Activision to pay $18 million settlement over workplace misconduct.

The complaint by a federal agency followed several other legal actions taken against the game maker, which has been accused of sexual harassment and discrimination.

S&P 500

%

Dow

%

Nasdaq

%

The video game publisher Activision Blizzard said Monday that it would pay $18 million in a settlement with a federal employment agency that filed a civil-rights complaint against the company earlier in the day, accusing it of sexual harassment and discrimination against female employees.

In a news release, Activision said the money would “compensate and make amends to eligible claimants,” with remaining funds going to charities that “advance women in the video game industry or promote awareness around harassment and gender equality issues,” as well as to company diversity and inclusion efforts.

In a seven-page document filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused Activision of discriminating against pregnant employees, paying female employees less than their male counterparts because of their gender and retaliating against employees who complained about unfair treatment.

Employees were subjected to “sexual harassment that was severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment,” said the complaint, which sought a jury trial. “The conduct was unwelcome and adversely affected the employees.” The complaint said “extensive” discussions with Activision to address the agency’s findings and come to an agreement had been unsuccessful.

The federal agency said the complaint had followed a nearly three-year investigation, which occurred while a California employment agency was also investigating Activision. The state inquiry culminated in a July lawsuit that sparked upheaval at the game publisher.

Monday’s settlement does not affect the California agency’s lawsuit, the company said.

Since July, other groups have weighed in. The Communications Workers of America, a labor union, filed a complaint this month with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Activision of violating federal labor law, and Activision said last week that the Securities and Exchange Commission was also investigating the company.

The company said Monday that as part of the settlement, it would also improve its policies to prevent harassment and discrimination and appoint an external consultant to review Activision’s reporting and investigative procedures.

“There is no place anywhere at our company for discrimination, harassment or unequal treatment of any kind, and I am grateful to the employees who bravely shared their experiences,” Activision’s chief executive, Bobby Kotick, said in the news release. “I am sorry that anyone had to experience inappropriate conduct.”

Lael Brainard in 2017.Credit…Brian Snyder/Reuters

Top Federal Reserve officials emphasized on Monday that the labor market was far from completely healed, underlining that the central bank will need to see considerably more progress before it will feel ready to raise interest rates.

“We still have a long way to go until we achieve the Federal Reserve’s maximum employment goal,” John C. Williams, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a speech Monday afternoon.

Leading Fed officials — including Mr. Williams, Lael Brainard and Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair — have given similar assessments of the outlook in recent days and weeks. They have pointed out that the economy is swiftly healing, bringing back jobs and normal business activity, and that existing disruptions to supply chains and hiring issues will not last forever.

But they say that the recovery is incomplete and that it’s worth being modest about the path ahead, especially as the Delta variant demonstrates the coronavirus’s ability to disrupt progress.

“Delta highlights the importance of being attentive to economic outcomes and not getting too attached to an outlook that may get buffeted by evolving virus conditions,” Ms. Brainard, a Fed governor, said on Monday.

Those comments came on the heels of the Fed’s September meeting, at which the central bank’s policy-setting committee clearly signaled that officials could begin to pare back their vast asset-purchase program as soon as November. They have been buying $120 billion in government and government-backed securities each month.

The speeches on Monday emphasized that as officials prepare to make that first step away from full-fledged economic support, they are trying to separate the decision from the Fed’s path for its main policy interest rate, which is set to zero.

Central bankers have said they want to see the economy return to full employment and inflation on track to average 2 percent over time before lifting rates away from rock bottom.

That makes the debate over the labor market’s potential a critical part of the Fed’s policy discussion.

Some regional Fed presidents, including James Bullard at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and Robert S. Kaplan at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, have suggested that the labor market may be tighter than it appears, citing data including job openings and retirements.

But Mr. Williams said on Monday that the job market still had substantial room to improve. While the unemployment rate has fallen from its pandemic high, he said the Fed was looking at more than just that number, which tracks only people who are actively looking for work. The Fed also wants the employment rate to rebound. He pointed out that a high level of job openings is not a clear signal that the job market has healed.

“Even if job postings are at a record high, job postings are not jobs,” Mr. Williams said. “These vacancies won’t be filled instantly.”

Although Mr. Williams said he had been watching the impact of school reopenings on the labor market, he said he did not think they would cause a huge surge in people returning to work this month or in October.

“It may take quite a bit longer for the labor supply to come fully back,” he said.

Ms. Brainard batted back the idea that labor force participation — the share of adults who are working or looking for jobs — might not return to its prepandemic level.

“The assertion that labor force participation has moved permanently lower as a result of a downturn is not new,” she said. A similar debate played out following the 2008 financial crisis and labor force participation ultimately rebounded, especially for people in their prime working years.

Ms. Brainard warned that Delta was slowing job market progress. Last week there were more than 2,000 virus-tied school closures across nearly 470 school districts, she said, and “the possibility of further unpredictable disruptions could cause some parents to delay their plans to return to the labor force.”

Visitors looking at Polestar vehicles at the Munich Auto Show in Germany on Sept. 11.Credit…Andreas Gebert/Reuters

Polestar, the Swedish high-end electric vehicle company, has signed a deal to go public at a $20 billion valuation, via a merger with a SPAC backed by the Gores Group and Guggenheim Capital, the company said on Monday.

Polestar is owned by Volvo Cars and Volvo’s Chinese parent, Geely, with other investors including Leonardo DiCaprio. Polestar’s equity owners will roll over all of their interest in the deal and retain a 94 percent stake in the company.

Shares of the SPAC climbed above its I.P.O. price on Monday, a rarity among pre-merger SPACs these days.

Polestar has two models on the road, and it wants to offer three more by 2024. It delivered approximately 10,000 vehicles in 2020, but lags far behind the market leader, Tesla.

“Compared to us, Tesla is a very old company,” said Thomas Ingenlath, Polestar’s chief executive. Rather than spend capital building electric-charging infrastructure, as Tesla did, Polestar can take advantage of existing infrastructure, he said. (In the United States, that may still not be enough.)

Its valuation is conservative — for an electric car company. Lucid, which went public via SPAC in July, is valued at $41 billion. Rivian is expected to be valued at about $70 billion in its coming I.P.O. Tesla is worth nearly $770 billion.

“Public markets are a little bit more challenging today, especially for SPACs,” said Mark Stone, the senior managing director of Gores Group. The deal includes $250 million in financing, which the Gores Group chairman, Alec Gores, said could be adjusted as needed, as in the case of redemptions by SPAC shareholders. The deal includes a six-month lockup period.

The deal comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and China. Doubts about the future of the Chinese real estate giant Evergrande — and its impact on the Chinese economy — have dragged down stocks of other Chinese electric vehicle companies like Nio and Li Auto that trade in New York. China has also been discouraging local companies from listing abroad.

Polestar manufactures cars in China, but “we are a European company,” Mr. Ingenlath said, noting that the company’s headquarters are in Sweden.

The SPAC sponsors studied the “China issue” thoroughly, Mr. Gores said, adding that Polestar has manufacturing capabilities outside of China, like those it’s building in the United States, that can be tapped as necessary.

The construction site of Evergrande Cultural Tourism City, developed by China Evergrande Group.Credit…Aly Song/Reuters

China’s ability to blend top-down control of politics with market-based capitalism was for years seen as a source of strength. That balancing act, though, appears to be teetering. Economic growth is slowing and the country is facing a potential financial crisis in the collapse of Evergrande, a heavily indebted property developer.

Some have called Evergrande’s troubles China’s “Lehman moment,” referring to the investment bank whose collapse precipitated the 2008 global financial crisis. Others, like The New York Times’s Paul Krugman, have said that a better analogy is Japan, where years of overinvestment and an aging population led to a long period of sputtering growth, though far from an economic collapse.

Either way, China’s reaction to its challenges is to exert greater control over its largest companies, making it clear who calls the shots in the country, the world’s second-largest economy after the United States. This has significant implications for foreign investment, geopolitics and more, as a quick tour of some of Beijing’s recent crackdowns shows:

Cryptocurrency: On Friday, China bolstered its ban on all activity linked to digital currencies, which some saw as part of a broader effort to channel citizens away from private financial services providers, which include decentralized crypto services as well as popular apps like AliPay and WeChat. The move should also be seen in the context of the Chinese central bank’s advanced development of its own digital currency, which would allow the government to track and control financial transactions.

Technology: China has been turning the screws on its largest tech companies, citing unfair competition. Officials recently ordered Alibaba to divest a recently acquired stake in one of the country’s largest broadcasters and limited online game playing to just three hours a week for anyone under 18, denting companies like Tencent. Earlier this summer, Chinese officials stopped Didi from signing up new users days after China’s largest ride-sharing app listed its shares in the United States. The government said it had to do with data privacy, but the timing cast a chill over Chinese companies listing abroad.

Electric vehicle manufacturers: China is putting the brakes on its homegrown electric vehicle industry, which has been fueled by government subsidies. This month, a minister declared that the country had “too many” EV companies. The government said it would encourage consolidation and was looking to reduce aid for the industry.

For-profit education companies: In July, China banned tutoring companies from making profits and restricted foreign investment in the $100 billion sector. It is now estimated to be worth considerably less.

Energy usage: China has pledged to cut its carbon gases by 65 percent in the next decade. In September, after two-thirds of the nation missed it emission goals for the first half of 2021, Beijing imposed stricter limits on energy usage, particularly on manufactures. Numerous factories, many of them that produce parts for such U.S. companies as Apple and Tesla, say their power supply has been substantially cut, forcing some to operate by candle light.

The German DAX stock index held steady Monday as investors concluded that Sunday’s election did not signal any major change for the country’s economic outlook.Credit…Reuters

Investors like stability and continuity, and that’s what they saw in the German election on Sunday. On Monday, German stock indexes and the euro barely budged.

“Germany will not have a polarizing head of government like Donald Trump in the U.S.A. or Boris Johnson in Great Britain,” Christian Kahler, chief investment strategist at DZ Bank in Frankfurt, said in a statement Monday. Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats and Armin Laschet of the Christian Democrats, the two people most likely to become chancellor, “stand for continuity in German politics,” Mr. Kahler said.

For the most part, Germans eschewed extremes, spreading their votes among moderate parties in a way that all but rules out domination by any single one. That was comforting to many businesspeople, but there were also murmurs of disappointment that the vote produced no clear winner strong enough to address Germany’s eroding competitiveness: its lagging investment in digital technology; its high energy prices and slow response to climate change; and its dependence on trade with China.

Ahead of the vote, some business managers and investors worried that it would produce a left-wing government made up of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the far-left Die Linke. But Die Linke’s support was too weak for the three parties to muster a governing majority.

The far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, also lost ground, though it solidified its support in the eastern German states of Saxony and Thuringia, where it was the strongest party.

The future government is likely to include the Greens, whose biggest issue is climate change, and the Free Democrats, a pro-business party that campaigned against overregulation. Neither the Social Democrats, who got the most votes, nor the Christian Democrats, who came in second, appear inclined to join in a coalition as they did after the last two elections.

If they don’t, neither can lead a government without support from the Greens and Free Democrats, whose policies may tend to cancel each other out.

The Greens will push for faster action against climate change and investment in digital infrastructure, but the Free Democrats are likely to insist on observing limits on deficit spending, Oliver Rakau, an economist at Oxford Economics, predicted in a note to clients.

“A radical about-face on major domestic or European issues,” Mr. Rakau said, “is unlikely.”

Protesters carrying a banner reading “Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co.” at a demonstration this month in Berlin against rising rents.Credit…Christian Mang/Reuters

Communist rule ended more than three decades ago in eastern Germany, but in Berlin, fury over soaring housing costs has at least one socialist idea making a comeback.

In a referendum, Berliners voted on Sunday in favor of appropriating the property of large real estate companies. The initiative, “Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co.,” named after one of the city’s biggest landlords, calls for seizing the property of any company with more than 3,000 apartments.

The measure, passed with 56 percent of the votes cast, or more than 1 million people, is not binding on Berlin’s Senate, which would have to pass a law putting it into force. Real estate companies are certain to oppose the measure as unconstitutional.

But the vote reflects the deep frustration among Berliners at the rise in rents and property prices, which have made the city increasingly unaffordable for middle- and low-income residents.

Organizers of the initiative argue that the expropriation would be legal, citing an article of the Constitution that allows the government to seize land, natural resources or means of production for the common good. (The provision does not mention buildings.)

Activists said they would put pressure on political leaders to implement the people’s will. “Disregarding the referendum would be a political scandal,” said Kalle Kunkel, a spokesman for the initiative, in a statement. “We will not give up until the socialization of housing corporations is a reality.”

Deutsche Wohnen owns more than 100,000 units in Berlin, according to the company’s website. Many were purchased from the government in the 1990s during a privatization drive.

The company said in a statement Monday that it respected the vote and would work with the city to increase the supply of affordable housing, and to avoid sharp rent increases or evictions. Expropriation “would be neither constitutional, nor financially feasible for Berlin,” Deutsche Wohnen said.

The S&P 500 ticked down 0.3 percent on Monday, while the Nasdaq composite dipped 0.5 percent.

Oil prices rose sharply. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, climbed 2 percent to $75.45 a barrel. Total domestic crude inventories decreased by 3.4 million barrels for the week ending Sept. 17, the Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday.

The Senate is expected to hold a procedural vote Monday on legislation that would raise the U.S. debt limit and provide government funding, scheduled to lapse on Oct. 1, through December. Senate Republicans are expected to block the measure. The move could roil financial markets and capsize the economy’s nascent recovery from the pandemic downturn.

The House is set to vote on a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill on Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday, a measure that focuses spending on transportation, utilities, pollution cleanup and other components.

European indexes were lower, with the Stoxx Europe 600 down 0.2 percent.

Shares for Facebook gained 0.2 percent. Facebook said on Monday that it had paused development of an “Instagram Kids” service intended for children 13 years old or younger amid questions about the app’s effect on young people’s mental health.

An unfinished Evergrande housing complex in Luoyang, China.Credit…Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

The financial world is watching the struggles of China Evergrande Group, one of the largest property developers on earth and certainly the most indebted. Last week, a deadline to make an $83 million payment to foreign investors came and went with no indication that Evergrande had met its obligations, raising questions about what would happen if its huge debt load went sour, Keith Bradsher reports for The New York Times.

China has a lot riding on its ability to contain the fallout from an Evergrande collapse. After Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in generations, began his second term in 2017, he identified reining in financial risk as one of the “great battles” for his administration. As he approaches a likely third term in power that would start next year, it could be politically damaging if his government were to mismanage Evergrande.

The government doesn’t want to move in yet because it hopes Evergrande’s struggles will show other Chinese companies that they need to be disciplined in their finances, say people with knowledge of its deliberations who spoke on condition of anonymity. But it has an array of financial tools that it believes are strong enough to stem a financial panic if matters worsen.

The government is “still going to provide a guarantee” for much of Evergrande’s activities, said Zhu Ning, deputy dean of the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance, “but the investors are going to have to sweat.”

A gas station in Leicestershire, England, on Saturday. Grant Shapps, the transportation secretary, has appealed to motorists not to buy more fuel than they normally would.Credit…Carl Recine/Reuters

Since January, after Britain completed the final stage of Brexit, employers have been unable to freely recruit European workers. The pandemic has also exacerbated a crisis that stems from a long-term shortage of British truck drivers.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain reversed course and offered thousands of visas to foreign truckers to combat a driver shortage that has left some supermarket shelves empty and caused long lines at gas stations, Stephen Castle reports for The New York Times.

The decision, announced late Saturday, reflects the growing alarm within the government over a disruption to supplies that has prompted panic buying and, in some places, caused fuel to run out and gas stations to close.

The post-Brexit exodus of European workers is only one cause of the long-term driver shortage. The industry has had difficulties attracting workers to jobs that are traditionally lower paid and require long, grueling hours away from home. Truckers have also complained that safe parking spaces and rest stops can be hard to find.

So great is the concern that there has been speculation that the military could be called up to drive trucks. That has not yet happened, but Defense Ministry staff members will be asked to help speed up the process for truck licensing applications.

Monday

Senate vote on the debt limit: The Senate is expected to vote on legislation to keep the government funded through early December and lift the limit on federal borrowing through the end of 2022 before a Thursday deadline. The United States could default on its debt sometime in October if Congress does not take action to raise or suspend the debt limit, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen warned.

Tuesday

Consumer confidence: The Conference Board is set to report its consumer confidence index for September. The results last month showed the index’s sharpest decline since February, but preliminary data from the University of Michigan’s gauge of consumer sentiment showed a modest gain for September.

Senate Banking Committee hearing: Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, and Ms. Yellen will testify at the Senate Banking Committee hearing on their agencies’ oversight of the CARES Act. Economists are expecting the officials to be quizzed about inflation, a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and the debt ceiling.

NABE Conference: Ms. Yellen is set to speak at a virtual event hosted by the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Association for Business Economics. Her address will be followed by a moderated conversation with Constance Hunter, the chief economist for KMPG.

Friday

Personal Consumption Expenditures: The inflation gauge will provide insight on how much and how quickly rising prices will fade. The data comes after an update from the Fed about its plans to “taper” bond purchases that the central bank is making to support the economy.

Leave a Reply