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FTC: Andy Jassy, Jeff Bezos must testify after appeal rejected

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators are ordering Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and CEO Andy Jassy to testify in the government’s investigation of Amazon Prime, rejecting the company’s complaint that the executives are being unfairly harassed in the probe of the popular streaming and shopping service.

The Federal Trade Commission issued an order late Wednesday denying Amazon’s request to cancel civil subpoenas sent in June to Bezos, the Seattle-based company’s former CEO, and Jassy. The order also sets a deadline of Jan. 20 for the completion of all testimony by Bezos, Jassy and 15 other senior executives, who also were subpoenaed.

Jassy took over the helm of the online retail and tech giant from Bezos, one of the world’s richest individuals, in July 2021. Bezos became executive chairman.

Amazon hasn’t made the case that the subpoenas “present undue burdens in terms of scope or timing,” FTC Commissioner Christine Wilson said in the order on behalf of the agency. However, the FTC did agreed to modify some provisions of the subpoenas that it acknowledged appeared too broad.

The FTC has been investigating since March 2021 the sign-up and cancellation practices of Amazon Prime, which has an estimated 200 million members around the globe.

The company said it was disappointed but not surprised that the FTC mostly ruled in favor of its own position, but it was pleased that the agency “walked backed its broadest requests” in the subpoenas.

“Amazon has cooperated with the FTC throughout the investigation and already produced tens of thousands of pages of documents,” the company said in a statement. “We are committed to engaging constructively with FTC staff, but we remain concerned that the latest requests are overly broad and needlessly burdensome, and we will explore all our options.”

In a petition to the FTC filed last month, the company objected to the subpoenas to Bezos and Jassy, saying the agency “has identified no legitimate reason for needing their testimony when it can obtain the same information, and more, from other witnesses and documents.” Amazon said the FTC was hounding Bezos, Jassy and the other executives, calling the information demanded in the subpoenas “overly broad and burdensome.”

The investigation has widened to include at least four other Amazon-owned subscription programs: Audible, Amazon Music, Kindle Unlimited and Subscribe & Save, as well as an unidentified third-party program not offered by Amazon. The regulators have asked the company to identify the number of consumers who were enrolled in the programs without giving their consent, among other customer information.

With an estimated 150 million U.S. subscribers, Amazon Prime is a key source of revenue, as well as a wealth of customer data, for the company, which runs an e-commerce empire and ventures in cloud computing, personal “smart” tech and beyond. Amazon Prime costs $139 a year. The service added a coveted feature this year by obtaining exclusive video rights to the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football.”

Last year, Amazon asked unsuccessfully that FTC Chair Lina Khan step aside from separate antitrust investigations into its business, contending that her public criticism of the company’s market power before she joined the government makes it impossible for her to be impartial. Khan was a fierce critic of tech giants Facebook (now Meta), Google and Apple, as well as Amazon. She arrived on the antitrust scene in 2017, writing an influential study titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” when she was a Yale law student.

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September worst month for stocks since pandemic hit U.S.

Wall Street closed out a miserable September with a loss of 9.3%, the worst monthly decline since March 2020. The S&P 500 fell 1.5% Friday and is at its lowest level in almost two years. The benchmark index has lost ground for six of the last seven weeks and posted its third straight losing quarter. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 1.7% and the Nasdaq fell 1.5%. Nike fell sharply after the company had to slash prices to clear inventories, while Carnival dropped following weaker-than-expected quarterly results. Bond markets were showing more calm as yields relaxed.

Wall Street is at its worst levels in almost two years Friday as the end nears for what’s been a miserable month for markets around the world.

The S&P 500 was down 0.4% in afternoon trading after flipping between small losses and gains through the morning. It’s at its lowest level since November 2020, and it’s on pace to close out its sixth weekly loss in the last seven, one of its worst months since the early 2020 coronavirus crash and its third straight losing quarter.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 213 points, or 0.7%, at 29,010, as of 1:56 p.m. Eastern time, and the Nasdaq composite was down 0.2%.

The main reason for this year’s struggles for financial markets has been fear about a possible recession, as interest rates soar in hopes of beating down the high inflation that’s swept the world.

The Federal Reserve has been at the forefront of the global campaign to slow economic growth and hurt job markets just enough to undercut inflation but not so much that it causes a recession. More data arrived Friday to suggest the Fed will keep its foot firmly on the brakes on the economy, raising the risk of its going too far and causing a downturn.

The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation showed it was worse last month than economists expected. That should keep the Fed on track to keep raising rates and hold them at high levels a while, as it’s loudly and repeatedly promised to do.

Vice Chair Lael Brainard was the latest Fed official on Friday to insist it won’t pull back on rates prematurely. That helped to keep snuffed out hopes on Wall Street for a “pivot” toward easier rates as the economy slows.

“At this point, it’s not a matter of if we’ll have a recession, but what type of recession it will be,” said Sean Sun, portfolio manager at Thornburg Investment Management.

Higher interest rates knock down one of the main levers that set prices for stocks. The other lever also looks to be under threat as the slowing economy, high interest rates and other factors weigh on corporate profits.

Cruise ship operator Carnival dropped 21% for one of Wall Street’s worst losses after it reported a bigger loss for its latest quarter than analysts expected and revenue that fell short of expectations.

Nike slumped 12.1% in what could be its worst day in two decades after it said its profitability weakened during the summer because of discounts needed to clear suddenly overstuffed warehouses. The amount of shoes and gear in Nike’s inventories swelled by 44% from a year earlier.

This year’s powerful surge for the U.S. dollar against other currencies also hurt Nike. Its worldwide revenue rose only 4%, instead of the 10% it would have if currency values had remained the same.

Nike isn’t the only company to see its inventories balloon. So have several big-name retailers, and such bad news for businesses could actually mean some relief for shoppers if it leads to more discounts. It echoed some glimmers of encouragement buried within Friday’s report on the Fed’s preferred gauge of inflation. That showed some slowing of inflation for goods, even as price gains kept accelerating for services.

Another report on Friday also offered a glimmer of hope. A measure of consumer sentiment showed U.S. expectations for future inflation came down in September. That’s crucial for the Fed because tightly held expectations for higher inflation can create a debilitating, self-reinforcing cycle that worsens it.

Treasury yields eased a bit on Friday, letting off some of the pressure that’s built on markets.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 3.75% from 3.79% late Thursday. The two-year yield, which more closely tracks expectations for Fed action, sank to 4.16% from 4.19%.

Still, a long list of other worries continues to hang over global markets, including increasing tensions between much of Europe and Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. A controversial plan to cut taxes by the U.K. government also sent bond markets spinning recently on fears it could make inflation even worse. Bond markets calmed a bit only after the Bank of England pledged mid-week to buy however many U.K. government bonds are needed to bring yields back down.

The stunning and swift rise of the U.S. dollar against other currencies, meanwhile, raises the risk of creating so much stress that something cracks somwhere in global markets.

Stocks around the world were mixed after a report showed that inflation in the 19 countries that use Europe’s euro currency spiked to a record and data from China said that factory activity weakened there.

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Bank of America breaks down brutal reality of European energy crisis, warns against ‘false sense of security’

Seven months after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, an energy crisis continues to roil Europe. Things might only get worse from here.

In a global research note by Bank of America released Friday, analysts warned that higher storage levels of gas in Europe still might not be enough to hold the continent over in the cold months ahead. 

“One winter’s storage is not a long-term solution,” the bank’s analysts wrote.

European gas inventories are above seasonal averages at 88% full, they noted. Storage levels could rise above 90% in October—which could put “pressure” on spot prices (current prices at which an asset could be bought or sold). 

“Yet we caution against a false sense of security,” the analysts said. 

Their reasoning? For one, full European gas inventories represent only two months of peak winter demand. Additionally, the high prices are directly responsible for higher levels of storage—so if prices decrease, storage could deteriorate. 

This comes as leaks hit the Nord Stream pipelines in what both the European Union and U.S. President Joe Biden called deliberate acts. Although Russia had already cut its gas supply to Europe for some time now, reports of the leaks and the question of who’s to blame have escalated tensions. 

“Whatever the cause, it raises the possibility that gas may never flow via Nord Stream again— thereby locking in our ‘ugly’ supply disruption scenario of ~€200/MWh Europe gas prices,” the analysts wrote. “This is a picture that we see persisting for several years until tangible new LNG (liquefied natural gas) supply comes to the market from 2025/26.”

Before the war, the European Union relied on Russia for 40% of its natural gas supply. Since the supply was cut off, countries throughout Europe have been working to reduce their gas and electricity consumption by placing restrictions on both businesses and consumers—all while increasing their imports of liquefied natural gas. 

But the fear of what’s to come remains. 

If Russia’s gas imports cease, Europe’s total gas supply for 2023 will be 25% lower than 2019 levels, even if Europe makes maximum use of its existing capacities in LNG regasification and planned ones in floating storage regasification units.

The bank’s analysts also warned that more demand deconstruction—a sustained decline prompted by a prolonged period of high prices or constrained supply—is needed as European gas demand increases 60% across colder months.

“Demand destruction to date might be balancing markets, but we highlight that a 15% reduction in summer demand is very different from -15% during winter,” they wrote. “Peak demand months are as much as double summer lulls, hence nominal demand destruction may have to rise in step in order to balance flows.”

Additionally, the bank’s analysts suggested the effects of the gas crisis will spill over into coming years, in terms of sustained higher gas prices for Europeans.

“The bottom line is that a permanent alteration in daily flows has a much greater impact than starting storage levels, which can only be consumed once.”

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Megan Thee Stallion launches new mental health website

In early 2017, I was chastised by my manager for not smiling as much as I used to at work. She was concerned that my “attitude” was bringing down team morale. Meanwhile, I didn’t feel like there was much to smile about regarding current events, especially as the Muslim Ban took effect.

Damn, I thought to myself, are Black girls allowed to have bad days?

Fast forward to 2022 and mega rapper Megan Thee Stallion says yes.

Last weekend, Megan launched badbitcheshavebaddaystoo.com. The website, which is named after a line in her song, “Anxiety,” features a hub of mental health and wellness resources, including sites specifically for Black people and the LGBTQIA+ community such as Therapy for Black Girls, Therapy for Black Men and LGBTQ Psycotherapist of Color Directory

When I first started following Megan back in 2018, it was because of her sharp-shooting lyrics and yes, her body-ody-ody-ody. Here was a brilliant and beautiful Black woman unafraid to speak her mind and unapologetic about her curves and sexuality–my kind of woman.

But after learning more about her personal story–starting therapy after losing both of her parents; her promise to graduate college to make them proud; our shared love of fellow Houston native, Beyoncé–I fell even more in love with her. The rapper has also never shied away from being vulnerable and talking about her struggles, showing generations of Black women that you don’t always have to have everything together and it’s okay to have bad days.

In an interview last fall with actress Taraji P. Henson last fall for her Facebook Watch series, Peace of Mind with Taraji, the rapper talked about her mental health and maintaining a positive outlook despite hardships.

“I feel like right now mental health is more important to me, more than ever, because I have more pressure on me than I feel like I used to have… when I was Megan, and I wasn’t as criticized and under such a magnifying glass as I am now,” she says. 

Megan’s resilience in the face of constant adversity is admirable, and I wish Black women didn’t have to be so resilient all the time. Because heaven forbid if we have an off day and feel like lashing out at the world–no one likes angry Black women, even though we have a million reasons to be.

After all, her new album, Traumazine, a fictional chemical that is “released in the brain when it is forced to deal with painful emotions caused by traumatic events and experiences.” What Megan is doing by acknowledging she struggles with difficult times is making it safe for people from marginalized communities–communities where talk of mental health is still very much taboo–to do the same. 

Not only is she making mental health resources accessible, she’s ensuring they’re culturally relevant so they reach her fans (and hopefully countless others) where they are. And she’s vehemently discarding the strong Black woman trope so many of us have been raised to perpetuate. 

By simply being herself, Megan is demonstrating that Black women can be soft. Black women can be angry. Black women can have bad days, too. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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