U.S. Energy Prices Jump After Winter Storm: Live Stock Market Updates


Here’s what you need to know:

Filling a pickup truck and gas cans in Tomball, Texas, on Monday. A winter storm has disrupted energy supplies and caused widespread power outages.
Credit…Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press

Energy prices in the United States rose on Tuesday after a huge winter storm hit the southern and central parts of the country, with 150 million people under storm warnings. Millions of people have been left without power in freezing temperatures.

Natural gas futures for March delivery rose as much as 6.3 percent, the biggest jump since Feb. 1, when a storm hit the Northeast. Demand for natural gas has risen, but disruption from the storm means gas production has plummeted.

The Texas energy regulator said on Saturday that it was aware local natural gas distributors “may be required to pay extraordinarily high prices in the market for natural gas, and may be subjected to other extraordinary expenses” in responding to the storm.

For oil, futures jumped more than 5 percent over the weekend as the coldest weather in three decades interrupted road transportation and some wells had to shut down. On Tuesday, West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, rose 0.7 percent to $59.87 a barrel, the highest in 13 months. Futures for Brent crude, the European benchmark, fell 0.2 percent. The largest refineries in the country, including Port Arthur in Texas, closed on Monday because the weather had led to power outages across the state.

“Some producers, especially in the Permian Basin and Panhandle, are experiencing unprecedented freezing conditions which caused concerns for employee safety and affected production,” the Texas energy regulator said Monday.

Markets in the United States were closed on Monday for the Presidents’ Day holiday.

  • U.S. stocks pushed higher on Tuesday, building on recent gains as investor were optimistic that the vaccination rollout would spur an economic recovery. The S&P 500, which reached a record high last week, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq were up less than half a percent as trading began.

  • The Biden administration on Tuesday announced additional relief for American homeowners struggling with payments, saying the pandemic had “triggered a housing affordability crisis.”

  • The Stoxx Europe 600 index rose 0.1 percent, extending a 1.3 percent gain from Monday. In Germany, the ZEW survey of investor sentiment recorded a big jump in future expectations for the economy, but the view of the current situation worsened.

  • In Britain, the government reached its target of vaccinating 15 million people, the most vulnerable in the country, by mid-February but now the prime minister, Boris Johnson, is under increasing pressure to lay out a clear plan for the end of the long lockdown. The central bank has forecast a relatively strong economic rebound later in the year, but business leaders have warned that companies need to prepare to reopen and the recovery could be impeded if they are given enough support. The pound rose above $1.39 this week, the strongest against the U.S. dollar since early 2018.

  • Indexes in Asia rose, with the Nikkei 225 in Japan up 1.3 percent; on Monday, it climbed above 30,000 for the first time since 1990. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong closed 1.9 percent higher.

  • Softbank’s shares closed at a record high. Last week, the Japanese company recorded huge profits in its tech investment fund amid a flurry of public offerings by companies it backs.

President Biden signed two executive orders on his first day in office aimed at providing economic relief to the unemployed and others suffering during the pandemic.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced additional relief for American homeowners struggling with payments, saying the pandemic had “triggered a housing affordability crisis.”

The actions include:

  • extending a moratorium on foreclosures through June 30;

  • extending an enrollment window for mortgage payment forbearance requests until June 30; and

  • providing up to six months of additional mortgage payment forbearance for borrowers who entered forbearance on or before June 30.

On his first day in office, President Biden issued orders extending federal moratoriums on some foreclosures and evictions through the end of March. But the expiration of those protections would leave “many at risk of falling further into debt and losing their homes,” White House officials said in a statement.

One in five renters have fallen behind on rent and more than 10 million homeowners are behind on mortgage payments, according to the White House statement. People of color, who face greater hardship in the pandemic, are at greater risk of eviction and foreclosure.

Homeowners can find out who owns their mortgage by entering their address on various government websites.

The relief programs are part of a coordinated effort by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Agriculture.

Niki Christoff speaking at a news conference about the anti-discrimination Equality Act in 2019 in Washington.
Credit…Kevin Wolf/Associated Press for Human Rights Campaign

When Niki Christoff, a senior Salesforce executive, received an offer to join the board of a publicly traded company, she saw it as a signal that she was poised to break into a club long dominated by men. But what happened next revealed one of the biggest challenges facing companies’ efforts to diversify their boards, writes our columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Many companies, like Salesforce, don’t allow employees to join external boards alongside their day jobs, and especially not those below the senior-most ranks, where women and ethnic and racial minorities tend to be better represented. When Ms. Christoff asked for permission, she was rebuffed, and when she accepted the directorship, she was fired.

Mr. Sorkin describes the obstacle this presents:

With so many employees trying to overcome barriers to promotions at their own employers, this creates a kind of systemic impediment to diversifying boardrooms.

And with companies facing growing calls from investors and society to diversify their boards, a new fault line is being exposed in corporate America: Should companies let their managers spread their wings?

Ms. Christoff is eager to bring attention to the issue. “People don’t know that these policies exist, and it’s not just Salesforce that has this policy,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to restrict board service to senior management. And so highlighting that issue to me feels important both from an equity perspective, but also from a business perspective.”

More than 10 suits echoing government antitrust cases have been filed against Google, Facebook or both in recent months.
Credit…Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Private lawsuits are adding to the mounting legal pressure on Big Tech companies.

Already, more than 10 suits echoing government antitrust cases have been filed against Google, Facebook or both in recent months. Many of them lean on evidence unearthed by the government investigations, writes David McCabe for The New York Times.

If successful, the lawsuits could be costly for Facebook and Google. The companies work with millions of advertisers and publishers every year, and Google hosts apps from scores of developers, meaning there are many potential litigants. After the United States sued Microsoft for antitrust violations a generation ago, the company paid $750 million to settle with AOL, at that point the owner of the browser Netscape, which was at the core of the government’s case.

“There’s a fair amount of scrambling going on and folks trying to figure out what private suits might be successful and how to bring them,” said Joshua Davis, a professor at the University of San Francisco’s law school.

Facebook declined to comment about the lawsuits. Julie Tarallo McAlister, a spokeswoman for Google, said in a statement that the company would defend itself against the claims.

“Like other claims courts have rejected in the past, these complaints try to substitute litigation for competition on the merits,” she said.

The private suits follow similar ones from the government for a simple reason: Regulators have distinct advantages when it comes to obtaining evidence. Federal and state investigators can collect internal documents and interview executives before filing a suit. As a result, their complaints are filled with insider knowledge about the companies. Private individuals can seek that kind of evidence only after they file lawsuits.

If the government cases succeed against Google or Facebook at trial, it is likely to bolster the case for private lawsuits, experts said. Lawyers could point to those victories as evidence the company broke the law and move quickly to their primary aim: obtaining monetary damages.


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