FirstFT: Companies delay return to the office

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Wells Fargo, BlackRock and Amazon announced yesterday that they were delaying plans for staff to come back to the office, a sign of how the spread of the Delta variant is hampering the plans for a return to pre-Covid work life.

They are the latest large US employers to revise or delay plans to return to the office more regularly, as the number of Covid infections in the country rises.

Wells, one of America’s largest retail banks with 4,900 branches, had hoped to bring its workers back to the office after the Labor Day holiday on September 6, the unofficial end of summer in the US. That will now be postponed until October 4.

BlackRock has told staff that plans for a full return to their offices will be delayed until the start of October from early September.

Amazon went further, telling its employees that the ecommerce giant is pushing back its return-to-office plans until January 3.

Microsoft and Apple have also delayed their plans for workers to return until October, while Google, Walmart and Walt Disney have announced stricter mask or vaccine requirements for employees or customers.

Yet Wall Street banks, which have been among the most aggressive in bringing their workers back to the office, show no sign of changing their back-to-work policies.

“We’ve asked our folks, 100 per cent of the people, to come in. And that we do not intend to change,” said Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, this week.

Five more stories in the news

1. Apple to scan US iPhones for child abuse Apple intends to install software on American iPhones to scan for images of child abuse, according to people briefed on the plans, raising security researchers’ concerns that it could open the door to surveillance of millions of people’s personal devices.

2. BoE’s ‘modest tightening’ of monetary policy The Bank of England said “some modest tightening of monetary policy is likely to be necessary” over the next two years to keep inflation under control, while in a hawkish shift most committee members indicated economic conditions had been met to start discussing raising interest rates again.

Line chart of CPI inflation (annual % change). Actual and BoE forecasts showing The BoE now expects UK inflation to reach four per cent this year

3. Tidjane Thiam’s Spac in talks with Credijusto The former Credit Suisse chief executive’s blank-cheque company is in exclusive talks with Mexican fintech start-up Credijusto and Latin American corporate data provider CIAL Dun & Bradstreet to merge and list the groups in New York this year.

4. US offers ‘safe haven’ to Hong Kongers Washington will defer removal of Hong Kong residents present in the US by 18 months, in response to China’s repression of the financial hub. The homeland security department did not say how many individuals will be eligible for the offer, but a US official told the Financial Times the number affected was “in the thousands”.

5. Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona part ways The Barcelona football club said yesterday that Lionel Messi, widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers in history, would leave because of “financial and structural obstacles” that it blamed on regulations imposed by Spain’s La Liga to rein in spending. For more on the business of sport, sign up for our Scoreboard newsletter.

Tokyo Olympics round-up

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya claimed refuge in the Polish embassy in Tokyo after she and her family appeared to be threatened by Belarus state officials
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya claimed refuge in the Polish embassy in Tokyo after she and her family appeared to be threatened by Belarus state officials © REUTERS
  • Two Belarusian coaches who allegedly tried to force Krystsina Tsimanouskaya on a flight have had their accreditation rescinded. The sprinter decided to defect after her grandmother said it was not safe to return home.

  • China’s Quan Hongchan, 14, won gold in women’s 10-metre platform diving.

  • Spain’s Alberto Ginés López, 18, has won the first-ever Olympic gold in sport climbing.

  • Belgium’s men won their first Olympic hockey gold, after defeating Australia in a tense final at Oi Hockey Stadium on Thursday night. The women’s final between the Netherlands and Argentina takes place on Friday night. (FT, Guardian, Reuters, CNN, NPR)

As the athletics competition heads into its final weekend we preview what to expect.

Coronavirus digest

  • Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News Australia faces a parliamentary inquiry next week for posting videos on YouTube that breached the streaming company’s Covid-19 misinformation policy.

  • The US plans to join Germany, Israel and France in giving booster shots to the immunocompromised. Health systems are braced for influenza as restrictions are lifted.

  • Novavax further delayed submitting its vaccine to the US regulator as it struggles with consistent manufacturing data. Moderna’s jab is 93 per cent effective six months after the second dose, the drugmaker said, as it reported a record quarterly profit. (FT, Reuters)

Covid has shown up western democracy’s childish tendencies, writes Edward Luce. Sign up for our Coronavirus Business Update newsletter.

The days ahead

US jobs data The Bureau of Labor Statistics is expected to confirm today that the US labour market built on last month’s large job gains as some of the worker shortages that have hampered the economic recovery begin to ease. Here is more on what to expect.

Earnings Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway publishes second-quarter earnings tomorrow. Analysts are expecting a strong financial performance, driven by considerable holdings in tech stocks like Apple. (Forbes)

Infrastructure vote A weekend vote is expected in the Senate on the $550bn infrastructure legislation, after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s attempt to rush passage late Thursday was thwarted by disagreements over cryptocurrency and other matters. (Bloomberg)

Olympics closing ceremony After two weeks of sporting action the Tokyo Games will close on Sunday. Finals in the women’s volleyball, men’s water polo and boxing are due to be completed before the closing ceremony draws the curtain on the Covid games. Here’s how to follow it. (USA Today)

What else we’re reading

Can Scarlett Johansson take down Hollywood studios? Negotiations between studios and actors are often tense but Scarlett Johansson’s battle with Disney stands out. For the past seven decades, actors have enjoyed considerable leverage in Hollywood but streaming has changed that, writes Anna Nicolaou. The new metric of success is not box office revenue but subscriber numbers — and studios are not about to share subscription revenue with actors.

Crypto bros stay loyal despite gathering crackdown Why has the price of crypto held steady in face of Gensler’s ‘Wild West’ remarks? Despite the wild utopian vision that some of the noisy hardline crypto crowd espouse, most buyers are not trying to change the world. They are just looking for a way to make some money, generally over the long term. To them, the “regulate, don’t obliterate” stance from the US authorities so far is a validation, writes Market Editor Katie Martin.

Pandemic shatters M&A taboo for Italy’s luxury brands The fashion world has been captivated by its own soap opera this summer as the biggest brands roar back from the pandemic: will legendary designer Giorgio Armani sell up? The speculation underlines how coronavirus is starting to redraw the map in luxury.

Column chart of Global personal luxury goods sales (% share) showing Top luxury groups are taking share from independents

Gym industry gets back into financial shape For months, finding a spot in fitness studios in big cities like New York, London and Los Angeles had been relatively easy. But that has changed as coronavirus vaccination campaigns in the US and Europe advance. The recovery has been strong enough to attract new investors.

Powerful union leader dies aged 72 In over a decade as leader of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Richard Trumka became one of the most powerful labour leaders in the US. He died this week of a heart attack, according to friend Bob Bruno, a labour historian at the University of Illinois Chicago.

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