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Stock Markets and the Economy: Live Updates


Credit…Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York Times

Smithfield Foods was one of the first companies to warn that the country was in danger of running out of meat as coronavirus infections ripped through processing plants in April 2020 and health officials pressured the industry to halt some production to protect workers.

Now, a lawsuit filed last week by Food and Water Watch, a consumer advocacy group, accuses the giant pork producer of falsely stoking consumer fears and misleading the public.

The suit says the nation was never in danger of running out of meat. It claims there were ample supplies in cold storage, while at the same time pork exports to China, in particular, were surging. The suit was filed in Superior Court in Washington, where a law allows a nonprofit group to sue on behalf of consumers without needing to show that they suffered direct harm.

“This fear mongering creates a revenue-generating feedback loop,” Food and Water Watch said in its lawsuit. “It stokes and exploits consumer panic — juicing demand and sales — and in turn, provides the company with a false justification to keep its slaughterhouses operating at full tilt, subjecting its workers to unsafe workplace health and safety conditions that have caused thousands of Smithfield workers to contract the virus.”

Smithfield defended its safety efforts while criticizing the consumer advocacy group. “The advocacy organizations who make these claims have a stated goal of dismantling the efforts of our hard-working employees, who take great pride in safely producing food products,” Keira Lombardo, Smithfield’s chief administrative officer, said in a statement.

The meatpacking industry was a flash point during the pandemic as thousands of workers fell ill, many of them fatally. Smithfield and other companies mounted an aggressive advertising campaign to highlight their worker safety efforts and to emphasize the industry’s important role in feeding the nation.

Despite these assertions, Food and Water Watch, which is represented in its lawsuit by Public Justice, a legal advocacy group, points out that Smithfield was cited by regulators for failing to adequately protect workers at its plants in California and South Dakota.

In her statement, Ms. Lombardo said, “Our health and safety measures, guided by medical and workplace safety expertise, have been comprehensive.”

Rental car prices have skyrocketed as travel has resumed.
Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

The Federal Trade Commission is warning travelers about schemes that lure them into booking phony car rental reservations through fake customer service numbers and websites, Ann Carrns reports for The New York Times.

Rental cars have gotten scarce and prices have risen. That may leave customers vulnerable to bogus offers that appear to provide the car not only that they want but at a seemingly more reasonable rate, said Emily Wu, a lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission’s division of consumer and business education.

The sequence may start when a shopper searches online for a general term like “cheap rental cars,” said Amy Nofziger, director of victim support for the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

  • They call the number that shows up in the search, thinking it belongs to a legitimate rental company.

  • The fake rental agency typically will insist that the caller reserve by paying with a gift card or prepaid debit card, saying there is a special promotion or discount associated with the card.

  • Once the caller buys a card and relays its PIN to the bogus agency, the criminal can quickly convert the card to cash, and the consumer is left without the money or a car.

“A website that requires payment or asks for the purchase of a gift card, and to provide the card number and PIN, should cause alarm,” said Lisa Martini, a spokeswoman for Enterprise Holdings, which includes the Enterprise, Alamo and National brands.

Shell executives say they want to put their chips on technologies and businesses that may evolve into key cogs in the cleaner energy system that is emerging, like batteries.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Ben van Beurden, the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, has been talking about the need to cut emissions since 2017. In the view of some, though, Shell has dragged its feet.

The company’s clean energy investments since 2016 add up to $3.2 billion, Stanley Reed reports for The New York Times, while it has spent about $84 billion on oil and gas exploration and development, according to estimates by Bernstein, a research firm.

“You cannot claim to be in transition when you only invest” such a small percentage of capital in new businesses, said Mark van Baal, founder of Follow This, a Dutch investor activist group.

All of the big oil companies, especially in Europe, share a similar dilemma. Their leaders see that demand for petroleum products is likely to eventually fade and that their industry faces growing disapproval, especially in Europe, because of its role in climate change. Shell is responsible for an estimated 3 percent of global emissions, mostly from the gasoline and other products burned by its customers.

Yet Shell and other companies still make nearly all their profits from fossil fuels, and they are naturally wary of shedding the bulk of their vast oil and gas and petrochemical assets, especially when the consumption of petroleum is forecast to continue for years.

Shell appears to be playing a longer, more cautious game than some rivals, like BP, that are pouring money into renewable energy projects. Shell executives seem to be skeptical about the profit potential of just constructing and operating renewable generation assets, like wind farms.

Shell executives say they want to put their chips on technologies and businesses that may evolve into key cogs in the cleaner energy system that is emerging. They want to not only produce clean energy but make money from supplying it to businesses like Amazon and retail customers through large, tailored contracts, or electric vehicle plug-in points or utilities that Shell owns. The investment numbers will increase, they say, to up to $3 billion a year of a total of about $20 billion annual capital expenditure.

“We are thinking ahead; where is the future going?” said Elisabeth Brinton, Shell’s executive vice president for renewables and energy solutions.

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