Axios Closer

Picture of a golden bell on a white background.
December 15, 2021

Today's newsletter is 633 words, a 2-minute read.

πŸ”” The dashboard: The S&P 500 rose over 1%. Fed rally!

  • Biggest S&P gainer? Drugmaker Eli Lilly (+10%), after it released rosy sales and profit forecasts.
  • Biggest decliner? Nucor (-9%), after the steelmaker warned about declining volumes at its mills.

1 big thing: πŸ”₯ The hot pandemic labor market

Fed chair Jerome Powell during a livestreamed news conference today. Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The nation's top economic policymaker all but said it today: America is on the cusp of full employment.

  • "The labor market by many measures is hotter than it ever was" before the pandemic, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell told reporters.

Why it matters: It came as the Fed is pulling back on the policies that underpinned the pandemic-era economic and financial market boom as it wages a war to beat back the hottest inflation in almost four decades.

  • What's new: The Fed will speed up the withdrawal of a form of economic aid and signaled that the era of ultra-low borrowing costs will end earlier (possibly as soon as springtime), as Axios' Kate Marino reports.

The intrigue: The labor market looks much different than the last time it notched full employment before the pandemic by a number of measures β€” namely, as the virus rages, there are over 2 million fewer workers in the job market compared to pre-pandemic times. It’s fueled the worker shortage and held down the recovery.

  • "We're not going back to the same economy that we had in February 2020," Powell said, noting those workers could be slow to return.

What to watch: Fed officials predict by next year the unemployment rate will match the 50-year low reached before the pandemic.

2. Charted: Unprecedented port volume

Data: Port of Los Angeles; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Consumer demand continues to push U.S. ports to new limits, Axios’ Hope King writes.

  • The push to get goods onshore now comes from retailers wanting to get ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday season in Asia, where many factories and companies will shut down for weeks to celebrate, Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said today.

A sign of the mania: That port is on track to process another record number of containers this year, based on estimates of about 812,000 units handled in November.

With record demand comes record docking and processing times.

  • About 101 ships are waiting to come into Southern California ports as of yesterday, per the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

3. What's happening

πŸ›οΈ Buying spree slowdown: Retail sales rose 0.3% last month β€” a pullback from the robust spending in October. (CNBC)

😷 Universities and colleges β€” like Cornell, Princeton and Middlebury β€” moved to remote final exams as coronavirus outbreaks surge on campus. (WSJ)

4. Scoop: Legendary crypto investor makes a move

Illustration of a bitcoin surrounded by hundred dollar bills.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Katie Haun, one of the world's most influential crypto venture capitalists, is leaving Andreessen Horowitz to form her own firm, Axios' Dan Primack scoops.

  • Haun helped turn Andreessen Horowitz into the VC world's largest crypto investor, including a $2.2 billion fund raised earlier this year that's already been deployed.
  • Her deals have included OpenSea, Celo, Arweave and Royal. She also led the firm's investment in Coinbase, where she serves as an independent director.

The big picture: Haun isn't saying too much about her new firm, except that she plans to be the only general partner and that it will focus on crypto and Web3 startups.

Full story.

5. Blackstone's unexpected celebrity cameo

Photo of Reese Witherspoon sitting at a desk reading a book.
Screenshot of Reese Witherspoon's cameo in Blackstone's video.

'Tis the season for awkward holiday videos, including from Blackstone.

  • The private equity giant kept in step with its annual tradition of top executives in a spoof that opens with β€œThe Office" theme song.
  • This subject of this year's video ... how Blackstone could turn an internal Zoom meeting into a streaming hit for the masses β€” and it featured an actual actress, Reese Witherspoon.

It's no surprise they nabbed her: Witherspoon's production company sold to a firm backed by Blackstone this year.

The bottom line: Nothing may ever beat then-Carlyle Group CEO David Rubenstein's rapped holiday greeting.

6. What they're saying

"I can sum up the [Payroll Support Program] in two words: It worked."
β€” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, testifying before the Senate alongside executives from American Airlines and United Airlines today. They said the tight labor market has contributed to all those flight cancellations, despite the billions in taxpayer aid they took when travel demand plummeted, CNBC reports.

Editor's note: Item 1 was corrected to show that there are over 2 million fewer workers in the job market compared to pre-pandemic times (not 4 million).