Airlines Drop Most Change Fees Permanently

Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

For months, airlines have been waiving change fees to encourage hesitant travelers to fly again. Now, they’re doing away with the charges altogether, at least for flights within the United States.

On Sunday, United Airlines said it was permanently dropping change fees for most customers flying domestically. American Airlines and Delta Air Lines followed suit a day later. The changes, effective immediately, apply to all standard economy and premium seats, but not to any of the airlines’ low-price basic economy seats, which come with additional restrictions.

“When we hear from customers about where we can improve, getting rid of this fee is often the top request,” United’s chief executive, Scott Kirby, said in a recorded message to customers.

American said it would also drop change fees for short-distance international trips to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Southwest Airlines does not charge change fees.

American, Delta and United all said that they would continue to waive change fees through at least the end of the year for international travel and for passengers holding basic economy tickets.

Starting in 2021, every United customer will be allowed to fly standby for free on an earlier flight on their scheduled day of travel if a seat is available, the airline said. American said it would do the same, starting Oct. 1.

The announcements come as airlines prepare themselves for a recovery that is expected to take years to unfold. Air travel is currently down about 70 percent compared to last year, according to federal data, and carriers have been doing all that they can to stand out from one another and attract what few customers remain. Delta and Southwest, for example, have been limiting seating on flights, while all of the major airlines have waived change fees, touted cleaning regimens and imposed stringent mask requirements.

  • The S&P 500 fell 0.22 percent in the final trading day of August, ending a seven-day run of gains into record territory. Even so, the S&P had its second-best month of the year, and its fourth-best month in five years, notching a gain of 7.01 percent.

  • Investors expressed some relief at the slowdown of the spread of the virus in the United States, which remains an epicenter of the pandemic. Stocks sensitive to the outlook for the virus, such as Royal Caribbean Cruises and the hotel and casino company MGM Resorts International, posted some of the biggest gains of the month. But technology giants and chip makers were the largest contributors to the rally.

  • On Monday, shares of Tesla rose 12.57 percent and Apple rose 3.39 percent as their stock splits took effect. The stock splits will make it less expensive to own individual stocks in the companies, putting them in reach of retail investors. Tesla, which announced a 5-for-1 split earlier this month, closed at $2,213.40 on Friday. Apple, which is doing a 4-for-1 split, closed Friday at $499.23.

  • European markets rose on Monday, with indexes in Germany and France up about 1 percent. The markets in Britain were closed for a public holiday.

  • Asian markets were mixed on Monday, with Japan’s Nikkei ending the day up more than 1 percent, while other benchmark indexes were in negative territory. Japanese stocks jumped after Berkshire Hathaway, which is owned by the legendary investor Warren Buffett, bought stakes in five of Japan’s biggest trading companies, including Mitsubishi and Mitsui.

  • Investors were encouraged by the Federal Reserve’s move last week to relax its approach to inflation. The announcement by the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, at the annual Jackson Hole summit signaled that the central bank would keep interest rates low while focusing on fostering a strong labor market.

  • But coronavirus cases around the world continued to increase, with the United States on Sunday surpassing six million confirmed infections, almost a quarter of the 25 million cases recorded globally.

Credit…Gabby Jones for The New York Times

It’s a new day for the venerable Dow Jones industrial average.

Before the open of trading on Monday, the lineup of the index was rejiggered, with Exxon Mobil, Raytheon and Pfizer jettisoned, and Amgen, and Honeywell added to the 30-stock menu.

Why? Blame Apple.

Apple on Monday executed a 4-for-1 stock split, which essentially chopped one share of Apple, which had been trading at more than $500, into four shares priced at a bit more than $125. (Companies sometimes split shares if their prices are getting high as a way to ensure that they can be easily traded.)

But the stock split was a problem for the Dow, an index that weights stocks depending on their share price.

The highest priced shares have the largest influence on the movement of the index. And at more than $500 a share, Apple was the most influential stock in the Dow, accounting for roughly 12 percent of the index. Apple is up more than 70 percent this year and was responsible for a substantial part of the Dow’s performance.

Apple’s size in the Dow also puffed up the index’s exposure to the high-flying large-cap technology sector, which has soared this year and has helped pull the overall markets up, despite the global coronavirus pandemic.

After the split, Apple accounted for about 3 percent of the Dow, so the stock’s romp higher won’t move the overall index as much as it used to.

It also means that the index’s weight toward the all important technology sector has also fallen.

So much of the market’s gains this year are because of technology stocks, and the Dow is already lagging behind other indexes, which have heavier weighting to that sector.

For example, the S&P
500 — which sees companies with the largest stock market valuation as the most influential — has outperformed the Dow significantly this year, thanks largely to the weighting the index gives to giant tech firms like Apple, Microsoft and Amazon, which have massive market capitalizations.

To lift the Dow’s technology weighting after the Apple split, the committee that controls membership in the index — it is majority owned by the financial information and credit rating giant S&P Global — added

They also removed the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which was one of the lowest-priced members of the Dow, adding Amgen, a biotech firm, to make sure the health care sector was reflected in the index.

Raytheon was replaced with Honeywell International to increase the Dow’s weighting toward industrials, which had shrunk with Raytheon’s lagging share price.

And Exxon, which was the longest serving member of the Dow 30, having joined as Standard Oil of New Jersey in 1928, was removed in an apparent nod to the shrinking role of the energy sector of the market. Chevron is now the last energy stock in the index.

None of these changes mean the actual level of the Dow Jones industrial average will change, as their prices are adjusted using a formula that ensures there’s no sudden break with past trends of the index.

Zoom’s revenue and profit continued to soar in the second quarter as the company’s videoconferencing software cemented its status as a key tool for work, education and socialization since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

The San Jose, Calif., company beat even lofty industry expectations Monday, reporting that it had $663.5 million in revenue, up 355 percent from the same period last year. Net income for the quarter leapt to $185.7 million, up from $5.5 million a year ago. The company said it now has more than 370,000 customers that have more than 10 employees, up 458 percent from a year ago.

Zoom, whose video-calling software has grown so ubiquitous that it has become a cultural phenomenon, said that its rosy financial outlook was due in part to companies shifting from a short-term reaction to the pandemic to long-term plans for remote work.

Credit…Carter Johnston for The New York Times

A lawyer for J.C. Penney told a bankruptcy judge in Texas on Monday that the retailer had hit a stalemate in its talks with buyers. Now, to avoid liquidation, the company will focus on a sale to its top lenders in a deal that would convert its debt to equity stakes. J.C. Penney has set Sept. 10 as a new deadline to reach an agreement — or else liquidation becomes increasingly likely.

Hanging in the balance of the negotiations is the future of hundreds of stores and tens of thousands of jobs. The 118-year-old department store filed for bankruptcy in May with more than 800 stores and nearly 85,000 employees. It has since announced layoffs and store closures.

J.C. Penney had been talking to a consortium of Brookfield Property Partners and Simon Property Group about a sale that could have saved the retailer. Despite having worked through the weekend, J.C. Penney’s bankruptcy attorney, Joshua Sussberg, said Monday that the company was unable to come to an agreement on a sale.

Credit…Mahesh Kumar A./Associated Press

The Indian economy contracted by 23.9 percent in the second quarter, the worst decline among the world’s top economies.

Data released by the Indian government on Monday showed that consumer spending, private investment and exports had all suffered tremendously. The sector including trade, hotel and transport dipped 47 percent. India’s once mighty manufacturing industry shrank 39 percent. The figures reflect the onset of India’s deepest recession since 1996, when the country first began publishing its G.D.P. numbers.

The only bright spot, though relatively faint, was agriculture. Thanks to strong rains this monsoon season, the sector grew 3.4 percent versus 3 percent in the previous quarter.

India’s picture is further complicated by the fact that so many people here are “informally” employed, working in jobs that are not covered by contracts and often fall beyond government reach, such as rickshaw driver, tailor, day laborer and farmhand. Economists say that official numbers are bound to underestimate that part of the economy and that the full damage could be even greater.

“My estimate is after the government takes the unorganized sector into account,” the overall economic slide will be “minus 40 percent,” said Arun Kumar, a professor at New Delhi’s Institute of Social Sciences.

Economists said that the surging coronavirus cases in the country might push recovery further away and that the central bank would increasingly come under pressure for additional stimulus payments and rate cuts.

The U.S. economy shrank 9.5 percent last quarter, and Japan’s economy shrank 7.6 percent.

Credit…Andrea Verdelli for The New York Times

This was supposed to be the year that China’s export machine began to stall. President Trump had imposed broad tariffs on Chinese goods. Countries like Japan and France pushed companies to shift production from China. The pandemic had crippled China’s factories by the end of January.

Instead, China Inc. has come roaring back.

After reopening in late February and early March, China’s factories began an export blitz that is still gaining steam. Exports soared in July to their second-highest level ever, nearly matching the record Christmas rush last December. The country has grabbed a much larger share of global markets this summer from other manufacturing nations and entrenched a dominance in trade that could last long after the world begins to recover from the pandemic.

China is showing that its export machine cannot be stopped — not by the coronavirus and not by the Trump administration. Its resilience lies not only in the country’s low-cost skilled labor and efficient infrastructure but also a state-controlled banking system that has been offering small and large businesses extra loans to cope with the pandemic.

The pandemic has also found China better placed than other exporting nations. It is making what the world’s hospitals and housebound families need right now: personal protective gear, home improvement products and lots of consumer electronics.

At the same time, demand has withered for many big-ticket items exported by the United States and Europe, like Boeing and Airbus jets. And it has also faltered for the commodities that most developing countries export, particularly oil.

Credit…Tingshu Wang/Reuters

The Chinese government over the weekend imposed new restrictions on technology exports, including what sound like the algorithms that underpin TikTok, and the move has thrown a wrench into negotiations to sell the video app to an American company.

The surprise move may be China’s attempt to dictate terms of the sale, which is happening under orders from President Trump. ByteDance, TikTok’s China-based parent company, has said that it will comply with the new rules.

Or the new rules could be an effort to block the sale. China effectively killed Qualcomm’s 2018 bid to buy the Dutch chip maker NXP by withholding approval. If Beijing blocks the sale of TikTok, it effectively would be calling the Trump administration’s bluff, daring it to shut the app down.

People briefed on the talks have warned that Beijing’s approval was always important, and appeasing both Mr. Trump and Chinese officials was a top priority for TikTok’s main suitors, Microsoft and Oracle. (Given their extensive business interests in China, the buyers now have to tread even more carefully.) A deal, which had been expected to be announced as soon as this week, may be delayed by the new rules.

Credit…Jonathan Crosby/Reuters

Richard H. Clarida, the Federal Reserve vice chair, said in a speech on Monday that the central bank was in the middle of a “robust evolution” and that it would no longer raise interest rates to cool off economic growth based solely on the level of the unemployment rate.

Low joblessness by itself “will not, under our new framework, be a sufficient trigger for policy action,” Mr. Clarida said, noting that other considerations — like financial stability concerns or evidence that inflation is likely to run hot — could still prompt rate increases.

“This is a robust evolution in the Federal Reserve’s policy framework,” he said, adding that economic models that guess the labor market’s limits “can be and have been wrong.”

The Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, announced last week that he and his colleagues were ending a year-and-a-half-long review of their monetary policy strategy, and that the Fed updated a guiding document that sets out its long-run policy framework. Among the most important changes, the Fed said that rather than worrying about “deviations” from full employment, the central bank would now be concerned about “shortfalls.”

While that might seem like semantics, it indicated a significant shift: The Fed is formally ditching its long-held practice of lifting borrowing costs to cool down the economy and fend off future inflation when the unemployment rate drops below a certain level, the one that economists use to signify “full employment.”

Officials have become increasingly modest about their ability to guess where that line in the sand might be, after joblessness fell to 50-year lows but inflation stagnated below the central bank’s 2 percent goal. The move sets the stage for long periods of very low interest rates, and codifies a transition that has taken hold over the last two years.

The Fed also announced that it would pursue a strategy to hit 2 percent inflation as an average over time. That’s a change from the Fed’s old approach, which was always trying to return inflation to 2 percent.

Mr. Clarida didn’t offer exact details in his prepared remarks about how high above 2 percent the Fed would allow prices to run. He hinted that the Fed would update its economic forecasts — which regularly predict inflation stopping at exactly 2 percent — before the end of the year.

💰 Wall Street is eager for Zoom to report earnings after the market closes today. Last quarter will be a tough act to follow for the videoconferencing company: One analyst called it the “the greatest quarter in enterprise software history.” Investors also want to see how the pandemic is affecting Campbell Soup, which reports earnings on Thursday.

🏛 In a series of speeches, Fed officials will explain the implications of the central bank’s momentous announcement last week that it will tolerate higher inflation to foster a stronger labor market. Richard Clarida, the Fed’s vice chair, speaks today; Lael Brainard, a Fed governor, speaks on Tuesday (followed by a panel discussion featuring the former Fed chairs Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen); and the New York Fed president John Williams speaks on Wednesday.

📈 The biggest economic news is due on Friday, with the release of the monthly U.S. jobs report. Economists expect that the U.S. economy added 1.4 million jobs in August, and that the unemployment rate dropped below 10 percent. Both would be big improvements, but far from restoring all the jobs lost during the pandemic. Similar trends are playing out in the European Union, which releases its latest jobs numbers on Tuesday, and in Canada, which reports on Friday.

  • Ford Motor said Monday that it ended production of ventilators after delivering the 50,000 it had promised to make, in a partnership with General Electric, when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the spring. Ford said it shipped the last ventilator to the Department of Health and Human Services on Aug. 28 from its plant in Rawsonville, Mich. General Motors, which had been assembling ventilators with Ventec Life Systems, is also nearing the end of its production run.

  • Companies can stop withholding payroll taxes from employees’ paychecks beginning Sept. 1. But those employees would still have to pay the tax through larger withholdings — and less take-home pay — by April. That guidance, released by the Treasury Department in coordination with the Internal Revenue Service on Friday evening, said that “the affected taxpayer may make arrangements to otherwise collect the total applicable taxes from the employee,” suggesting companies can hold workers liable for the tax even if they leave the company.