Business Updates: Facebook and Apple Double Their Profits

The iPhone was the main driver of Apple’s success in the first three months of the year.
Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Apple said on Wednesday that its profits more than doubled to $23.6 billion in the most recent quarter as people embraced its latest iPhones and bought more of its other products, striking results for what is already the world’s most valuable company.

Apple said its revenues soared by 54 percent to $89.6 billion, a record for the March quarter that meant Apple sold more than $1 billion on average each day. The rapid growth is partly explained by slower sales in the same three-month period last year as the pandemic first took hold, but the quarter was still strong on its own merits and far surpassed analysts’ expectations. Apple’s sales increased sharply in each of its product categories and in each of its regions around the world.

As usual, the main driver of Apple’s success was the iPhone. Apple said iPhone sales rose by 66 percent to $47.9 billion, its steepest increase in years. The company’s flagship product had accounted for more than half of its overall sales for years, but more recently Apple has tried to diversify into other businesses, causing the share of revenue from iPhones to fall to 41 percent in the quarter that ended September 30. Then Apple unveiled the iPhone 12 in October, and sales have surged. In the latest quarter, iPhones accounted for 54 percent of Apple’s revenues.

Apple said that iPad sales grew 79 percent and that Mac sales grew 70 percent, success that was partly driven by more people splurging on computers as they worked and learned from home. Sales of Apple’s wearable devices, including the Apple Watch and AirPods, grew 25 percent, and its services division, which includes app sales and subscriptions to iCloud and other Apple services, grew 26 percent.

Apple said on Wednesday that it would repurchase an additional $90 billion of its own stock, part of its continued program to return much of its earnings to shareholders.

The enormous profits are further evidence of the growing dominance of the biggest tech companies. Also announced this week: Microsoft’s profits rose 44 percent to $15.5 billion; Facebook’s profits nearly doubled to $9.5 billion; and profits at Alphabet, Google’s parent company, more than doubled to nearly $18 billion. Amazon reports its earnings on Thursday.

Apple’s continued growth comes amid increasing scrutiny of its power. The company is facing antitrust investigations from regulators around the world, and on Monday, Apple is set to face off in a trial against Epic Games, one of the world’s largest game makers, over its control of the App Store.

Shares of Apple, which is worth roughly $2.25 trillion, rose nearly 2 percent in after-hours trading.

Wall Street is expected to scrutinize Facebook’s advertising business closely as Apple rolls out a new feature that asks users if they wish to opt out of some tracking by advertisers.

Facebook said on Wednesday that revenue rose 48 percent to $26.2 billion in the first three months of the year, while profits nearly doubled to $9.5 billion, underlining how the social network has continued to benefit during the pandemic.

Advertising revenue, which makes up the bulk of Facebook’s income, rose 46 percent to $25.4 billion. Nearly 3.5 billion people now use one of Facebook’s apps every month, up 15 percent from a year earlier.

The results followed a blockbuster financial performance in 2020, as the pandemic pushed people indoors toward their computers and other devices — and onto the social network and its associated apps like Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger — in ever-increasing numbers. Facebook recorded highs in users and revenues and its services were in such demand that engineers at times struggled to “keep the lights on.”

Yet Wall Street is now expected to scrutinize Facebook’s advertising business closely. On Monday, Apple rolled out an update of its mobile software with a new feature that asks people if they wish to opt out of being tracked by advertisers outside of apps like Facebook. If people choose not to be tracked, that could hurt Facebook’s business, which relies on user data to target advertising.

The situation has put Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, and Tim Cook, the C.E.O. of Apple, in conflict with one another. On Tuesday, Mr. Cook tweeted that Apple had introduced the privacy feature because “we’ve always believed that you should be in control of your data.”

Facebook on Wednesday said it expected some challenges to its advertising this year “from regulatory and platform changes, notably the recently-launched iOS 14.5 update, which we expect to begin having an impact in the second quarter.” The company added that the change was baked into its financial guidance.

“We had a strong quarter as we helped people stay connected and businesses grow,” Mr. Zuckerberg said in a statement. “We will continue to invest aggressively to deliver new and meaningful experiences for years to come, including in newer areas like augmented and virtual reality, commerce and the creator economy.”

In recent months, Facebook has also faced continued criticism about the content that flows through its site, especially after former President Donald J. Trump used social media to urge his followers to overturn the results of the presidential election, inciting a mob to storm the Capitol building on Jan. 6. Facebook cut off Mr. Trump from the platform after the riot, though a final decision about whether to keep him off the site indefinitely has not been made.

Gary Gensler’s tenure leading the Securities and Exchange Commission is off to a rocky start: Alex Oh, who he named just days ago to run the regulator’s enforcement division, has resigned following a federal court ruling in a case involving one of her corporate clients, ExxonMobil.

In her resignation letter on Wednesday, Ms. Oh said the matter would be “an unwelcome distraction to the important work” of the enforcement division.

Ms. Oh’s resignation letter followed a ruling on Monday from Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia over the conduct of Exxon’s lawyers during a civil case involving claims of human rights abuses in the Aceh province of Indonesia.

According to Judge Lamberth’s ruling, Exxon’s lawyers claimed without providing evidence that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were “agitated, disrespectful and unhinged” during a deposition. He ordered Exxon’s lawyers to show why penalties were not warranted for those comments.

The ruling did not single out any lawyers by name. Ms. Oh was one of the lead lawyers for Exxon.

The judge’s order also granted the plaintiffs’ motion that Exxon pay “reasonable expenses” associated with litigating their request for sanctions and with an accompanying motion to compel additional testimony from Exxon related to the deposition.

Ms. Oh’s resignation letter did not mention the Exxon case by name, but a person briefed on the matter confirmed that the ruling from Judge Lamberth had prompted her to step down.

Ms. Oh, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan who worked for the elite firm Paul, Weiss for nearly two decades, was picked by Mr. Gensler to oversee the S.E.C.’s 1,000-attorney enforcement division on April 22. The same day, she filed a notice with the court in the Exxon case saying she had withdrawn from the matter because she had resigned from the firm to join the federal government.

The civil litigation involving Exxon is nearly two decades old and involves allegations by the plaintiffs that Exxon’s security personnel “inflicted grievous injuries” on them. The lawsuit was brought under the federal Alien Tort Claims Act, which enables residents of other countries to sue in the United States for damages arising from violations of U.S. treaties or “the law of nations.”

Mr. Gensler said in a news release that Melissa Hodgman, who had been the enforcement division’s acting chief since January, will return to that position. Ms. Hodgman has been an enforcement attorney with the agency since 2008. He thanked Ms. Oh for her “willingness to serve the country.”

Ms. Oh could not immediately be reached for comment.

Brad Karp, chairman of Paul, Weiss, said the firm would not comment on the matter because it involved ongoing litigation. “Alex is a person of the utmost integrity and a consummate professional with a strong ethical code,” he added.

Ms. Oh is a highly respected lawyer, but her selection had been criticized by the Revolving Door Project, a good-government group, because she had been in private practice for so many years and had defended some of the largest U.S. companies.

Amazon announced raises for half a million employees in its warehouses, delivery network and other fulfillment teams.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Amazon will increase pay between 50 cents and $3 an hour for half a million workers in its warehouses, delivery network and other fulfillment teams, the company said on Wednesday.

The action follows scrutiny of Amazon from lawmakers and an unsuccessful unionization push that ended this month at its large warehouse in Alabama. In 2018, Amazon raised its minimum pay to $15 an hour. In recent months, it has publicly campaigned to raise the federal minimum to $15, too.

Amazon has been on a hiring spree during the pandemic. As more customers ordered items online, the company added 400,000 employees in the United States last year. Its total work force stands at almost 1.3 million people.

Amazon typically revaluates wages each fall, before the holiday shopping season. But this year, it moved those changes earlier, said Darcie Henry, an Amazon vice president of people experience and technology. The new wages will roll out from mid-May through early June. Ms. Henry said the company was hiring for “tens of thousands” of open positions.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, recently told shareholders in his annual letter that he recognized the company needed “a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success.” He said that Amazon had always striven to be “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company,” and that now he wanted it to be “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work” as well.

Amazon is scheduled to report quarterly earnings on Thursday.

Ford has developed vehicles that could revitalize profits, including a redesigned version of its top-selling F-150 pickup truck.
Credit…Tannen Maury/EPA, via Shutterstock

Ford Motor said on Wednesday that the global shortage of computer chips will take a greater toll on its business than previously expected and would likely cut its vehicle production in the second quarter by about half.

“The effects of the shortage have grown,” Ford’s chief financial officer, John Lawler, said during a conference call with reporters. “We now expect the semiconductor shortage to get worse and bottom out in the second quarter but continue to put pressure on our operating results in the second half of the year.”

Ford expects the shortage to lower its operating profit this year by $2.5 billion, to between $5.5 billion to $6.5 billion. It had previously said the impact of the shortage would be between $1 billion to $2.5 billion.

The shortage was exacerbated in March by a fire at a plant owned by a Japanese electronics supplier, Renesas.

The grim outlook was delivered as part of a strong earnings report by Ford. The company made a $3.3 billion profit in the first quarter, a turnaround from a year ago when the company lost $2 billion as the coronavirus pandemic was starting to shut down much of the world’s economy.

“There’s no question, we’re becoming a stronger, more resilient company,” Ford’s chief executive, James Farley, said in a statement.

The shortage of computer chips has forced automakers to idle factories around the world. Ford said it produced about 200,000 fewer vehicles than originally planned in the first quarter. But the ability to command higher prices helped Ford’s bottom line, as did lower warranty costs and a $900 million gain related to its stake in Rivian, an electric vehicle start-up.

While it hopes to be able to make up some of the lost production later in the year, Ford will likely produce 1.1 million fewer vehicles in 2021 than it had planned to, Mr. Lawler said.

Ford has been trying to streamline its operations and raise its profits for several years with modest success until now. In 2020, it named Mr. Farley to the top job, charging him with accelerating the turnaround.

The automaker has developed vehicles that could revitalize profits. It redesigned its F-150 pickup truck, the top-selling vehicle in the United States. It has also gotten strong reviews for a new Bronco sport-utility vehicle and the Mustang Mach E, an electric S.U.V. styled to resemble the company’s famous sports car.

But the chip shortage has crimped its plans. In the first three months of the year, Ford has had to pause or slow production at a variety of plants, including some that make the F-150, which generates a large chunk of its profits.

The Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, testifying before the Senate in December.
Credit…Pool photo by Susan Walsh

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday left interest rates at rock-bottom and pledged to continue buying government-backed bonds at a steady pace as it tries to support the economy’s recovery from the coronavirus downturn.

The economy is clearly improving from the coronavirus shock. Unemployment, which peaked at 14.8 percent last April, has since declined to 6 percent. Retail spending is coming in strong, supported by repeated government stimulus checks. Overall, Americans have amassed a big savings stockpile over months of stay-at-home orders, so there’s reason to expect that things could pick up further as the economy fully reopens.

Still, Fed officials have signaled they will keep interest rates low and bond purchases going at the current $120 billion-per-month pace until the recovery is further along.

When it comes to government-backed bond buying, a policy meant to make many kinds of borrowing cheap, the Fed has said it would like to see “substantial” further progress before dialing it back. The hurdle for raising rates is even higher: Officials want the economy to return to full employment, achieve 2 percent inflation, and expect inflation to remain higher for some time.

“Amid progress on vaccinations and strong policy support, indicators of economic activity and employment have strengthened,” the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee said in its post-meeting statement. “The ongoing public health crisis continues to weigh on the economy, and risks to the economic outlook remain.”

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.
Credit…Pool photo by Susan Walsh

When Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, speaks to reporters in a webcast news conference on Wednesday afternoon, he’s likely to face questions about a simmering topic: inflation.

Prices are expected to pop in the coming months, both as inflation indexes lap very weak 2020 readings and as supply chains experience short-term reopening bottlenecks. The unknowns facing the Fed, and the investment world, are how big the jump will be and how long it will last.

Most forecasters and the Fed itself expect the increases to be only temporary. But some economists have warned that they could be significant enough to become a problem as businesses reopen, consumers start to spend their savings and the government pumps stimulus money into the economy.

If the increases are big enough and sustained, the Fed could find itself in a tough spot, forced to choose between letting prices rise or raising interest rates before the labor market is fully recovered.

Inflation also worries stock investors: If the Fed lifts interest rates to cool off the economy, it could make investing in bonds more attractive and corporate borrowing more expensive, both bad news for equities.

The Fed wants inflation to average 2 percent annually over time, and it defines that goal using the Commerce Department’s headline personal consumption expenditure index. But officials look at a variety of indicators to gauge conditions. Here’s where a handful of critical inflation measures stand and, when it’s relevant, where economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect them to go in the coming months:

  • P.C.E., the Fed’s preferred gauge: 1.6 percent in February, and expected at 2.3 percent in March and 2.2 percent for the full year.

  • Core P.C.E., which strips out volatile food and energy prices: 1.4 percent in February, and expected at 1.8 percent in March and 1.9 percent for the full year.

  • Consumer Price Index, an important Labor Department gauge: 2.6 percent in March and expected at 2.6 percent for the full year.

  • Producer Price Index, a measure of wholesale prices: 4.2 percent in March, the highest since 2011.

  • University of Michigan consumer inflation expectation for next year: 3.7 percent as of this month, up from 3 percent at the start of the year.

  • University of Michigan consumer inflation expectation for five years from now: 2.7 percent as of this month, little changed from start of the year.

  • Five-year, five-year forward inflation expectation rate, a market-based measure: 2.25 percent in recent days, roughly matching 2018 levels.

Fed officials regularly point out that inflation has been too tepid in recent years, not too high, and they don’t expect that to change quickly. To raise rates, they say, they would need to see that inflation was going to remain higher sustainably — for instance, if it came alongside heftier wage increases.

Part of the Fed’s comfort with a period of faster price gains is that consumer and business expectations have remained relatively low, despite some recent increases. If people aren’t anticipating higher prices, it’s likely to put a lid on how much more companies can charge.

Yields on government bond fell from their highest point of the day on Wednesday, after the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, said it was too early for the central bank to even consider cutting down on its efforts to support the economy.

Mr. Powell’s comments came during a news conference after the Federal Reserve left interest rates at rock bottom. Mr. Powell said the economic recovery was far from complete and that its outlook was still dependent on the coronavirus pandemic.

Yields on government bonds had climbed earlier Wednesday, possibly in anticipation that the Fed might signal it would begin to talk about changing policy — even if an actual change might be years in the future.

Mr. Powell repeated that the Fed would telegraph any changes well in advance and expected the current rise in inflation to be temporary, which would diminish the need for a monetary policy reaction.

After rising as high as 1.65 percent on Wednesday, the yield on 10-year Treasury notes stood at about 1.62 percent after Mr. Powell spoke.

  • Stocks fell slightly on Wednesday. The S&P 500 ended down less than 0.1 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.5 percent.

  • Deutsche Bank rose 11 percent after it reported its best quarterly profit in seven years. The German bank also avoided losses from the collapse of Archegos Capital Management that were a blow to some of its European rivals.

  • Alphabet rose 3 percent after the tech company said revenue in its most recent quarter increased sharply from the same period a year ago, supported by strong demand for online advertising.

  • Boeing fell 2.8 percent after the company said it lost another $561 million in the first three months of the year.

  • Pinterest shares dropped 14.3 percent after the company said the growth in its number of users would probably slow down as pandemic restrictions were lifted.

Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative.
Credit…Pool photo by Bill O’Leary

Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, said on Wednesday that her office was reviewing China’s compliance with its commitments to purchase additional U.S. goods under an initial trade deal signed by the Trump administration.

“We are in the process of examining their performance and are scrutinizing all of the aspects of what they have done and what they have yet to do,” Ms. Tai said at a Senate hearing, where she faced questions about Chinese imports of U.S. lobster and other seafood, among other topics.

“We need to ensure that their promises are worth the paper that they are written on,” Ms. Tai said after Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, asked about seafood purchases.

Under the agreement signed by President Donald J. Trump in January 2020, China agreed to purchase an additional $200 billion of American goods and services by the end of 2021. But trade data show that China so far has not fulfilled its purchase commitments.

In the first three months of 2021, China’s purchases of U.S. products covered by the deal reached only 61 percent of its target based on U.S. export data, according to an analysis published on Tuesday by the Peterson Institute for International Economics. China reached only 59 percent of its commitment in 2020 based on U.S. export data, according to the institute.

At the hearing, held by a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, Ms. Tai noted that China made other commitments in the agreement beyond the purchase commitments, and she said that her office was scrutinizing the “overall compliance picture.”

“The picture is more nuanced than you might think by just looking at the trade data,” Ms. Tai said. “And so I look forward to coming back to you with a better picture and with a more clear sense for where we need to drive harder with our Chinese counterpart.”

Ms. Tai said that a meeting with a Chinese vice premier, required every six months under the agreement, had not yet been scheduled. Ms. Tai has committed to undertaking a broad review of U.S. trade policy with China, and she reiterated that commitment during her appearance on Wednesday.

“I am looking forward to kicking it off,” she said. Asked how long it would take, she responded, “I do know that time is of the essence.”

Boeing 777X jets at the company’s production facility in Everett, Wash. Boeing said it continued to expect the recovery to take years to unfold.
Credit…Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Boeing said Wednesday that it lost $561 million in the first three months of the year as it emerged from its prolonged 737 Max crisis and contended with new problems related to the 787 Dreamliner jet. Revenue fell 10 percent to $15.2 billion compared with the same period last year.

But, like his counterparts at major airlines, Dave Calhoun, Boeing’s chief executive, struck an optimistic tone.

“While the global pandemic continues to challenge the overall market environment, we view 2021 as a key inflection point for our industry as vaccine distribution accelerates and we work together across government and industry to help enable a robust recovery,” he said in a statement.

In an investor presentation, Boeing said it continued to expect the recovery to take years to unfold, with passenger traffic unlikely to return to 2019 levels until 2023 or 2024. It also said its financial results for this year “hinge” on a recovery in the commercial airplane market.

At the end of March, the company had a backlog of more than 4,000 commercial airplane orders, valued at $283 billion. Its defense and space backlog was valued at $61 billion.

The company’s results were weighed down by quality concerns with the 787, though deliveries of the plane resumed at the end of the quarter “following comprehensive reviews,” Boeing said in a statement. The company also suffered a $318 million charge related to development of the next Air Force One, which was affected by a pandemic slowdown and problems with a key supplier, which Boeing recently sued.

It was also the first full quarter since the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision in November to lift its ban on the 737 Max, which had been grounded globally nearly two years following two fatal crashes in which hundreds were killed.

Since the ban was lifted, Boeing has delivered more than 85 Max’s to customers worldwide. It also reported that it sold more planes than were canceled in February and March, its first months of positive sales in more than year. Nearly two dozen airlines have put the plane back into service on more than 26,000 flights, Boeing said.

Mr. Calhoun and the F.A.A. also provided updates Wednesday on an electrical concern with some Max planes that was disclosed this month. The F.A.A. said late in the day that the issue, which could affect the operation of some systems, including engine ice protection, affected 109 planes worldwide, all of which have been grounded. The agency also issued a rule requiring the issue be fixed before any of the planes, 71 of which are in the United States, are allowed to fly again. Mr. Calhoun said the fix should take a few days per airplane.

An Allbirds store in Manhattan.
Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Silicon Valley’s favorite shoe brand is headed to Wall Street. Allbirds is interviewing banks over the next few weeks to help it make a market debut, people familiar with the matter told the DealBook newsletter, requesting anonymity because the process is confidential. The direct-to-consumer company was last valued at around $1.7 billion.

The talks come as consumer brands that were founded with a heavy (if not exclusive) internet presence, including Honest Company and Warby Parker, are taking advantage of a pandemic-driven boom in online shopping to see if investor enthusiasm for tech offerings extends to them as well. Many of those companies, including Allbirds, have since opened some retail stores, which has proved an easier transition than the legacy retailers trying to build digital operations after making their names in the offline world.

Allbirds was founded by the New Zealand soccer star Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger, a renewables expert. Its mantra is to “create better things in a better way,” and the company advertises that the merino wool in its shoes uses 60 percent less energy than typical synthetic materials.

“One of the worst offenders of the environment from a consumer product standpoint is shoes,” Mr. Zwillinger told The New York Times in 2017. “It’s not the making; it’s the materials.”

The brand’s flashy-but-logo-free shoes are popular among techies, celebrities (Leonardo DiCaprio is an investor) and former President Barack Obama. The company has raised more than $200 million since 2016.

Allbirds is a B Corp, a certification earned by focusing on social good as well as profit. (Mr. Zwillinger joined a DealBook Debrief call last year to talk about the purpose of business.) Wall Street hasn’t always taken kindly to such companies: Etsy had to drop the status after taking a beating from the public markets following its I.P.O. Allbirds, though, said the $100 million funding round it announced last September was “indication of investors’ continued enthusiasm for its stakeholder-centric business model.”

“Allbirds has always been focused on building a great company, and as a B Corp and Public Benefit Corporation, doing what is best for our stakeholders (planet, people, investors) at the right time and in a way that helps the business grow in a sustainable fashion,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement.

Deutsche Bank’s best quarter in seven years was a vindication for Christian Sewing, the chief executive who took over in 2018.
Credit…Ralph Orlowski/Reuters

Deutsche Bank reported its best quarterly profit in seven years Wednesday as it benefited from lively financial markets and avoided losses from the investment firm Archegos Capital that has battered rivals.

The first-quarter profit of 900 million euros, or $1.1 billion, was better than expected and suggested that Deutsche Bank may be emerging from a decade of scandals and disasters that earned it a reputation as Europe’s most troubled lender.

James von Moltke, the chief financial officer of Deutsche Bank, said in response to a question about Archegos during an interview with Bloomberg News that the bank had been able to exit its involvement without a loss.

That is in contrast to rivals like Credit Suisse, which lost $4.7 billion it had lent to Archegos after the firm collapsed in March. Swiss bank UBS disclosed Tuesday that it lost $774 million from its involvement with Archegos.

Deutsche Bank, like most big corporations, is assessing how the pandemic may have permanently changed the way employees do their jobs. Mr. von Moltke said the bank was working on a plan that would allow employees to work from home two or three days a week.

Like many of its peers, Deutsche Bank has benefited from frenetic activity on financial markets, earning fees as it helped governments issue debt to finance stimulus programs or sell shares in blank-check investment vehicles known as SPACs.

The bank said it had also benefited from a European Central Bank stimulus program that effectively pays commercial lenders to provide credit to businesses and consumers in the eurozone. In addition, Deutsche Bank slashed the amount of money it set aside for bad loans.

The financial results are a vindication for Christian Sewing, the bank’s chief executive, who has been trying to show large shareholders like the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management that he can generate consistent profits. Deutsche Bank shares rose 9 percent in Frankfurt trading Wednesday and are up more than 20 percent since the end of January.

“Our first quarter is further evidence that Deutsche Bank is on the right path,” Mr. Sewing said in a statement.

Source: Business Updates: Facebook and Apple Double Their Profits

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