Good morning. The economy is showing more signs of recovery — jobs are coming back, the stock market is up (again) and people are spending money. Here’s the latest in business and tech news for the week ahead. Stay safe out there. — Charlotte Cowles
What’s Up? (April 11-17)
So, what did you buy with your stimulus check? Retail sales in March blew past expectations, soaring nearly 10 percent as the latest round of federal relief funds trickled into bank accounts. Restaurants and bars saw a 13 percent bump in business, and sales of clothing and accessories rose 18 percent — people are getting out and about and need new clothes after a year of sweatpants. Another sign of better times ahead: Last week’s jobless claims dropped to their lowest level since the pandemic began.
Crypto Goes Mainstream
With much fanfare, Coinbase — a marketplace where people buy and sell digital currencies like Bitcoin — went public on Wednesday, becoming the first major cryptocurrency company to do so. Its first day of trading made early investors, including the basketball star Kevin Durant, very rich (well, even more than they already were). It also encouraged the crypto-curious to dip a toe — or take a plunge — into what has become an increasingly hot market. Digital currencies have boomed this past year as investors pushed their prices to new highs, bringing related businesses (like Coinbase) along for the ride.
Planning to do business with the Kremlin anytime soon? Too bad. President Biden announced a flurry of sanctions against Russia last Thursday and barred American banks from purchasing any new Russian government debt. The measure targeted 32 individuals and entities involved in Moscow’s disinformation campaigns and interference in the 2020 presidential election. Mr. Biden also formally blamed Russia’s top intelligence agency for the sophisticated hacking operation that breached American government agencies and dozens of large companies last year. By squeezing access to international finance, the Biden administration aims to pressure Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, into negotiating a more stable relationship with the United States.
What’s Next? (April 18-24)
Apple’s first product unveiling of the year, titled “Spring Loaded,” will be streamed on the brand’s website this Tuesday. Anticipated gadgets include a new iPad Pro line (face it, your old iPad is out of storage space) and new iMac desktops (to improve your work-from-home setup, which you might need for the long haul). The company is also reportedly developing a small tracking device called an AirTag that can be stuck to items like keys and wallets, allowing you to find them with an app (now that you need them to go places again!). But it’s unclear if they will make their debut this week. Stay tuned.
Too Much Screen Time
For years, Instagram has been planning a special version of its app for users under age 13. The children’s version would supposedly include stronger measures to protect them from sexual predators and bullying. But it faces an uphill battle. Last week, an international coalition of 35 children’s and consumer groups called on Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, to scrap plans for the app. Among their reasons: It “will likely increase the use of Instagram by young children who are particularly vulnerable to the platform’s manipulative and exploitative features.”
What does a global shortage of tiny semiconductors — also known as chips — have to do with you? Well, they’re used for everything from cars to computers to kitchen appliances. And the companies that make them are reeling from pandemic-fueled production snafus, causing trickledown problems in the auto industry and many other sectors. Mr. Biden wants to fund more domestic chip manufacturing with his infrastructure plan and signed an executive order to bolster supply chains in the meantime. But that may not be enough to fix what has already become a big problem.
Bernie Madoff, who masterminded the biggest Ponzi scheme in history, died in prison at age 82. Nearly four years after the infamous Fyre Festival left its attendees scrambling for shelter and water in the Bahamas, ticket holders — many of whom shelled out thousands for what was billed as an ultraluxury experience — will receive settlement payments of about $7,220 apiece. And China’s post-pandemic recovery is booming. Its economy grew by a whopping 18.3 percent in the first three months of the year to last year’s low.