Voters’ negative perceptions about the economy are weighing on President Biden’s poll numbers. Here’s what his economic policies have, and haven’t, accomplished.
Where the economy is working (and where it isn’t)
With a year to go before Election Day, polls increasingly show that American voters believe next year will be a rematch between President Biden and Donald Trump — with the former president in the lead in key battleground states despite his legal troubles (more on that below).
Biden’s troubles stem in large part from negative perceptions about the economy, even as several indications show that it is performing strongly. Here’s a deeper look at what “Bidenomics” has, and hasn’t, accomplished.
On the positive side: jobs. Since Biden took office, employers have created 14 million jobs, and the unemployment rate has been hovering around a 50-year-low for months.
The president has also been talking up signature economic accomplishments like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which he argues have helped rebuild rural America and invigorated the economy. “Bidenomics is just another way of saying the American dream,” he said in a speech. It’s not a stretch. The economy grew last quarter at nearly 5 percent, belying a global slowdown.
On the negative side: inflation. Wages have been growing slowly, but they’ve been offset by rising prices, Biden’s Achilles’ heel. Republicans have blamed the White House’s economic policies for soaring consumer prices, which hit a 40-year high in the summer of 2022.
Many economists say global factors are probably more to blame. But the perception of Biden’s culpability here is hurting him.
A partial win: the markets. Investors tend to give high marks to presidents whose tenures coincide with strong investment returns. The S&P 500 has gained nearly 15 percent since Biden’s inauguration, weathering much of the slump set off by the Fed’s historic rates-tightening policy. (The bond market has gone in the opposite direction.)
That’s decent, but pales in comparison with the Trump years, when the benchmark index climbed more than 65 percent.
Biden has been touring the country — on Monday, he was in Delaware to promote federal money flowing to Amtrak, the rail operator — to refocus the public’s perceptions of his economic achievements. Meanwhile, questions swirl over whether Biden can eventually overtake Trump.
A reminder: The DealBook Summit is on Nov. 29. Among the guests are Bob Iger of Disney; Lina Khan of the F.T.C.; and David Zaslav of Warner Bros. Discovery. You can apply to attend here.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Uber’s latest earnings miss expectations. The ride-hailing giant said on Tuesday that it had earned 10 cents per share in the third quarter, below the 12 cents that analysts had forecast. But the company argued that its business showed strong growth in its core mobility division.
OpenAI seeks to build on its runaway success. The Microsoft-backed A.I. start-up said that its chatbot, ChatGPT, now had over 100 million weekly active users, giving it a formidable lead in the race to capture artificial intelligence customers. The company also introduced an online store that will let users build customized chatbots.
Striking Hollywood actors push back on studios’ latest contract offer. The SAG-AFTRA union said that the “last, best and final” bid still fell short on key issues like the use of A.I., making it unclear when its nearly four-month strike will end. In other labor news, Starbucks will raise the average salary of hourly workers by at least 3 percent.
Trump puts his legal liabilities on display
Donald Trump may be handily leading the 2024 election polls. But his appearance in court on Monday, testifying in a civil fraud lawsuit filed by New York State, appeared to do him no favors in efforts to hold onto his business empire.
It was a reminder that, while he’s riding high in the presidential race, the former president still faces a thicket of legal battles that could cost him financially and, perhaps, politically.
Here are some notable moments from Trump’s testimony:
Trump conceded that he had played a role in valuing his company’s properties, an issue at the heart of the case. (New York prosecutors argue that Trump illicitly inflated his net worth to defraud banks and insurers.) Of the company’s financial statements, he said, “I would look at them, I would see them, and I would maybe on occasion have some suggestions.”
But Trump also sought to underplay the importance of those statements, saying they were so riddled with disclaimers that they were “worthless.” He promised, unprompted, that some of his bankers would testify in his defense.
Trump also assailed the presiding judge, Arthur Engoron, for having decided before the trial that fraud was committed. Engoron appeared exasperated, telling the former president to answer questions and stop delivering speeches.
The testimony was a reminder of his political baggage, which was also an undercurrent of the endorsement of Ron DeSantis on Monday by Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s popular governor. Reynolds, whose state’s caucuses could be crucial in bolstering a Trump rival, said that the U.S. needed a president “who puts this country first and not himself” — a thinly veiled rebuke of Trump.
His legal issues don’t appear to have dented his popularity. He has contended that he is being politically persecuted — “People like you go around and try to demean me and try to hurt me,” he told a state lawyer on Monday — an argument that some of his supporters have embraced.
In a sign of his enduring political strength, the betting site PredictIt puts Trump’s odds of winning the nomination on Monday at more than four times that of his nearest competitor in its market, Nikki Haley.
Exxon Mobil taps a Wall Street and D.C. power player
Dina Powell McCormick, a former Goldman Sachs executive and onetime Trump administration official, is joining the board of Exxon Mobil effective Jan. 1. Her appointment comes as energy groups have embarked on a series of big deals on the back of soaring oil prices and bumper profits.
Powell McCormick has long been one of the most senior women on Wall Street. Before joining BDT & MSD partners, an investment and advisory firm, earlier this year, she spent 16 years at Goldman Sachs. Powell McCormick led the Wall Street giant’s global sovereign business and sustainability, and she was a member of its management committee, among other roles.
Powell McCormick has also been a Washington power player. She has spent more than a dozen years working in government. From 2017 to 2018, she was a deputy national security adviser to Trump and played a significant role on Middle East policy, including efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. (Her husband, David McCormick, is a former C.E.O. of the hedge fund Bridgewater and was a Treasury Department official under Hank Paulson. He is running for Senate in Pennsylvania as a Republican.)
Powell McCormick’s appointment even won backing from Mike Bloomberg, who is spending billions to fight climate change — a sign of how wide-ranging her political and business relationships are.
“Dina has been a close partner for years through her role as global head of sustainability at Goldman Sachs,” Bloomberg said, “and we have teamed up to create new partnerships that invest in market-driven ways to create clean energy and advance climate transition goals.”
Energy giants are on a deal spree. Exxon reported quarterly profits of $9.1 billion last month, as oil prices have surged and demand has skyrocketed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In October, Exxon agreed to acquire the shale oil specialist Pioneer Natural Resources for around $60 billion and Chevron struck a $53 billion deal to buy Hess.
Exxon’s board had been in the spotlight over the energy transition. Engine No. 1, an activist investor, won three seats after targeting the company over its governance and environmental track record. But two years later, the firm changed course, saying that Exxon had made big changes. Exxon, however, has resisted calls to pour more money into renewable energy, arguing that its money is better on low-carbon investments.
Tracing WeWork’s rise and spectacular fall
WeWork finally filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday, after years of struggling with crushing debt and the coronavirus pandemic’s emptying out of office spaces — and that’s even after it had abandoned the runaway growth it pursued under its co-founder, Adam Neumann.
The company that sought Chapter 11 is a shell of the real estate juggernaut that first sought to go public at a $47 billion valuation. (Its stock is down 98 percent this year.) Here’s how the business once lauded by the Japanese tech investor SoftBank as a revolution went astray.
WeWork has been on its heels since it scrapped its I.P.O. plans in 2019. The company had been riding high, buoyed by Neumann’s promises that the start-up — whose business involved leasing out office space for co-working — would “elevate the world’s consciousness.” But then:
Prospective investors blanched at the company’s steep losses, lax corporate governance and the controversies that dogged Neumann. (Activities on private jets were among them.) And the S.E.C. criticized the company’s disclosure involving mismatches between long-term financial obligations and its short-term assets. Neumann stepped down after WeWork shelved its I.P.O., and SoftBank provided it with a multibillion-dollar lifeline.
Under a new C.E.O., Sandeep Mathrani, WeWork confronted the devastating effect of pandemic lockdowns and the rise of remote working. The company went public — via a blank-check vehicle — in 2021, while it started closing locations and renegotiating leases.
Mathrani left in May, reportedly after clashing with SoftBank. His replacement, David Tolley, has kept trying to right the ship, but WeWork warned in August that there was “substantial doubt” about its future. Last month, it said it would miss interest payments on its debt.
WeWork’s filing raises questions about the fate of commercial real estate. The company noted on Monday that it had reached agreements with about 92 percent of creditors holding secured debt. Its restructuring involves reducing its real estate portfolio.
The company is one of the largest corporate tenants in New York and London, and any move to shed more of its leases would hurt commercial landlords that are themselves struggling to pay their debts.
THE SPEED READ
Research analysts at some of the banks that took Birkenstock public wrote in their initial reports on the sandal maker that its I.P.O. was valued too high. (Bloomberg)
“Warring Billionaires, a Rogue Employee, a Divorce: One Hedge Fund’s Tale of Woe” (NYT)
Intel is reportedly the leading candidate to land billions of dollars in federal funding to build secure plants to make chips for use by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. (WSJ)
A man who posed as a billionaire rabbi and made a $290 million takeover bid for the retailer Lord & Taylor was sentenced to more than eight years in prison. (Bloomberg)
Best of the rest
Disney hired Hugh Johnston, the longtime finance chief at PepsiCo, as its new C.F.O. (CNBC)
The founder of the dating app Bumble, Whitney Wolfe Herd, is stepping down as C.E.O. (NYT)
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