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What Ford’s Labor Deal Might Mean for the Auto Industry

Higher labor costs could affect the economics of electric vehicles at Ford and elsewhere.Credit…Chase Castor for The New York Times

What next for car manufacturers?

In reaching a tentative contract with the U.A.W., Ford has moved to make peace with restive employees, one of the most costly problems it has faced in recent years.

With that in mind, investors are weighing how much this week’s preliminary deal might weigh on the automaker as it deals with a different major issue: slower-than-expected demand for electric vehicles. The stakes are high, as the U.A.W. pushes for similar concessions from Ford’s rivals as they confront the same challenges.

The new contract could cost Ford up to $2 billion annually over four years, according to Barclays analysts, or about 1 percent of sales. The company said it would look to offset those costs elsewhere.

Employees were jubilant about the preliminary deal, which includes a 25 percent pay increase over the life of the contract and improvements on job security, pensions and more. “This is the best contract I have seen in my 30 years with Ford,” one worker, Robert Carter, told The Times.

The higher expenses come as Ford grapples with other issues. Among them are costs associated with electric vehicles — the company’s E.V. division lost $1.3 billion in the third quarter because of investments in new technology and greater competition — and cooling demand for such vehicles.

Experts appear split on the contract’s effect:

  • Some analysts said the higher labor costs will hurt Ford as it deals with price cuts on cars by rivals like Tesla. “It adds a constraint in a very competitive market,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Cox Automotive, who suggested that Ford may move more production to, say, Mexico to reduce labor costs.

  • Others were more sanguine, arguing that other carmakers will need to raise wages to keep up. Regarding Ford, “They haven’t agreed to anything that will kill their competitiveness,” said Joshua Murray, a professor at Vanderbilt University who has chronicled the auto giants’ recent troubles.

What to watch: whether the Ford deal helps the U.A.W. reach agreements with General Motors and Stellantis. The union met with both carmakers on Thursday, according to Bloomberg, though it’s unclear whether those companies are willing to offer the same terms as Ford.

Save the date: The DealBook Summit will be on Nov. 29. Among the guests are Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase’s C.E.O.; Representative Kevin McCarthy, the former House speaker; and Jensen Huang, the C.E.O. of Nvidia. You can apply to attend here.

HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING

Sam Bankman-Fried takes the stand. In an unusual move,the judge overseeing the fallen crypto mogul’s fraud trial sent jurors home on Thursday and had him face hours of tough questions about pending testimony. The jury is set to return on Friday and Bankman-Fried is expected to continue testifying.

U.S. oil giants deliver mixed results. Exxon Mobil reported better-than-expected earnings on Friday and raised its dividend, as rising oil prices increased cash flow. But Chevron, which earlier this week shook up the energy industry with its $53 billion takeover bid for Hess, reported that it missed profit expectations because of weakness in its overseas refining business.

The manhunt in Maine enters a third day. Thousands are still under lockdown as police continue their search for a gunman who killed 18 people and injured 13 on Wednesday. The mass shooting has roiled state politics, with Representative Jared Golden, a Democrat, calling for a ban on assault weapons, reversing his previous position; Senator Susan Collins, a Republican, has refused to go that far.

Byron Wien, an influential voice on the markets, has died. The former Blackstone and Morgan Stanley investment strategist whose annual “10 Surprises” list made him a must-read, died Wednesday at age 90. “When he’s right, you can make a fortune,” the market commentator Jim Cramer said of Wien in 2018.

Amazon gives investors reason to believe in A.I.

The Nasdaq composite looks set to rebound on Friday from a two-day, $800 billion sell-off in technology stocks, triggered by lackluster earnings reports that had shaken investors’ lofty hopes about the profit potential of artificial intelligence.

Helping push that rebound were the Amazon’s third-quarter results. The e-commerce giant’s latest report — in which profit tripled year-on-year to $9.9 billion — serves in some ways as a snapshot of where things stand on A.I., consumer spending, advertising and more.

Investors found new reasons to be hopeful about A.I.’s impact on profit. Shareholders initially appeared dismayed about the below-expectations performance of the company’s Amazon Web Services cloud business, which customers are increasingly relying on to power their A.I. initiatives.

But that sentiment began to shift after Andy Jassy, the Amazon C.E.O., told analysts that big customers — including Adidas, the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates and United Airlines — were turning to A.W.S. to power their new A.I. apps. He predicted more growth from A.W.S. in coming quarters because of such A.I.-driven demand, showing a trajectory that more closely tracked Microsoft’s forecast for its cloud business (which investors praised) than Google’s (which they didn’t).

There were other reasons for caution in Amazon’s report. The company gave a downbeat forecast for the current quarter, typically its biggest of the year, which includes a Prime Day-like promotion and the holiday shopping season.

Still, Amazon may have helped lift other tech stocks, including those of Microsoft, Google’s parent company Alphabet and Meta, all of which rose in premarket trading.

Up next for investors: The Commerce Department will report September data for the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index, the preferred inflation gauge of the Fed. Economists expect to see a reading of “core” P.C.E., which excludes volatile data points like food and energy, of 3.7 percent — down sharply from a year ago, but still above the Fed’s 2 percent inflation target.

A hotter-than-expected figure, which would follow Thursday’s blockbuster G.D.P. numbers, could reignite the debate about whether the Fed needs to raise interest rates further to cool inflation. That prospect has weighed on stocks in recent months, particularly tech ones.


Twitter — sorry, X — one year later

A year ago today, Elon Musk took control of the social network then known as Twitter, promising to supercharge the struggling tech company as he had other businesses like Tesla and SpaceX.

He has certainly changed up the company, from its name, now X, to its much smaller work force and its approach to content moderation. What the disruption means for its future is up for debate.

A recap of the biggest changes:

  • X laid off 80 percent of its employees, sought to break leases and aimed to slash costs across its businesses.

  • It drastically eased restrictions on content, in line with Musk’s commitment to what he has called free-speech absolutism. Critics say that has allowed the spread of misinformation and hate speech on the platform.

  • X also introduced new subscription services, including those tied to user verification and promotion of posts, which has sometimes led to the impersonation of prominent government, business and media accounts.

Those have had big consequences for the platform’s health. Advertisers have drastically reduced their presence on X, with the company’s top five ad buyers cutting their spending by two-thirds, according to one estimate.

X’s audience has dropped off as well, with daily active users having fallen 16 percent year-on-year, according to the data provider Sensor Tower. (That said, in a meeting with employees on Thursday, Musk said X had about a half-billion monthly users, compared with 368 million before his takeover.) Meanwhile, Threads, Meta’s months-old competitor, now says it has nearly 100 million monthly active users.

Musk insists improvements lie ahead. In the company town hall on Thursday, he cited ambitions to take on YouTube and LinkedIn as he seeks to turn X into a super-app that offers a wide range of services. He also reiterated his plans to introduce payments on the platform.

Whether those initiatives can bolster X’s business — and help pay down the $13 billion of debt the company took on as part of Musk’s takeover, which is now weighing down on its lenders — remains to be seen.


“I feel a keen sense not to become the next roadkill. If we become second class, we become irrelevant over time.”

Prabhakar Raghavan, Google’s senior vice president overseeing search and other products. As the search giant began its defense in the Justice Department’s landmark antitrust case, he argued that Google built a dominant business to fend off its many rivals.


Morningstar faces new heat in Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who’s running a distant second in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, has stepped up his attack on the corporate world’s embrace of so-called E.S.G. investing. His latest target is Morningstar — and there’s an Israel angle.

Florida put Morningstar on its “List of Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel.” At issue is Sustainalytics, a division that scores companies based on their commitment to E.S.G. (environmental, social and governance) factors. The state government accused Sustainalytics’ ranking methodology of penalizing companies “for supporting Israeli interests in Judea and Samaria” — referring to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“Florida will hold companies accountable for discriminating against Israel,” DeSantis said on Thursday.

Morningstar has denied the charge.It has 90 days to respond to the state’s questions, or risk having Florida cut all business ties.

Morningstar has been under scrutiny. The Anti-Defamation League and JLens, an investment adviser focused on Jewish issues, have raised concerns about how the firm rates companies doing business in Israel. JLens has argued that anti-Israel bias played into some recommendations by Sustainalytics.

Morningstar recently agreed to change its methodology. It no longer uses data from the United Nations Human Rights Council, and it dropped terms like “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” On Thursday, Morningstar also reiterated its opposition to the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, which seeks to marginalize Israel and its business interests.

E.S.G.-bashing is a centerpiece of DeSantis’s politics. He has taken on Disney for its opposition to his state’s so-called Don’t Say Gay law. And he has threatened to pull billions in state money from investment giants like BlackRock and Vanguard over their backing of E.S.G. investing policies.

THE SPEED READ

Deals

  • Jamie Dimon and his family disclosed plans to sell about 21 percent of their $1.21 billion stake in JPMorgan Chase. (WSJ)

  • Sanofi plans to spin off its consumer business, the latest such move by a health care company to focus on higher-margin operations. (Bloomberg)

  • Unilever said it would sell a majority stake in Dollar Shave Club, the direct-to-consumer razor brand it bought for $1 billion, after struggling to help it grow. (Insider)

Policy

  • Cruise, General Motors’s autonomous-driving division, suspended operations across its fleet after California banned its cars from state roads. (FT)

  • Live Nation Entertainment, the parent of Ticketmaster, pushed back against a call by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, to expand pricing-transparency efforts. (NBC News)

Best of the rest

  • “Who Decides Penn’s Future: Donors of the University?” (NYT)

  • Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour has pushed the pop megastar into the billionaires club. Meanwhile, the music industry is hotly awaiting Friday’s debut of her “1989” remake. (Bloomberg, NYT)

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