Rivian (RIVN) earnings Q4 2022

Rivian electric pickup trucks sit in a parking lot at a Rivian service center on May 09, 2022 in South San Francisco, California. 

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Electric vehicle startup Rivian Automotive reported mixed fourth-quarter earnings and a lackluster production outlook after the bell Tuesday.

Shares of Rivian were down by roughly 8% during extended trading. The stock closed Tuesday at $19.30 a share, up 4.6% for the session.

Here’s how Rivian performed in the period, compared with analysts’ estimates as compiled by Refinitiv:

  • Adjusted loss per share: $1.73 vs. $1.94 estimated
  • Revenue: $663 million vs. $742.4 million estimated

The company reported an adjusted loss before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of nearly $5.2 billion in 2022, narrower than guidance of a $5.4 billion loss in November.

For 2023, Rivian forecast vehicle production of 50,000 vehicles. That would be roughly double last year’s amount but below expectations of roughly 60,000, as estimated by several Wall Street analysts.

“Supply chain continues to be the main limiting factor of our production; during the quarter we encountered multiple days of lost production due to supplier shortages. We expect supply chain challenges to persist into 2023 but with better predictability relative to what was experienced in 2022,” the company said in its letter to shareholders.

Rivian misses on revenue, shares down on lower guidance

Rivian said it expects to achieve a positive gross profit in 2024. Net loss for the fourth quarter was $1.7 billion — a narrower result than the $2.5 billion loss it reported a year earlier.

The results follow difficult times for the electric vehicle startup that have included slower-than-expected production, unexpected pricing pressure and plans to lay off 6% of its workforce in a bid to conserve cash.

Rivian is focusing on ramping up production of its R1 truck and SUV as well as an electric delivery van it builds for Amazon, its largest individual shareholder.

As of the end of last year, the company had about $12.1 billion in cash remaining, down from $13.8 billion at the end of the third quarter and $15.5 billion as of June 30. Capital expenditures for the fourth quarter were $294 million compared to $455 million during the year-earlier period.

Rivian said while inflation has been a factor in its supply chain, it will continue to take steps to ramp up production and reduce material costs by slimming down its engineering and vehicle design, along with commercial cost-down efforts.

The company’s forthcoming R2 model, for example, will use a simplified assembly and sourcing process to achieve “a meaningfully lower cost structure,” CEO RJ Scaringe said on an analyst call following the earnings report.

He added the automaker is “in a very different position with our supply chain today” relative to a year ago, which will help the company execute on more “aggressive cost and pricing” measures.

“It won’t necessarily be a linear path over the course of the next several quarters but we will start to see those impacts as early as Q1 as we start to reduce the material costs in our vehicles and the technology introductions,” said Chief Financial Officer Claire McDonough.

— CNBC’s Phil LeBeau contributed to this report.

Rocket Lab (RKLB) Q4 2022 earnings

Electron rockets undergo preparation for launch.

Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab said Tuesday it has doubled its order backlog — from about $241 million in contracts at the end of 2021 to $503.6 million at the end of 2022 — and made progress on the Neutron rocket it’s developing.

The space company also reported fourth-quarter revenue of $51.8 million, up 88% from a year prior, with an adjusted EBITDA loss of $14.5 million – which was 75% wider than the fourth quarter a year ago. It had $484.3 million in cash on hand at the quarter’s end.

Rocket Lab conducted two successful launches of its Electron vehicle during the quarter, generating $12 million in revenue. Its broader Space Systems division continues to bring in the bulk of its revenue, generating $38.8 million.

The company also announced completion of the first production building for its coming Neutron rocket, built at NASA’s Wallops flight facility in Virginia. Rocket Lab began production of the first Neutron tank structures, as well as construction of the launch pad for the rocket.

Alongside its results, Rocket Lab announced a contract for four Electron launches from satellite company Capella Space. Those missions are scheduled to begin in the second half of the year.

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Shares of Rocket Lab are up 19% so far this year, as of Tuesday’s close at $4.50.

The company last month launched its first mission from the U.S. successfully. It aims to complete as many as 14 more Electron launches this year. For the first quarter of 2023, Rocket Lab expects to see launch revenue of about $18 million, and between $32 million to $35 million in Space Systems revenue.

Rocket Lab also announced that Bessemer Venture Partners’ David Cowan is leaving Rocket Lab’s board of directors in the first quarter, after nine years advising the company.

The company’s Electron rocket lifts off from LC-2 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Jan. 24, 2023.

Brady Kenniston / Rocket Lab

Bitcoin, ether on track for a positive February despite fading 2023 risk rally

Jtsorrell | Istock | Getty Images

Bitcoin and ether are on pace for a modest February win, even after suffering a big drop earlier in the month.

Bitcoin eked out a 0.2% gain for the month, according to Coin Metrics. In January bitcoin posted a 38% rise and its best month since 2021. Meanwhile, ether finished the month higher by 1.7%, following a January gain of 31%.

Investors were spooked earlier in the month after what appeared to be the beginning of a potential regulatory crackdown on crypto businesses in the U.S. — including the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement action against Kraken, its Wells Notice of a future settlement against Paxos and the New York State Department of Financial Services’ ordering Paxos to stop minting the Binance USD (BUSD) stablecoin.

That led to a brief sell-off in crypto assets that took bitcoin and ether down about 6% and 8.5%, respectively, in the three-day period ended Feb. 10. Although they quickly recovered those losses the following week, they’ve been in a bit of a lull since.

“It’s pretty easy to say that the lows are behind us because there really isn’t any disparate further selling, but in terms of what actually takes us higher – that’s harder,” said Jeff Dorman, chief investment officer at Arca.

“Most of the negative news right now is coming out of regulators, but it’s just not really having any long-term effect on the market because everything in crypto has perfect substitutes,” he added, meaning when certain crypto companies in the past have been hit by regulators, traders have always been able to move their activity somewhere else.

While regulatory scrutiny is ramping in the U.S., reports that Hong Kong is planning to legalize retail crypto trading as part of a bigger push to become a global crypto hub surfaced this month, with a quiet backing from China. The move has been a positive catalyst for crypto.

In the U.S., however, investors are on Fed watch, said James Lavish, managing partner at the Bitcoin Opportunity Fund.

“Bitcoin has been the tip of the spear for risk assets for a long time,” he said. “It’s what moves first typically when you’re talking about either buying or selling risk assets as part of your portfolio allocation and when we do in fact have a Fed pivot I expect that bitcoin is going to sniff that out first. It’s going to have a strong move.”

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Bitcoin and ether in February

Dorman is of the opinion that macro events haven’t had the hold on bitcoin or the broader crypto market that they did earlier in 2022, before the collapse of the Terra project in spring.

He noted that January was a “great” month for most asset classes, including crypto, following the very negative sentiment investors carried at the end of the year. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite posted their best Januaries in four years and 22 years, respectively. Both are on track for to post February declines.

While this month has been “a complete reversal” overall, crypto didn’t get swept up in it, Dorman said.

“There was definitely a macro overtone to that in the sense that the market started pricing in peak terminal rates and disinflationary numbers, which has been reversed in February,” he said. “In February, digital assets haven’t sold off nearly as much as what you’ve seen from the equity market in the rates market.”

Supreme Court questions Biden student loan debt forgiveness

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday on two cases challenging the Biden administration’s plan to forgive without congressional action an estimated $400 billion or more in federal student loan debt for tens of millions of Americans.

President Joe Biden unveiled the plan, which would wipe out up to $20,000 in loans for certain borrowers, last year, citing the Covid-19 pandemic emergency as justification.

But the plan has been blocked from taking effect since the fall due to a federal appeals court injunction after arguments about whether plaintiffs in both cases even had met the legal threshold, known as standing, of showing they would be harmed by the program.

Experts have said they expect the high court to overturn the plan if it finds there is standing, because of the presence of six conservatives on the bench.

Early in the hearing, Chief Justice John Roberts questioned Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, who argued for the administration, about the plaintiffs’ claims Congress needed to first approve the debt relief before it was set in motion.

“You think because there’s a provision to allow waiver when your school closes, that because of that Congress shouldn’t have been surprised when half a trillion dollars gets wiped off the books?” asked Roberts, who is part of the court’s conservative six-justice supermajority.

“I think most casual observers would say if you’re going to give up that amount of money … then Congress should” have to approve that, Roberts later said.

A liberal justice, Sonia Sotomayor, echoed that, asking Prelogar how she would deal with “the amount at issue,” which plaintiffs argue triggers the so-called major questions doctrine.

Under that doctrine, the Supreme Court has said previously said that Congress must approve a federal agency’s action on an issue of major national significance.

Prelogar answered that the amount of money at stake “can’t be the sole measure triggering the major questions doctrine.”

“National policies these days frequently involve substantial cost or trigger political controversy,” she added.

Prelogar argued that the debt relief is allowed under the Heroes Act of 2003, which empowers the secretary of Education to alleviate the hardship that federal student loan recipients could suffer due to national emergencies.

The Biden administration used the public health emergency from the Covid pandemic as the basis for the program. The Heroes Act is a product of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and an earlier version of it provided relief to federal student loan borrowers affected by the attacks.

The plan has proved popular with borrowers around the United States, some of whom traveled to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate outside the court before the arguments began.

“Death to student debt” and “Student debt cancellation is legal” read signs carried by the demonstrators.

Nebraska Solicitor General Jim Campbell, who argued on behalf of Republican attorneys general for six states challenging the plan, told the justices that “never before has the Heroes Act been used to forgive a single loan.”

Campbell said that Education Secretary Miguel Cardona’s use of the act to alleviate student loan debt was “breathtaking.”

“He needs clear congressional authorization for such power, which he doesn’t have because the Heroes Act does not authorize this program,” Campbell said. “This court should declare this program unlawful.”

“This is a program that affects 95% of borrowers regardless of how they were affected by the pandemic,” he said.

But Justice Elena Kagan told Campbell that the text of the Heroes Act — which Congress voted to approve — gave the Education secretary expansive authority to forgive debt during an emergency.

“Congress could not have made this much more clear,” said Kagan, one of the court’s three l

The second case, filed by two members of the public, says the Biden administration violated federal rules by issuing the debt relief plan without first seeking formal public comment on it.

In both cases, the Department of Justice says the plaintiffs lack legal standing to challenge the program.

The administration has argued that the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that they are negatively affected by the plan, which would forgive up to $20,000 in debt per borrower.

And, the two plaintiffs in the second case “cannot go to court to make themselves and everyone else worse off” than they would be if the plan took effect, Prelogar told the justices.

Campbell in his opening argument addressed the question of standing, saying that Missouri’s student loan authority, known by the acronym MOHELA, is “a state-created, state-controlled public entity.”

Missouri is one of the states suing the Biden administration to block the plan.

And its invocation of alleged harm to MOHELA might be the sole reason that the challenge survives the question of standing at the Supreme Court.

Campell said that MOHELA would lose about 40% of its operating revenue if the debt relief plan went into effect.

But Prelogar argued that the MOHELA could actually see a net financial gain from the debt relief plan because of the structure of the program.

Kagan challenged Campbell on whether Missouri has the right to base its suit on claims of harm related to MOHELA, which itself is not a plaintiff in the case.

“Usually we don’t allow someone else to step into another’s shoes,” said Kagan, a member of the court’s three-justice liberal block.

Campbell said, “We don’t deny MOHELA could file a suit like that,” but repeatedly argued that the agency is a creature of the state, and that Missouri was legally empowered to make claims on its behalf.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett later pressed Campbell on the point, asking him why Missouri was in court in the case, as opposed to MOHELA.

“MOHELA’s not here because the state is asserting its interests,” he said.

Sotomayor questioned how Missouri could use MOHELA as the basis for standing in the case, given the state’s arms-length relationship to the agency.

“It would be odd for us to have a state say ‘We’re creating a corporation. We’re not going to be responsible for its debts. We’re not going to be responsible for any of its contracts. We’re not going to be responsible for anything it does financially,’ ” Sotomayor said. “And the state itself says ‘this is not the state, it’s an independent corporation.’ And we’re going to say instead, that it is the state, correct?”

Barrett, who is a conservative, continued, “Why didn’t the state just make MOHELA come here … why didn’t you strong-arm MOHELA?”

Campbell replied: “That is a question of state politics.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch, another conservative, raised a point that many Republicans have made in criticizing the plan, one based on the fairness of forgiving billions of dollars of debt to people who willingly borrowed that money to attend colleges and universities.

“What I think they argue, that is missing, is cost to other persons in terms of fairness, for example, people who’ve paid their loans, people who don’t…have planned their lives around not seeking loans, and people who are not eligible for loans in the first place,” Gorsuch said.

“And that half a trillion dollars is being diverted to one group of favored persons over others,” Gorsuch said.

But Sotomayor warned against the idea of having the court limit the power to forgive the debt that the Biden administration argues has been explicitly authorized by Congress in the Heroes Act.

“That really has us as the third branch of government, changing Congress’ words because we don’t think we like what’s happening,” Sotomayor said.

“There’s 50 million students who … will benefit from this, who today will struggle,” she said.

“Many of them don’t have assets sufficient to bail them out after the pandemic. They don’t have friends or families or others who can help them make these payments,” Sotomayor said. “The evidence is clear that many of them will have to default, their financial situation will be even worse because once you default, the hardship on you is exponentially greater.”

“And what you’re saying is, now we’re going to give judges the right to decide how much aid to give them,” she said.

Outside the courthouse, Jamie Pipik, a 20-year-old Akron, Ohio, resident, showed up to support the plan.

Pipik said that having grown up in a wealthy suburb she was fortunate enough not to have to borrow for her education.

But she said she was fighting for the majority of Americans who have no choice but to go into debt if they want to attend college.

“Everyone should have the opportunity to become who they want to become, and canceling student debt would make that more possible,” Pipik said. “I hope they decide to get rid of student debt and lift that weight.”

— Annie Nova reported from Washington, D.C., and Dan Mangan reported from New York.

UAW leadership upheaval peaks ahead of automaker negotiations

United Auto Workers members on strike picket outside General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant on Sept. 25, 2019 in Detroit.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

DETROIT – As the United Auto Workers prepares for what are expected to be highly contentious negotiations with the Detroit automakers later this year, the union’s leadership is undergoing its largest upheaval in decades.

The shuffle follows a yearslong federal investigation that uncovered systemic corruption involving bribery, embezzlement and other crimes among the top ranks of the organized labor group.

Thirteen UAW officials were convicted as part of the investigation, including two past presidents. As part of a settlement with the union in late 2020, a federal monitor was appointed to oversee the union and a direct election process was voted upon that is reshaping its International Executive Board.

A reform group called UAW Members United has successfully campaigned to elect five new representatives to the 14-member board, but not all seats are settled. Runoff elections are taking place through Tuesday for three other positions, including the highest-ranking post of president.

The results mean a divided board will lead negotiations, starting this summer, with General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis. The vote count for the runoff elections will begin Wednesday, overseen by an election vendor and the federal monitor as well as other officials.

“The newly elected members were elected on trying to make change,” said Art Wheaton, a labor expert with the Worker Institute at Cornell University. “They were not elected to get along and play nice together. They were elected primarily because they were going to shake things up.”

Wheaton said new faces in the bargaining room create a “different dynamic” and could hurt stability of the process, but doesn’t change the underlying concerns.

“It certainly creates additional stress or additional problems, but I think the problems are going to be there, no matter who’s at the table.”

For investors, UAW negotiations are typically a short-term headwind every four years that result in higher costs. But this year’s negotiations are expected to be among the most contentious and important in recent memory, against the backdrop of a yearslong organized labor movement across the country, a pro-union president and an industry in transition to all-electric vehicles.

Don’t forget ongoing economic pressures such as inflation and recessionary fears in the years, if not months, ahead. Canadian union Unifor will also be simultaneously negotiating this year with the Detroit automakers, adding even more complexity and competition for investments and jobs.

“There’s a ton of moving parts. It’s getting to be one of the most consequential negotiations since the bankruptcies in 2009,” said Kristin Dziczek, a Detroit-based automotive policy advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Wall Street watching

For Wall Street, the fear of complicated and drawn-out negotiations is already spurring cost concerns.

“While the market tends to look through the one-time impact of potential work stoppages, it may not look through the potential for double-digit increases in labor costs that could characterize this year’s negotiations,” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said in a note last month.

Speaking in front of a backdrop of American-made vehicles and a United Auto Workers (UAW) sign, Democratic U.S. presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about new proposals to protect U.S. jobs during a campaign stop in Warren, Michigan, U.S., September 9, 2020.

Leah Millis | Reuters

Presidential election

U.S. President Joe Biden walks with Ford Motor Company Executive Chair William Clay Ford Jr. and Ray Curry, President of the United Autoworkers, during a visit to the Detroit Auto Show, to highlight electric vehicle manufacturing in America, in Detroit, Michigan, September 14, 2022.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

“I just believe the overall top piece is experience,” Curry told CNBC. “Experience is going to be important not just for our bargains taking place this year, but for legislators’ side for membership in total.”

Both candidates have said they will seek benefit gains for members, advocating for the return of a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, as well as raises.

“If we’re in inflationary times, it adjusts and makes sure [workers] have some type of benefit that moves their base wage in conjunction with what’s happening in the economy. It can be a good piece for us,” Curry said earlier this month regarding COLA.

Shawn Fain, candidate for UAW president, is in a run-off election with incumbent Ray Curry for the union’s highest-ranking position.

Jim West for UAW Members United

UAW Members United ran on the platform of “No corruption. No concessions. No tiers.” The last being a reference to a tiered pay system implemented by the automakers during recent negotiations that members have asked to be removed.

“UAW members have had enough with concessions and company-friendly leadership. We are coming for our fair share whether the Detroit automakers like it or not,” Fain said in an email Tuesday to CNBC. “Our number one task is to recover the concessions that we’ve given up to our employers such as tiered pay and benefits, as well as job security. To win we are going to need to rebuild trust and get every member of this union involved.”

Black real estate developers get access to big capital

New Philadelphia program helps minority developers build new homes

Black Americans represent less than 5% of residential real estate developers, largely because they can’t get equal access to capital, according to a recent report by the Urban Land Institute.

Institutional capital – real estate investment trusts and private equity in particular – are the dominant players. Black developers often don’t have exposure to those investors.

But a new program in Philadelphia is offering developers of color a unique opportunity to build both new homes and their businesses. Philly Rise is designed to recruit, train, support and open up access to capital. The goal: Produce 50 new residential housing units annually for the next five years.

“There is an imbalance, and what we’re trying to do is correct that imbalance by taking away all the barriers, so there’s no reason for anybody to say no,” said Thomas Webster, Philly Rise program director.

Christopher Pitt understands the value of a home more than most.

“I grew up in a two-bedroom shack, 10 people showing up. No gas, limited electric and an outhouse, right?” said Pitt, co-founder of PittPass Development Group.

That’s why he’s been working in real estate for 20 years, developing affordable housing first in Delaware and Maryland, and soon in Philadelphia.

“How do we flip communities from being high rental to homeownership? Because that’s where generational wealth happens, that’s where communities happen,” said Pitt.

But even with his lengthy experience in the business, Pitt still has trouble getting capital for his company’s projects.

“It is extremely hard,” Pitt said, noting that people like to do business with people with whom they share similarities. “But I just don’t think there’s enough minority leadership in those positions.”

After years of self-funding and borrowing hard money at sky-high interest rates, Pitt turned to Philly Rise, which Webster and his community investment partners call a “real estate accelerator.”

“Our goal with our participants is not to teach them how to rehab or build brand new houses, but how to build successful real estate businesses,” said Webster.

In a series of classes for Philly Rise, industry professionals teach the students, who must already be professional developers, how better to access capital and how to work the system to win city projects.

Gaining credibility

It’s aimed at helping developers gaining bankability and credibility, Pitt said: “This goes to taking you from bootstrapping to certified financial documents, meaning that I am saying, ‘It’s OK, bank, I have my paperwork in place, I know my numbers.’ So now again reducing the risk, right? Credibility.”

Each program participant must not only be an experienced developer, but also have 5% of their own capital to commit to the program. Philly Rise invests 10%, and the rest comes from CDFIs – community development lenders certified by the U.S. Treasury.

Khalief Evans, co-founder of Seamless Pros, started rehabbing old homes in 2016. So far his company has done roughly 100 renovations. Like Pitt, he focuses on affordable housing.

“One of the biggest challenges that we face being a small development company in Philadelphia is it’s incredibly difficult to get the funding we need in order to get the project done, as well as scale,” said Evans. “It may be the culture, it may be the level of knowledge that we have regarding financing.”

He said he applied for the Philly Rise program in order to grow his business.

“The lack of knowledge to attain finances does create a huge barrier and the resources, being able to speak with and get guided and mentored by industry professionals that look like you that can emphasize with you, that can reflect on some of the things that you’ve been through and even some of the challenges, it would help,” he said.

Philly Rise is also partnering with the Urban Land Institute, which is the nation’s largest real estate development organization. The institute has an online university it’s providing to the program at a steep discount.

Philadelphia currently estimates it needs about 35,000 new housing units over the next five years, according to Webster. He sees that as a huge opportunity for the cohorts at Philly Rise.

“The model we’re building here really becomes something that can be replicated in any market and become a solution to neighborhood regeneration instead of outside community gentrification,” he said.

–CNBC’s Lisa Rizzolo contributed to this article.

State IRA programs work toward closing racial retirement savings gap

Maskot | Maskot | Getty Images

The income and wealth gaps between people of color and white households are wide, but state-run retirement programs are attempting to help workers find parity.

As many as 67% of private-industry workers had access to retirement plans in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A significant number of employees, however, remain left out of these programs — and it tends to be workers of color who are missing out.

Indeed, about 64% of Hispanic workers, 53% of Black workers and 45% of Asian American workers have no access to a workplace retirement plan, according to AARP. Small employers are also less likely to offer retirement plans to their workers, with about 78% of those who work for companies with fewer than 10 employees lacking access to a plan, AARP found. 

State-facilitated individual retirement account savings programs have stepped in to attempt to close that racial savings gap.

Federal Reserve Board, 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances

“It’s preliminary at this point, but the idea was to close the retirement savings gap for people who are left out, and that tends to be lower-income workers, workers of color,” said Michael Frerichs, Illinois state treasurer.

Sixteen states have enacted new initiatives to help private-sector workers save and 11 of them have auto-IRA programs, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Retirement Initiatives. As of the end of January, there were more than $735 million in assets in these state-facilitated retirement savings programs, the center found.

“An important part of the purpose of the nationwide movement to have states play a supporting role for the private pension system has been this: to narrow the racial and gender and white-collar versus blue-collar savings gaps,” said J. Mark Iwry, nonresident senior fellow at The Brookings Institution.

He coauthored President Barack Obama’s “auto-IRA” legislative proposal, a push to expand access to retirement savings through automatic enrollment in IRAs, and pioneered the nationwide state-facilitated retirement savings movement starting more than 20 years ago.

How it works

Rather than competing against large corporate retirement plans, state-facilitated retirement savings programs turn their focus to an underserved corner of the market: small businesses.

Most of these state programs require businesses to either offer a workplace retirement plan or help automatically enroll their workers into the state’s program.

Typically, the savings program is a Roth IRA — that is, employees are saving money on an after-tax basis — and they can put away 4% to 6% of their compensation through an automatic payroll deduction, according to Craig Copeland, director of wealth benefits research at the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Employers themselves aren’t paying for the programs, and an investment firm is managing savers’ accounts.

The upshot of using a Roth IRA to save is that the funds grow free of taxes and can be withdrawn tax-free in retirement, subject to certain conditions. In the event participants need to pull money out for an emergency, they can take their own contributions — but not the earnings — tax-free.

Among the participants in Illinois’ Secure Choice program, about half are Black or Hispanic, according to Frerichs. The program has been running since 2018 and recently expanded access to firms with as few as five employees.

Tips for mapping out your retirement plan

“We’re getting the people who fell through the cracks and don’t have a safety net,” he said, noting that this includes employees at bars, restaurants and grocery stores.

Perhaps the most powerful attribute of the auto-IRA plans is the automatic payroll deduction. “This is the ‘set it and forget it’ mentality,” said Fiona Ma, California state treasurer. It’s easy for employees to spend the money that lands in their checking accounts, so having a portion of it go directly toward retirement allows their funds to grow.

Workers joining CalSavers begin with a default contribution of 5% of their pay, and they’re subject to an annual automatic escalation of 1 percentage point until they are saving 8% of their salary, according to Katie Selenski, executive director of the program.

“Being able to save and have it accumulate has been a game changer in trying to decrease the wealth gap,” Ma added. She noted that two out of three workers eligible for the program in California are people of color.

On Jan. 1, the state expanded its CalSavers program to businesses that have one to four employees. If they don’t already offer a 401(k) plan to employees, those employers are required to have a payroll deposit savings arrangement that would allow workers to participate in CalSavers by the end of 2025.

Strengthening savings

Speculative tech to reflect sun away from Earth needs focus, UN says

People photographed in Lower Saxony, Germany, on July 19, 2022. A number of European countries were affected by a heatwave last month.

Julian Stratenschulte | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Global efforts to respond to climate change are so far insufficient, making it time to begin studying technologies to reflect sunlight away from the Earth to cool it down temporarily, said a new report from the United Nations published on Monday.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the only way to permanently slow global warming, but worldwide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are currently “not on track to meet the 1.5° Celsius Paris Agreement goal,” the U.N. Environment Program said in a written statement accompanying the release of the report.

With the world not responding to climate change urgently enough, a “speculative group of technologies” to reflect sunlight back away from the Earth have been getting more attention recently, UNEP said in a written statement accompanying the report. This category of technologies is often called solar radiation modification (SRM) or more broadly solar geoengineering.

The report on these technologies, written by an expert panel brought together by the U.N. program, advised that it’s currently not a good idea to use them in an effort to respond to climate change.

However, “this view may change if climate action remains insufficient,” the report said, signaling that it’s time for rigorous study of both the technologies and the potential international governance.

A similar message came from a group of more than 60 scientists in an open letter that was also (coincidentally) published on Monday.

Fast and doable, but potentially dangerous

Solar geoengineering “is the only known approach that could be used to cool the Earth within a few years,” the U.N. report said, and would cost tens of billions of dollars per year per one degree Celsius of cooling.

While the technology to inject large quantities of aerosols into the upper atmosphere does not exist today, it’s not seen as being terribly complicated: “No show-stopping technical hurdles have been identified,” the U.N. report said, and it could be “developed in under ten years.”

Scientists know it works quickly, citing the drop in the global average temperature after large volcanic eruptions have spread large quantities of aerosols into the upper atmosphere. These observations of volcanic activity provides “strong evidence that a deliberate injection of large amounts of reflective particles into the stratosphere would cool the Earth rapidly,” the U.N. study said.

“If global warming at some point produces outcomes widely seen as intolerable (e.g. widespread famines, mass migration, mass mortality and destruction of infrastructure) an operational SRM deployment as part of a ‘planned’ emergency response might be able to alleviate some of this suffering within a few years,” according to the report.

But the techniques can also be dangerous.

For example, sulfur dioxide is commonly proposed as an aerosol, but that practice would result in acid rain, the report warned. It also could increase ozone depletion. Specifically, “Antarctic ozone hole recovery could be delayed by a couple of decades and the ozone hole could become deeper in the first decade of SAI [stratospheric aerosol injection] deployment,” the U.N. report said.

So solar geoengineering could be considered a one-time shot to mitigate extreme suffering and death caused by climate change.

Or sunlight-reflection technology could become part of a “phased” longer-term strategy to buy more time to aggressively and permanently reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The risk of rogue actors

Regardless, experts said that right now, we just don’t know enough about the side effects of these technologies.

“We only have one atmosphere. We cannot risk further damaging it through a poorly understood shortcut to fixing the damage we already caused,” wrote Inger Andersen, the executive director of UNEP, in a forward to the study.

And right now, there is not enough reliable information to make an informed decision.

“The review finds that there is little information on the risks of SRM and limited literature on the environmental and social impacts of these technologies,” Andersen wrote. “Even as a temporary response option, large-scale SRM deployment is fraught with scientific uncertainties and ethical issues. The evidence base is simply not there to make informed decisions.”

In addition to needing rigorous scientific study, the report added there needs to be a globally coordinated governance strategy for any potential use of solar-geoengineering technology.

But the relatively low cost — it can be deployed for as little as $20 billion per 1 degree Celsius of cooling per year — means it is “within reach” of many countries and organizations, opening the possibility of a “rogue deployment,” the report said.

The United Nations could be a leader in global discussions of solar geoengineering conversations, the report said, noting that not having international cooperation and governance is potentially dire.

“One can assume that there will never be universal consensus in the broader community on an SRM deployment, which means that communities, nations and societies opposed to SRM deployment would be exposed to its effects against their wishes, raising ethical and legal concern,” the study said.

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Student loan borrowers praise Biden plan

Student loan borrowers gathered at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., the evening before the court hears two cases on the White House student loan relief plan.

Jemal Countess | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — On the night before the Supreme Court was set to hear oral arguments over the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan, Amanda Smitley sat outside the court on an aluminum blanket holding an umbrella.

She didn’t know when she planned to spend the night staked outside the highest court that it would be pouring rain, but she wasn’t discouraged.

“I’m feeling great,” said Smitley, 20, who already has around $10,000 in student debt as a college sophomore at PennWest California. She’ll have to take out more if she wants to fulfill her hopes of graduating and becoming a high school history teacher.

“I really, really care about student debt, not even just for myself,” Smitley said. “I want to live in a world where my future students and maybe future kids won’t have to worry about getting into thousands in debt just because they want to further their education.”

Student loan borrower Amanda Smitley, 20, joined the student loan borrowers gathered at Supreme Court on Feb. 27, 2023, the night before the court hears two cases on student loan forgiveness.

Annie Nova | CNBC

Court will hear two cases against forgiveness

Despite the cold, borrowers gathered outside the Supreme Court on Monday to demonstrate in favor of the Biden administration’s forgiveness plan. More than 35 million student loan borrowers could benefit from the policy, and have up to $20,000 of their debt forgiven. If implemented, an estimated $400 billion in debt would be wiped out.

But the program has been on hold since the fall, when a federal appeals court panel in St. Louis issued a temporary injunction barring it from taking effect. The Supreme Court has kept that injunction in place as it considers challenges to the plan, and the government on its own accord stopped taking applications for the program in November.

The Supreme Court is hearing two separate cases Tuesday on President Joe Biden’s debt relief plan.

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The first, originally lodged by six Republican-led states in federal court in Missouri, claims the Biden administration did not have the legal right to cancel student loan debts without congressional authorization.

The second lawsuit, filed by Myra Brown and Alexander Taylor, in U.S. District Court in Texas, argues that they and other members of the public were improperly denied the right under federal procedures to formally comment on the debt relief plan, which might have affected its design before it was put in effect.

The Job Creators Network Foundation, a conservative advocacy group, is backing the plaintiffs in that case.

Experts say the debt relief plan is likely to be ruled illegal by the court’s six-justice supermajority if that bloc finds that one or more of the plaintiffs in the two cases has the requisite legal right, known as standing, to file a suit challenging the program.

‘For many people, this is life and death’

Student loan borrower John Runningen was also among those who planned to sleep outside the Supreme Court on Monday night. He attends Minnesota State Community and Technical College and owes $5,000.

That debt has already made his life more difficult.

“It’s stopped me from getting a vehicle, from moving out of my parents’ house and helping my parents with the stress of their bills,” said Runningen, 22.

As a first-generation college student, he hoped to break the cycle of poverty and assist his parents. His stepfather is a farmer and his mother works at a gas station. With a $175 monthly student loan bill, though, he won’t be able to help them.

Student loan borrowers gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 27, 2023, the night before the court hears two cases on student loan forgiveness.

Annie Nova | CNBC

Student loan borrowers were having problems repaying their debt before Covid. Only about half of borrowers were in repayment in 2019, according to an estimate by higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz. A quarter — or more than 10 million people — were in delinquency or default, and the rest had applied for temporary relief measures for struggling borrowers, such as deferments or forbearances.

These grim figures led to comparisons to the 2008 mortgage crisis and built pressure on Biden to deliver relief.

“For many people, this is life and death,” said Thomas Gokey, co-founder of the Debt Collective, a national union of debtors. “What’s at stake is being forced to choose between paying for student loans or being able to buy groceries, make rent and pay medical bills.”

— Annie Nova reported from Washington, D.C., and Dan Mangan reported from New York.

New TikTok ban is poised to advance in Congress

Rafael Henrique | Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee plans to take up legislation Tuesday that would give President Joe Biden the authority to ban TikTok, the Chinese social media app used by more than 100 million Americans.

The panel is scheduled to vote on a series of China-related bills Tuesday afternoon, including one that would revise the longstanding protections that have shielded distributors of foreign creative content like TikTok from U.S. sanctions for decades. Introduced last Friday, H.R. 1153 is expected to pass the committee on Tuesday.

The bill that could ultimately ensnare TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, only has one sponsor, the committee’s newly seated Republican chairman, Texas Rep. Mike McCaul.

Typically, a bill this new, with only one sponsor, would not move to committee votes just days after it was introduced. But the choice of which bills will advance through a committee is made by each committee’s chairman, so McCaul’s sponsorship is effectively all the bill needs.

If the measure is approved by a majority of the committee members and referred to the full House for a vote, as expected, H.R. 1153 will effectively leap frog several other proposals to ban TikTok that were previously introduced in the House and Senate, but haven’t yet advanced through the committee process.

After that, McCaul’s bill would likely pass the Republican-controlled House easily. But its fate in the Democratic majority Senate is unclear.

Despite the bitter divisions between the two parties on nearly every major issue, there is one thing both Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly support: proactive measures to stem China’s growing global influence. And H.R. 1153 could do that.

In practical terms, the bill would revise a group of rules known as the Berman amendments that were first enacted near the end of the Cold War, intended to shield “informational materials” like books and magazines from sanctions-related import and export bans.

Over time, however, the Berman amendments were expanded into a broad rule that courts interpreted as prohibiting the government from using sanctions powers to block trade in any informational materials, including digital content, to or from a foreign country.

In 2020, TikTok argued successfully in court that it was covered by the Berman amendments exemption when it beat back attempts by the Trump administration to ban its distribution by Apple and Google app stores.

McCaul told CNBC his bill would change this. “Currently the courts have questioned the administration’s authority to sanction TikTok. My bill empowers the administration to ban TikTok or any software applications that threaten U.S. national security,” McCaul said in a statement Monday.

Under McCaul’s bill, the Berman amendments exemptions that have protected TikTok in the past would no longer apply to companies that engage in the transfer of the “sensitive personal data” of Americans to entities or individuals based in, or controlled by, China.

On first reading, McCaul’s legislation appears to be broader than some of the other TikTok bills that have been introduced so far.

Critics and TikTok lobbyists have argued that those prior bills amounted to punishing the company for a crime outside the legal system. They also argue that any ban is tantamount to censorship of content protected by the First Amendment.

“It would be unfortunate if the House Foreign Affairs Committee were to censor millions of Americans,” TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter told CNBC in an email Monday.

TikTok is no stranger to rough political waters, having been in the crosshairs of U.S. lawmakers since former President Donald Trump declared his intention to ban the app by executive action in 2020.

At the time, ByteDance was looking to potentially spin off TikTok to keep the app from being shut down.

In September 2020, Trump said he would approve an arrangement for TikTok to work with Oracle on a cloud deal and Walmart on a commercial partnership to keep it alive.

Those deals never materialized, however, and two months later Trump was defeated by Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

The Biden administration kept up the pressure. While Biden quickly revoked the executive orders banning TikTok, he replaced them with his own, setting out more of a road map for how the government should evaluate the risks of an app connected to foreign adversaries.

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TikTok has continued to engage with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which is under the Treasury Department. CFIUS, which evaluates risks associated with foreign investment deals, is scrutinizing ByteDance’s purchase of Musical.ly, which was announced in 2017.

The CFIUS review has reportedly stalled, but TikTok spokeswoman Oberwetter said the company still favors the deal.

“The swiftest and most thorough way to address national security concerns is for CFIUS to adopt the proposed agreement that we worked with them on for nearly two years,” she told CNBC on Monday.

In the meantime, government officials from the FBI and the Department of Justice have publicly warned about the dangers of using the app, and many states have imposed bans of their own.

On Monday, the Biden administration released new implementation rules for a TikTok ban that applies only to federal government-owned devices, which was passed by Congress in December.

Earlier this month, Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., chair of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy, and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a letter that CFIUS should “swiftly conclude its investigation and impose strict structural restrictions between TikTok’s American operations and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, including potentially separating the companies.”

But while the executive branch scrutinizes TikTok through CFIUS, McCaul and the GOP-controlled House are not waiting around for them to act.

“TikTok is a security threat. It allows the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] to manipulate and monitor its users while it gobbles up Americans’ data to be used for their malign activities,” McCaul told CNBC.

If TikTok-related legislation looks like it’s moving swiftly through Congress, that could spook investors, and work to the benefit of some of the company’s biggest competitors.

TikTok has been taking market share from Facebook, Instagram and Google‘s YouTube, which have all seen advertising slow dramatically over the past year.

According to Insider Intelligence, TikTok controls 2.3% of the worldwide digital ad market, putting it behind only Google (including YouTube), Facebook (including Instagram), Amazon and Alibaba.

— CNBC’s Ari Levy contributed to this story from San Francisco.