December 06, 2023

Welcome back. Emily here. I'm wide awake this morning, as I would be if I had to listen to an AI-generated Jimmy Stewart narrating a bedtime story. (A real fake thing, apparently.)

Let's get into our human-generated newsletter. Today's is 1,044 words, 4 minutes.

1 big thing: U.S. eyes Russia’s “shadow fleet”

Data: Atlantic Council; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Atlantic Council; Chart: Axios Visuals

A year after a cap on Russian oil prices was imposed, the Treasury Department says that enforcement is needed to counteract Moscow's growing ability to ship crude, Matt writes.

Why it matters: The $60 price cap on Russian crude was credited last year with making a dent in how much cash the Kremlin brings in from oil sales. That money helps pay for its war on Ukraine.

State of play: Russian crude oil prices on global markets rose to roughly $80 a barrel in September and October, driven by both higher oil prices at the time and Russia's investment in its "shadow fleet" of ships to carry its oil and avoid the rules that undergird the price cap.

What they're saying: "Russia invested in new shipping capacity that operates without Coalition services, creating more capacity for oil exports priced above the cap," Wally Adeyemo, deputy Treasury secretary, wrote in a memo obtained by Axios.

  • The memo was sent to his counterparts in the coalition of G7 nations (and Australia) that devised the cap.
  • "We must adjust our approach to account for the new dynamic," Adeyemo wrote.

How it works: The price cap plan was based on the fact that service providers like shippers and insurers — the traditional backbone of the global oil market — are almost entirely based in the West and subject to Western financial regulations.

  • Basically, shippers and insurers are required to get assurances from those buying and moving the oil — in signed "attestations" — that the petroleum was sold below $60.
  • Violations would open companies to potential criminal and civil penalties. But for much of the last year, there was little in the way of public enforcement actions.

What's next: The government seems to be signaling that that will change.

The bottom line: "We must reduce Russia's profits through the following two channels: strengthening enforcement for the continued trade of Russian oil with Coalition services, and increasing the costs of Russia's efforts to circumvent the cap," he wrote in the memo.

2. Catch up quick

🛢️ FTC investigates Exxon's $60 billion Pioneer deal. (Axios)

🎬 Hollywood actors' union ratifies contract. (Axios)

📝 New York may ban noncompete agreements. (WSJ)

3. Union push at Wells Fargo

The entrance to a Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco. Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Bankers at a Wells Fargo branch in Daytona Beach, Florida, plan to take a key step toward unionizing this morning, Emily writes.

What's happening: They're set to notify the National Labor Relations Board that they plan to hold union elections, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: It's the third Wells Fargo branch to move toward union elections — a sign that organizing efforts are gaining steam within the bank, the fourth largest in the country.

  • Wells is the only big bank in the U.S. facing serious unionization efforts, as the industry remains relatively untouched by organizing.
  • Wells bankers are organizing with the support of the Communications Workers of America.

Zoom in: "We have unanimously come together to form a union...and respectfully urge you to voluntarily recognize our union," the employees wrote in a draft of a letter to the bank's CEO, Charles Scharf.

  • They say their branch is understaffed, forcing them to take on larger workloads and leading to longer customer wait times.
  • "We don't have enough employees to do our job properly," said Corinne Jefferson, a banker who led organizing efforts at the branch. "We don't even have time sometimes to take lunch breaks, or, you know, go to the bathroom."
  • Workers are looking for improved staffing levels, wage increases — Jefferson said her hourly wage hasn't budged in five years — and better benefits.

The other side: When asked Tuesday evening about a bank branch in Florida seeking union representation, bank spokesperson Laurie Kight noted that the company was recently ranked No. 2 on LinkedIn's 2023 list of top companies to grow your career. (Axios didn't name the specific branch in the inquiry.)

  • "We strongly believe everyone's individual voice should be heard and that working directly together is the best way to continue to make progress in supporting our employees," Kight said in an emailed statement.
  • Meanwhile, Scharf said this week that the bank plans to get "more aggressive" with layoffs.

Catch up fast: Last month, Wells bankers at two branches, in New Mexico and Alaska, also filed for elections at the NLRB. The agency essentially monitors and oversees those votes.

Meanwhile: The CWA says that Wells is also pushing back. On Tuesday, flyers went out at the two organizing branches urging workers, "Don't be the union's bait," according to a copy viewed by Axios.

  • Wells declined to comment on the flyers.

Reality check: The organizing workers make up a tiny fraction of the bank's 238,000-employee workforce.

What to watch: Scharf and other Big Bank CEOs are testifying before a Senate committee this morning — worker pay and rights are among the topics that may be discussed, per Reuters.

4. Fully remote work is on the decline

Data: Morning Consult Economic Intelligence; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Morning Consult Economic Intelligence; Chart: Axios Visuals

Fewer workers are working primarily from home these days, according to polling data out today from Morning Consult, Emily writes.

Why it matters: While far more Americans work remotely now than before the pandemic, the share of those who are fully remote has been steadily declining.

  • Hybrid work arrangements are becoming more common. Since February the share of workers who say they never work from home at all has been trending lower, according to Morning Consult.

5. 📈 60/40's record

"It was the best month for 60/40 since 1991."
— BofA Global Research, in a note published yesterday

Why it matters: November's "everything rally" lifted the famed portfolio strategy — 60% stocks, 40% bonds — to its best monthly performance in more than three decades.

  • It was a striking turnaround: As recently as October, the WSJ declared that 60/40 "just had its worst year in generations."

What happened: Rising rates battered both stocks and bonds over the last two years. But in November, hopes for rate cuts sooner rather than later drove Treasury yields down — and stocks up.

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Axios Markets is edited by Kate Marino and copy edited by Mickey Meece.