Inflation Fears Stalk Presidential Politics and the Markets

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President Biden and Donald Trump dominated Super Tuesday, setting the stage for a rematch of the 2020 election. One topic that’s high on the agenda for voters: Inflation.

That means all eyes will be on Jay Powell, as the Fed chair makes a two-day appearance on Capitol Hill this week, for any sign of what’s next on rate cuts.

Inflation is kryptonite for any politician, and especially for Biden. Trump again pounded the president on high prices, an issue that’s lifting the Republican in polls even as a range of indicators show that the economy is performing strongly.

(The White House is putting the blame on corporations that “try to rip off Americans.” Watch for that theme at Thursday’s State of the Union address.)

Powell will appear before the House on Wednesday and before the Senate on Thursday. Data published in recent weeks shows that jobs are plentiful, wages are rising and consumers are still spending. Analysts have upgraded their economic forecasts, raising hopes that a soft landing is likely.

But market pros see warning signs. Concerns remain that inflation will stick above the Fed’s 2 percent target, forcing the central bank to put the brakes on interest rate cuts that traders expect to begin in June. The futures market on Wednesday is forecasting three to four cuts this year — down from nearly seven just weeks ago — and the more cautious sentiment has helped drag the S&P 500 lower this week.

The markets are taking a breather from a staggering rally. The S&P 500 has gained in 16 of the past 18 weeks, its best run since 1971. At the same time, some investors have been selling off 10-year Treasury notes this year while others have jumped into a record-breaking rally for cryptocurrencies. And nonfungible tokens, a kind of digital asset whose market nearly collapsed during the crypto winter, have made a comeback.

It’s too early to signal when the Fed may cut, Powell is expected to testify. He will probably say that Friday’s jobs report and next week’s Consumer Price Index will be key to understanding whether the Fed is making progress on inflation. He may also reiterate that risks linger, a potential bad sign for Biden.

OpenAI responds to Elon Musk’s lawsuit. The artificial intelligence start-up said Musk tried to turn the then nonprofit organization into a for-profit company before he left in 2018. OpenAI released a series of emails involving Musk in its first public comments since he sued the company last week. Musk accuses OpenAI of breaching a founding agreement that precluded it from commercializing its technology.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema won’t seek re-election in Arizona. The independent and former Democrat’s decision ends speculation in an increasingly competitive state. It clears the way for a showdown, most likely between Representative Ruben Gallego, a more conventional Democratic candidate, and Kari Lake, a Trump loyalist who unsuccessfully ran for governor while citing election-fraud claims.

The race to fill Dianne Feinstein’s California Senate seat comes into focus. Representative Adam Schiff, the Democrat who led the prosecution against Donald Trump in his first impeachment trial, will face off against Steve Garvey, a former baseball star. Feinstein held the seat for three decades before her death last autumn.

As Donald Trump continues his march toward the Republican presidential nomination with a string of victories on Super Tuesday, he’s also been courting a potential high-profile backer: Elon Musk, The Times reports.

That could cement a rightward political journey for the tech billionaire and raise questions about what it might mean for his companies.

Musk has become increasingly critical of President Biden and Democrats. He has previously donated to Democrat and Republican candidates, but complained at the DealBook Summit that Biden had snubbed Tesla at an electric vehicle event and suggested that he wouldn’t vote for him. In 2022, he called on voters to back Republicans in the midterms and reinstated Trump’s Twitter account, citing a commitment to free speech.

Immigration is a particular focus of his flirtation with Trump. Musk is using his account on the social media platform X to attack Biden over the issue, publishing unsubstantiated claims about illegal migration on the southern border to his 175 million followers.

Musk’s backing would be a big boost for Trump. The donations could help refill Trump’s coffers, which have been drained to fight his multiple legal battles. And Musk commands a powerful megaphone on X.

Would it spur a backlash to Musk’s businesses? SpaceX would most likely maintain its dominant market position in the rocket business, and its Starlink division would stay ahead in satellite internet service. X has already seen users shift to other platforms amid dissatisfaction with its owner’s antics and political views, but Musk seems undeterred (and is even looking to build another business on the back of the social network).

Tesla is an open question. An embrace of Trump might put off even more would-be customers at a time when Tesla has already been cutting prices, and can’t afford more defections.


A group that includes some of Congress’s biggest Beijing hawks as well as some of its moderates is pushing to effectively ban TikTok from app stores ahead of the election, as concerns grow over China’s influence on the popular social media platform.

The lawmakers want TikTok’s parent company — China’s ByteDance — to fully divest from the short video platform that counts millions of U.S. teens, influencers and President Biden as U.S. users.

“This is my message to TikTok: break up with the Chinese Communist Party or lose access to your American users,” said Representative Mike Gallagher, Republican of Wisconsin, and the chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party.

TikTok’s popularity could make banning it tricky. The platform has become a crucial way to connect with younger voters and consumers, even though concerns are growing about disinformation. The company was one of several tech giants that pledged last month to crack down on A.I.-conjured deepfakes in a year full of elections.

The U.S. and its allies also see TikTok as a security risk. Governments across Europe, Australia and over a dozen U.S. states have either banned or are seeking to pull the app off devices for fear it may share users’ data with Beijing.

But Washington has done little. A Senate bill has been bogged down in recent months, as ByteDance has poured millions into lobbying.


For years, student athletes have been pushing to get a piece of the billions pouring into college sports. A team that gets relatively little national TV exposure may have pulled off a game-changer that could be felt across U.S. campuses and Corporate America.

The replay: Dartmouth men’s basketball on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to become the first U.S. college athlete union.

“This could be the beginning of the end for the collegiate sports model as we know it,” Gabriel Feldman, a professor at Tulane University Law School, told DealBook.

The N.C.A.A. and Dartmouth have insisted that student basketball players are not employees, and therefore cannot unionize under federal law. The National Labor Relations Board disagreed in a ruling last month, paving the way for Tuesday’s vote.

College sports have been under pressure to pay athletes for years. A watershed Supreme Court decision in 2021 allowed students to ink corporate sponsorship deals, and accept money from supporters.

But a team union is the biggest step toward professionalization yet, experts say. The big question now is whether more teams will try to form one.

Schools argue unionization will ruin college sports. Treating student athletes like employees — providing them pay, health care and insurance — would potentially mess with the economics of collegiate athletics. “Some schools may decide it’s not worth having a lacrosse team,” Feldman said.

It poses big questions for businesses, too. For example, would EA Sports, which just announced a deal with more than 10,000 student athletes for a college football video game, have to negotiate a deal with unionized players separately?

Rick Burton, a professor of sports management at Syracuse University, laid out another scenario: “If Dartmouth had been a Nike school, and the university was providing Nike shoes and apparel to all of the players, and a member of the union decided that they did not want to wear Nike,” then what would happen?


Top deal makers are flocking to New Orleans this week for Tulane University’s Corporate Law Institute event to talk shop about M.&A., shareholder activism and more.

As DealBook prepares to head to the Big Easy for the conference, here’s what to expect.

Deal makers are cautiously optimistic M.&A. will pick up. Last year was dismal, with transaction volumes hitting a 10-year low. A vast majority of leading deal makers surveyed by Gladstone Place Partners, a P.R. firm, predict modest growth in 2024. They said that the busiest sectors would be health care, technology and media.

Delaware’s future will be in the spotlight. The conference has long featured jurists from the state’s Court of Chancery and its Supreme Court.

A likely conversation starter for Chief Justice Collins Seitz Jr. and members of the Delaware bar: Can the state remain Corporate America’s favored home after Elon Musk moved the incorporation of some of his companies out when a Delaware judge struck down his nearly $56 billion payday at Tesla.

Not all attendees are defending Delaware. Some have told DealBook that Kathaleen McCormick, the judge in Musk’s case, erred. They worry that her decision could cause more companies, especially those with controlling shareholders, to rethink sticking around.

Activist fights will be another hot topic, notably Nelson Peltz’s battle with Disney. Nearly a third of respondents to the Gladstone Place survey said they expected activist investors to win more board seats than in years past, while 17 percent forecast that more proxy battles will go to a vote rather than be settled.

Deals

  • Blackstone, Thomson Reuters and other investors have sold a 4 percent stake worth about $2.4 billion in LSEG. (Bloomberg)

  • In philanthropic news: Ken Griffin, the Citadel C.E.O., donated $50 million to a cancer center at the University of Miami; and the Salesforce C.E.O., Marc Benioff, gave $150 million to Hawaii hospitals. (The University of Miami, WSJ)

Policy

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