-driving vehicle industry and how her approach to AI can be used to advance the commercialization of AVs.

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Spread & Containment

How to create effective, engaged workplace teams after the COVID-19 pandemic

Post-pandemic, the world of work will probably never be the same again. And that’s probably a good thing. We now have an opportunity to make it better.

For workplace teams returning to the office post-pandemic, it will still be important to protect the benefits of remote work: uninterrupted time for strategically important projects, and respect for personal preferences. (Pixabay)

Well into the pandemic’s second year, we are beginning to see light on the horizon. We’re not out of the woods here in Canada. As some areas of the country continue to struggle to contain the virus, others are optimistic due to lowering case counts thanks to restrictions and lockdown measures.

Ontario — the country’s largest province by population — is now in the first step of its reopening, and officials have said the majority of those who want to receive a vaccine could be fully immunized by the end of the summer.

The rolling lockdowns and public health restrictions of the pandemic response meant a massive shift to remote and virtual work for many workplaces. As we look towards and plan for the post-pandemic future, businesses and organizations need to thoughtfully consider what the future of work looks like for them.

They will need to reflect on their operations pre-pandemic, consider what they learned from the disruption of the crisis, and ask themselves: How can we build back better?

Structure shift

Recent decades have seen a shift in the structure of businesses and organizations, away from hierarchical models in favour of cross-functional and, at times, self-managing networks of teams. In fact, a 2016 survey found the majority of large corporations rely on interdisciplinary and cross-functional teams. In 2019, 31 per cent of respondents said that most or almost all work is performed in teams.

For many of these organizations, the pandemic saw these teams transition from in-person work to remote interactions via video-conferencing services like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype.

Many appreciated the comfort and autonomy inherent in working from home, but the erosion of work-life balance and social interaction has caused challenges.

As we come out of the pandemic, workplace teams will need an environment that retains the experience of autonomy while also providing a sense of belonging. Employees should be free to decide where they want to work and when they want to work whenever possible. But we must also address the negative impact of isolation — loneliness, fatigue or even depression, all of which have been frequently reported during the pandemic.

Five women at a desk have a conversation.
Effective workplace teams will be critical to building back better. (Piqsels)

Research on workplace teams finds that autonomy can in fact co-exist with a sense of belonging and cohesion. For this to be achieved, organizations need to find a balance, and need to organize teams according to these structural considerations:

• Teams have a strong leader, or they can feature shared leadership.

• Teams have clearly defined task interdependencies and interfaces among team members, or team members can perform their work largely in isolation.

• Teams have the same goals and rewards for all members, or they can offer individualized goals and rewards.

• Teams communicate virtually, or they can communicate so face-to-face.

• Teams have a shared history and aspirations, or they operate for a limited time, after which they disband.

A strong leader, alongside clearly defined task interdependencies, focuses on the team as a whole, whereas virtual teamwork and individual rewards emphasize the individual team member.

Combining features of teamwork that promote autonomy with other features that foster cohesiveness and a sense of belonging is likely the best path forward.

Emphasize shared goals

As long as employees continue to operate in a virtual setting, it’s important for leaders to define shared goals and rewards. Teams must share a vision of the future that complements the larger degree of autonomy they’ve experienced through virtual teamwork.

Focusing on elements of teamwork that bring team members closer together should not be left to chance. As some organizations learned during the pandemic, scheduling social hours can replace the spontaneous conversations at the water cooler. A book club can replace the informal learning over a lunch chat. A fireside Zoom chat on company values and goals can replace an in-person town hall.

But post-pandemic, few organizations will maintain an all-virtual presence. Many will move towards a hybrid model. For those teams returning to the office, it will still be important to protect the benefits of remote work: uninterrupted time for strategically important projects, and respect for personal preferences.

The pandemic has also almost eliminated a troublesome feature of organizational life: presenteeism, or showing up to work when sick. We must not go backwards in this regard. Workers must protect themselves and their team members from the consequences of illness.

Post-pandemic, the world of work will probably never be the same again. And that’s probably a good thing. We now have an opportunity to make it better.

Matthias Spitzmuller does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Economics

EU Bars 10 Megabanks From Recovery Bond Sale Over Previous Market Manipulation

EU Bars 10 Megabanks From Recovery Bond Sale Over Previous Market Manipulation

In an unexpected move, the European Union has decided to shut out some of the world’s biggest banks from sales of bonds for the EU’s COVID recovery fund, expected.

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EU Bars 10 Megabanks From Recovery Bond Sale Over Previous Market Manipulation

In an unexpected move, the European Union has decided to shut out some of the world's biggest banks from sales of bonds for the EU's COVID recovery fund, expected to be the largest supranational bond offering yet.

According to the FT, the EU excluded 10 banks - including JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of America and Barclays - from running bond sales as part of its €800 billion ($968.5 billion) recovery fund due to what the FT described as "historic breaches of antitrust rules". Specifically, the EU is seeking to punish the banks for their roles in the series of market-rigging scandals (which infamously started with rigging of the Libor before investigators moved on to currency and fixed income markets) that broke early in the last decade. The move is especially bold because many of the banks being shut out of the deal are some of the world's biggest players in international debt markets.

In other words, simply by shutting them out of this massive deal, the EU could shake up the league tables as the banks that win its business will undoubtedly be handsomely rewarded for their work. The borrowing spree - Brussels' biggest-ever - will begin Tuesday with the sale of a new 10-year eurobond to fund the NextGenerationEU pandemic program. 7 of the 10 banks excluded are among the biggest sellers' of European debt. Before they will be allowed to sell the bonds, the EU wants them to demonstrate that they have "taken remedial measures" to prevent this from happening again.

In other words, Brussels is serious about preventing banks from stuffing their pockets with public money.

Banks found to have breached EU competition rules “will not be invited to tender for individual syndicated transactions”, said a spokesman for the European Commission, which handles debt issuance on behalf of the EU. “The Commission implements a strict approach to ensuring that the entities with whom it works are fit to be a counterparty of the EU."

Banks found guilty of antitrust breaches will be required to show they have taken “remedial measures” to prevent them happening again before they will be allowed to bid for syndications, the spokesman added.

Bank of America, Natixis, Nomura, NatWest and UniCredit have been prevented from taking part due to a Commission antitrust ruling last month that they participated in a bond trading cartel during the eurozone debt crisis a decade ago.

Citigroup, JPMorgan and Barclays — in addition to NatWest — have also been barred due to a finding two years ago that they were involved in manipulating currency markets between 2007 and 2013, people familiar with the matter said. Deutsche Bank and Crédit Agricole are also excluded due to an April ruling that they were involved in a different bond trading cartel, the people said. All the banks declined to comment.

Despite this, Reuters reported earlier (citing a senior banker in charge of the deal) that the EU's first offering of €20 billion ($24.3 billion) in bonds was heavily oversubscribed. The popularity isn't that surprising, considering that Triple-A rated debt in the region can be hard to come by (since the ECB owns much of the market). And the EU bonds feature a slight yield premium to German bunds. Investors placed upwards of €140 billion in orders for the €20 billion of debt, according to bankers who spoke to Reuters.

The new EU bond, due July 4 2031, will price 2 basis points below the mid-swap rate, according to the lead manager. That is equivalent to a yield of around 0.06%, according to Reuters calculations, down from around one basis point over the mid-swap level when the sale started on Monday.

Since October, the EU has already issued 90 billion euros to help finance its unemployment support program SURE.

The EU is managing these bond sales like a national debt offering, which is appropriate since they will likely transform the bloc into the world’s biggest supranational debt issuer.

All ten banks are among the 39 approved "primary dealers" which have a responsibility to bid for bonds during government auctions. One anonymous source told the FT that the EU's decision to bar the top dealers could create unnecessary complications for the sales. "There’s a delicate equilibrium in the relationship between issuers and primary dealers, and this risks upsetting that,”" said a senior banker at one of the lenders barred from syndicated deals. "These issues they are bringing up are from a long time ago, and they have been settled."

The banks working on Tuesday’s inaugural recovery fund bond are BNP Paribas, DZ Bank, HSBC, Intesa Sanpaolo, Morgan Stanley, Danske Bank and Santander.

The EU is expected to sell two more syndicated bonds by the end of July.

Tyler Durden Tue, 06/15/2021 - 09:49

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