This may turn out to be the year that oil giants, especially in Europe, started looking more like electric companies.
Late last month, Royal Dutch Shell won a deal to build a vast wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands. Earlier in the year, France’s Total, which owns a battery maker, agreed to make several large investments in solar power in Spain and a wind farm off Scotland. Total also bought an electric and natural gas utility in Spain and is joining Shell and BP in expanding its electric vehicle charging business.
At the same time, the companies are ditching plans to drill more wells as they chop back capital budgets. Shell recently said it would delay new fields in the Gulf of Mexico and in the North Sea, while BP has promised not to hunt for oil in any new countries.
Prodded by governments and investors to address climate change concerns about their products, Europe’s oil companies are accelerating their production of cleaner energy — usually electricity, sometimes hydrogen — and promoting natural gas, which they argue can be a cleaner transition fuel from coal and oil to renewables.
For some executives, the sudden plunge in demand for oil caused by the pandemic — and the accompanying collapse in earnings — is another warning that unless they change the composition of their businesses, they risk being dinosaurs headed for extinction.
“What the world wants from energy is changing,” said Bernard Looney, a 29-year BP veteran who became chief executive in February, “and so we need to change, quite frankly, what we offer the world.”
As the pandemic-induced economic crisis drags on, jobless Americans are becoming more pessimistic about their prospects for getting back to work.
Nearly six in 10 Americans who are out of work because of the pandemic say they do not expect to return to their old jobs, according to a survey this month for The New York Times by the online research platform SurveyMonkey. That’s up from half who said the same a month ago.
Of those who are still out of work, 13 percent anticipate returning to their old jobs in the next month, down from 22 percent a month earlier.
The growing pessimism comes as hiring has slowed and other measures of economic activity have lost momentum. The Times survey adds to the evidence of a stall: The share of those surveyed who reported that they had returned to work fell slightly in August, perhaps reflecting the new wave of business closures in response to the virus. And overall consumer confidence dipped. Only 24 percent of Americans now say they are better off than a year ago, the lowest share in the survey’s three and a half years.
Economists say that if a large share of Americans are unable to return to their old jobs, the recovery will be slower. The longer the crisis lasts, the more likely that becomes: More than half of job seekers in the Times survey report having been out of work for five months or longer, consistent with other data showing rising levels of long-term unemployment.
The pandemic has caused a surge in bicycle sales around the world, resulting in an international bike shortage. And the world’s largest bike maker, Giant, expects its supplies to remain tight for some time to come.
After President Trump started his trade war with China in 2018, Giant moved some of its manufacturing for the American market from China to the company’s home base in Taiwan to avoid the added tariffs. The following year, the European Union imposed antidumping duties on electric bikes from China, so Giant began making those in Taiwan, too.
But when the pandemic caused demand for bikes to jump, Giant needed to reverse course. With its Taiwan facility already under strain, the company had little choice but to crank up production in China, even it meant bearing the extra cost of tariffs.
“There’s nowhere else in the world that can go like China from zero to 100 in an instant, like a sports car. Shyeew!” Giant’s chairwoman, Bonnie Tu, said in an interview.
The Trump administration this year temporarily lifted tariffs on a variety of Chinese-made goods that are deemed strategically unimportant. Bicycles made the list, which made it easier for Giant to go back to producing some of its bikes for the U.S. market in China.
But the tariff pause for certain types of bikes expired this month, meaning Giant may need to adjust its supply arrangements yet again.
Today all of Giant’s factories are running nearly at full steam. Despite the rush of first-time bike buyers, Ms. Tu does not plan to “blindly” invest in new manufacturing capacity.
“Every boom ends someday,” she said. “It’s just a question of whether it ends quickly or slowly.”
European stocks were trying to sustain small gains on Monday after a mixed trading session in Asia where Japan became the latest country to announced a record economic contraction.
Britain’s FTSE 100 led major European indexes, gaining 0.2 percent. In Italy, the FTSE MIB index slipped 0.4 percent after authorities tightened some restrictions to curb a rising number of infections. In New York, futures were pointing to a gain when trading starts later in the morning.
Oil futures were slipping, while the U.S. 10-year Treasury note gained in price. Gold was rising, at about $1,950 an ounce.
Tokyo’s Nikkei closed 0.8 percent lower after Japanese authorities reported the economy fell 7.8 percent in the second quarter, an annualized drop of 27.8 percent. It was the third straight quarter of contraction for Japan, the world’s third-largest economy after the United States and China. Even before the pandemic, Japan’s economy was weakened by a tax increase, slowing demand from China and a series of natural disasters last fall.
But there are signs the worst may be over. By late in the second quarter, analysts said, the full effects of Japan’s economic stimulus package, including cash handouts and zero-interest loans, began to be felt, keeping joblessness and bankruptcies low.
Chinese indexes jumped after China’s central bank announced measures to increase liquidity, with the Shanghai Composite closing 2.3 percent higher.
The coronavirus has created some pandemic winners, as people shop in droves on Amazon, buy Peloton bikes to exercise at home and head to drive-in movies. For children, there are pandemic victors, too — and chief among them is Roblox, a 14-year-old online gaming site and app with Lego-like characters and millions of virtual worlds to explore.
Since February, the number of active players on Roblox has jumped about 35 percent, reaching 164 million in July, according to RTrack, a site that tracks Roblox data. About three-quarters of American children ages 9 to 12 are now on the platform, according to Roblox. And players spent three billion hours on the site and app in July, twice as much as they did in February, the company said.
With so much time at home starting in March, Garvey Mortley began logging more hours in the online universe, building virtual houses, adopting digital pets and racing other players in obstacle courses. She said she now plays Roblox on her laptop for up to five hours a day while chatting with friends on her phone, up from an hour or two before the pandemic. “It’s like my main passion,” said Garvey, 12. “It’s pretty diverse, and you can meet people around the world.”
Roblox is free to play, but gamers pay real money — often $5 or $10 at a time — to become premium members and to buy an in-game currency called Robux, which lets them buy clothing, weapons and even hot air balloons for their characters.
“At a time like this, where people are housebound, being able to escape into the digital world and have these kinds of fun, imaginative experiences with a friend, is very, very relevant,” said Craig Donato, Roblox’s chief business officer.
Nursing homes have been the center of America’s coronavirus pandemic, with more than 62,000 residents and staff dying from Covid-19 at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, about 40 percent of the country’s Covid-19 fatalities.
Now, the lightly regulated industry is campaigning in Washington for federal help that could increase its profits.
Some of the country’s largest nursing-home companies — including those with long histories of safety violations and misusing public funds — have assembled a fleet of lobbyists, many with close ties to the Trump administration.
Eliezer Scheiner, a nursing-home owner and major donor to President Trump, recently retained Brian Ballard, a friend of the president who used to lobby on behalf of Mr. Trump’s business.
Genesis Healthcare, the largest nursing-home chain in the United States, hired two former top White House aides, including Jim Schultz, a former special assistant to Mr. Trump.
LifeCare Centers of America, whose Kirkland, Wash., facility had the country’s first coronavirus outbreak in March, brought on four former Republican Senate aides.
The industry’s main trade group enlisted Haley Barbour, a former chairman of the Republic National Committee.
It is hardly unusual for embattled industries to seek help from Washington. But the fact that individual nursing-home companies are hiring lobbyists, not just relying on trade associations, reflects the ambitious nature of the industry’s mobilization.
Nursing homes — many of which were in deep financial trouble even before the pandemic — are also on the hunt for government cash infusions through the federal economic rescue that became law in March, as well as any future stimulus bills.
Among the industry’s biggest goals, though, is for the federal government to block residents and their families from suing nursing homes for wrongful deaths and other malpractice claims — even those that have nothing to do with Covid-19.