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FirstFT: Joe Biden vs big oil

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The US president has called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the country’s biggest oil companies including ExxonMobil and Chevron are engaged in “potentially illegal conduct” that is resulting in higher gasoline prices for Americans.

In a letter to FTC chair Lina Khan, Biden said there was “mounting evidence of anti-consumer behaviour” in the market, noting that the two “largest oil and gas companies . . . as measured by market capitalisation” were planning “billions of dollars of stock buybacks and dividends” even as prices at the pump continue to rise.

The president’s intervention comes as he faces mounting political pressure over rising fuel prices and surging inflation. His approval rating has slumped in recent weeks, with an increasing share of Americans taking a dim view of his handling of the economy.

The Biden administration is considering releasing crude oil from a federal strategic stockpile in a bid to drive down petrol prices and has repeatedly called on Saudi Arabia, Russia and other Opec+ oil countries to lift crude production.

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil lobby group, said Biden’s letter was a “distraction from the fundamental market shift taking place” and blamed the administration for restricting US oil supplies.

The AAA motoring group estimates a gallon of gasoline has risen 60 per cent in the past year to an average of about $3.41 a gallon.

What do you think of Joe Biden’s handling of the economy? Email me at firstft@ft.com and let me know your thoughts. Here’s the rest of today’s news — Gordon

1. Investors bet ECB will lag behind Fed in raising rates The euro struck its lowest level in 16 months this week as traders bet that the European Central Bank would stick to its accommodative monetary policy even though widespread inflation was prompting policymakers in the US and UK to raise interest rates.

2. US regulator raises concerns over Nvidia’s acquisition of Arm American regulators have raised potential objections to Nvidia’s controversial acquisition of the UK chip design company Arm from SoftBank. The news came a day after UK regulators said they would launch a probe into the deal. The European Commission has already begun its own review.

3. Ex-deputy chair at Boies Schiller quits to set up rival firm Natasha Harrison, the former anointed successor to veteran US trial lawyer David Boies, plans to quit his firm Boies Schiller Flexner to launch a rival London practice. Harrison is the most high profile in a string of recent defections from Boies Schiller.

4. UN: Shipping costs to push up global inflation The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has warned that the elevated costs resulting from a global supply chain crunch will further fuel inflation and disproportionately hit developing nations’ economies.

Soaring freight costs push up prices of complex and low-value products Simulated impact on consumer prices, by top 10 products (%) G1866_21X

5. Pittsburgh Penguins in sale talks Fenway Sports Group, the owners of Liverpool Football Club and the Boston Red Sox baseball team, is set to buy the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins in a deal valuing the franchise at more than $850m, according to people familiar with the matter. Sign up for the Scoreboard newsletter for more news on the business of sport, delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning.

  • In other sports news: The Women’s Tennis Association said it was still unable to independently locate star Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, weeks after she made allegations of sexual assault against a former Chinese government official.

Coronavirus digest

  • Japan is preparing direct stimulus cheques of ¥100,000 ($872) to families as part of a huge economic package to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The number of new coronavirus infections in the UK is falling but a leading scientist has predicted the effects of the disease will last another five years.

  • European countries including Ireland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are set to reintroduce Covid-19 restrictions this week, in an effort to curb a fourth wave. Austria’s third largest state is preparing to introduce another full lockdown.

Read today’s Delivering Healthcare special report on how the coronavirus pandemic has overturned the world’s health systems, including a video on how hospitals learned to work in new ways.

The day ahead

Earnings reports Macy’s rounds off a busy week of earnings for retailers in the US. Asian internet companies Alibaba and JD.com also release third-quarter earnings.

‘Three amigos’ summit Joe Biden will meet the leaders of Mexico and Canada at the White House later today, the first trilateral meeting between the three heads of state since 2016.

Rittenhouse jury deliberates The jury in the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial is due to begin a third day of deliberations in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Yesterday Rittenhouse’s attorneys asked the judge to declare a mistrial following an argument over a video. (AP)

Turkish central bank interest rate decision Turkey’s lira suffered from another bout of selling ahead of a central bank meeting today that is expected to result in an interest-rate cut.

What else we’re reading

How empty boxes worsened stress on the US supply chain A chronic shortage of truck drivers is bedevilling US supply chains, leaving businesses struggling to secure the products they need. But there is another factor in the nation’s goods delivery problems: empty shipping containers.

Russian missile test raises fears over debris cloud First came the unexplained space objects over New Zealand. Then came the debris over Costa Rica and Texas. An anti-satellite missile test by Moscow has threatened to affect hundreds of commercial satellites, including from SpaceX. Here’s why it’s a problem.

  • Opinion: There will be no prosperous global space economy if the environment is quickly trashed, writes Peggy Hollinger.

Why some fear the next pandemic could be lab-made Scientists have said that splicing deadly viruses to make them more transmissible can help to create vaccines and identify future threats. But US government funding for such research is under scrutiny over safety concerns.

Open-source investigators seek justice in Myanmar Since the military coup, social media has filled up with images of people who have been beaten or fatally shot. In response, online outlets are using pioneering digital forensics to assemble criminal evidence, laying the groundwork for future crimes-against-humanity trials.

Boris Johnson’s Christmas truce The UK prime minister wants a quiet holiday this year. Economic and political difficulties at home have led his government to pull back from a trade confrontation with Brussels over the so-called Northern Ireland protocol. But does this mark a shift in approach?

Meet the journalist

Isabel Berwick is the FT’s Work & Careers editor and the host of Working It, the podcast about work. This week’s episode is about what we can learn from companies that embrace remote working. Listen to a new episode every Wednesday. Subscribe here.

What themes and stories are you most looking forward to discussing on Working It?
I am really excited to be talking to the people who are trying new, radical things — whether that’s working a four-day week, abolishing most managers or going public with all the salaries in their company. Some of the ideas we cover are “out there”, but all of them are really thought-provoking and help us make sense of the new workplace.

What else are you listening to right now? 
My longest pod-lationship is with the Slate Culture Gabfest — I’ve been listening for probably 10 or 12 years now. It’s got a blend of regular presenters who feel like friends, interesting guests and ahead-of-the-curve topics for discussion. My new Saturday morning listen, alongside my longstanding relationship with Payne’s Politics, a UK politics show hosted by my FT colleague Sebastian Payne, is the FT Weekend podcast. It’s got a perfect, leisurely mix of guests and topics — and it’s already introduced me to new books, ideas and places.

What’s your experience been like returning to the office after the pandemic?
I never really left the office. I live in central London so it’s an easy commute. I have been coming in for a couple of days every week except during the months when we were locked down in our homes. My new workplace concern is perhaps a niche one: I’ve got so used to being in a quiet office that it’s going to be really hard to adjust to the noise level and distraction once it’s full again.

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