Microsoft said Wednesday that it would begin producing more than 120,000 augmented reality headsets for Army soldiers under a contract that could be worth up to $21.9 billion.
The HoloLens headsets use a technology called the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, which will equip soldiers wearing them with night vision, thermal vision and audio communication. The devices also have sensors that help soldiers target opponents in battle.
The deal is likely to create waves inside Microsoft, where some employees have objected to working with the Pentagon. Employees at other big tech companies, like Google, have also rejected what they say is the weaponization of their technology.
But Microsoft has long courted Defense Department work, including a $10 billion contract to build a cloud-computing system. Amazon had been seen as a front-runner to win the contract, but the Defense Department chose Microsoft.
Amazon claimed that President Donald J. Trump had interfered in the process because of his feud with Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive and the owner of The Washington Post. A legal fight over the contract is still active.
Soldiers have tested the Microsoft headsets for two years, the company said. The Army said the devices would be used in combat and training.
Microsoft said its testing of the headsets had helped the Defense Department’s “efforts to modernize the U.S. military by taking advantage of advanced technology and new innovations not available to military.”
The devices will “provide the improved situational awareness, target engagement and informed decision-making necessary” to overcome current and future adversaries, the Army said in a news release.
In 2018, Microsoft won a $480 million bid to make prototypes of the headsets. The Army said Wednesday that the new contract to produce them on a larger scale was for five years, with the option to add up to five more years.
Taxpayers who received unemployment benefits last year — but who filed their federal tax returns before a new tax break became available — could receive an automatic refund as early as May, the Internal Revenue Service said on Wednesday.
The latest pandemic relief legislation — signed into law on March 11, in the thick of tax season — made the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits tax-free in 2020 for people with modified adjusted incomes of less than $150,000. (Married taxpayers filing jointly can exclude up to $20,400.)
But some Americans had already filed their tax returns by March and have been waiting for official agency guidance. Millions of U.S. workers filed for unemployment last year, but the I.R.S. said it was still determining how many workers affected by the tax change had already filed their tax returns.
On Wednesday, the I.R.S. confirmed that it would automatically recalculate the correct amount of benefits subject to taxation — and any overpayment will be refunded or applied to any other outstanding taxes owed. The first refunds are expected to be issued in May and will continue into the summer.
The I.R.S. said it would begin processing the simpler returns first, or those eligible for up to $10,200 in excluded benefits, and then would turn to returns for joint filers and others with more complex returns.
There is no need for those affected to file an amended return unless the calculations make the taxpayer newly eligible for additiona
l federal credits and deductions not already included on the original tax return, the agency said. Those taxpayers may want to review their state tax returns as well, the I.R.S. said.
People who still haven’t filed and expect to do so electronically can simply answer the questions asked by their online tax preparer, which will factor in the new tax break when they file. The agency provided an updated worksheet and additional guidance in March for taxpayers that prefer paper.
Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, said America’s top financial regulators will re-establish a group to study possible risks and vulnerabilities at hedge funds, renewing an effort that was abandoned by the Trump administration.
Ms. Yellen on Wednesday presided over the first meeting since President Biden took office of the Financial Stability Oversight Council — a group led by the Treasury secretary. In a session that was closed to the public, officials discussed financial weaknesses that had been exposed during the March 2020 market meltdown, including those at mutual funds and hedge funds.
“This council used to have a hedge fund working group, and as of today, we have one again,” Ms. Yellen said while summarizing those discussions later on Wednesday. “We’re re-establishing the working group so that we can better share data, identify risks and work to strengthen our financial system.”
The council’s hedge fund discussion was inspired by a highly leveraged trade that went awry in March 2020, causing hedge funds to dump Treasury bonds and exacerbating ruptures in the government bond market.
The increased oversight of hedge funds — which cater to big-money investors and often use risky strategies — is especially notable in the days after a meltdown at Archegos Capital Management caused big losses for banks. The drama has highlighted interconnections that wind through the financial system, potentially leaving it more fragile.
During a webcast portion of the meeting, the council — which also counts officials including the Federal Reserve chair and the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission among its members — discussed how regulators are thinking about climate-related financial risks.
Ms. Yellen said officials must think about climate change as a practical risk as disasters become more frequent and intense, inflicting financial losses. She said institutions will also need to think about how the shift to a less carbon-heavy world could impact banking and markets.
“On all of these fronts, the council has an important role to play, helping to coordinate regulators’ collective efforts to improve the measurement and management of climate-related risk in the financial system,” she said.
Google employees in the United States will likely be allowed to return to the office next month, the company said on Wednesday.
Google and other tech companies that shuttered their offices at the start of the pandemic are gradually reopening work spaces as vaccines become widely available. Facebook told employees that its Menlo Park headquarters would open in May, and Uber has allowed a limited number of employees to return to its San Francisco offices. Other tech companies, like Twitter, have allowed employees to work from home indefinitely.
Workers at Google will have the option to return in April, Fiona Cicconi, Google’s chief people officer, told employees in an email seen by The New York Times. Offices will operate at a limited capacity, and reopenings will vary state by state, based on the number of coronavirus cases in the area, Ms. Cicconi said.
“Offices will begin to open in a limited capacity based on specific criteria that include increases in vaccine availability and downward trends in Covid-19 cases,” Ms. Cicconi wrote. “We advise you to get a vaccine, though it will not be mandatory to have one in order for Googlers to return to the office.”
Workers who do opt to return will be required to wear masks, practice social distancing and pass a health survey, Google said.
Google said that it would not change the September date, when it plans to require employees in the United States to return to the office, and that employees could continue to work remotely until then. Some of Google’s offices in Asia and the Middle East have already reopened.
Delta Air Lines said Wednesday that it would sell middle seats on flights starting May 1, more than a year after it decided to leave them empty to promote distancing. Other airlines had blocked middle seats early in the pandemic, but Delta held out the longest by several months and is the last of the four big U.S. airlines to get rid of the policy.
The company’s chief executive, Ed Bastian, said that a survey of those who flew Delta in 2019 found that nearly 65 percent expected to have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine by May 1, which gave the airline “the assurance to offer customers the ability to choose any seat on our aircraft.”
Delta started blocking middle seat bookings in April 2020 and said that it continued the policy to give passengers peace of mind.
“During the past year, we transformed our service to ensure their health, safety, convenience and comfort during their travels,” Mr. Bastian said in a statement. “Now, with vaccinations becoming more widespread and confidence in travel rising, we’re ready to help customers reclaim their lives.”
Air travel has started to recover meaningfully in recent weeks, with ticket sales rising and as well over one million people per day have been screened at airport checkpoints since mid-March, according to the Transportation Security Administr
ation. More than 1.5 million people were screened on Sunday, the busiest day at airports since the pandemic began. Air travel is still down about 40 percent from 2019.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend against travel, even for those who have been vaccinated. This week, its director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, warned of “impending doom” from a potential fourth wave of the pandemic if Americans move too quickly to disregard the advice of public health officials.
Delta also said on Wednesday that it would give customers more time to use expiring travel credits. All new tickets purchased in 2021 and credits set to expire this year will now expire at the end of 2022.
Starting April 14, the airline plans to bring back soft drinks, cocktails and snacks on flights within the United States and to nearby international destinations. In June, it plans to start offering hot food in premium classes on some coast-to-coast flights. Delta also announced changes that will make it easier for members of its loyalty program to earn points this year.
Apple is investing in UnitedMasters, a music distribution company that lets musicians bypass traditional record labels.
Artists who distribute through UnitedMasters keep ownership of their master recordings and pay either a yearly fee or 10 percent of their royalties.
Apple led the $50 million funding round, announced on Wednesday, which values UnitedMasters at $350 million, the DealBook newsletter reports. Existing investors, including Alphabet and Andreessen Horowitz, also participated in the funding.
Musicians are increasingly taking ownership of their work. Taylor Swift, most famously, and Anita Baker, most recently, have publicized their fights with labels over their master recordings. Artists once needed the heft of major publishing labels — which typically demand ownership of master recordings — to build a fan base. But with social media, labels no longer play as significant a gatekeeping role. UnitedMasters has partnerships with the N.B.A., ESPN, TikTok and Twitch, deals that reflect the new ways that people discover music.
“Technology, no doubt, has transformed music for consumers,” said Steve Stoute, the former major label executive who founded UnitedMasters. “Now it’s time for technology to change the economics for the artists.” The deal with UnitedMasters is about “empowering creators,” Eddy Cue, Apple’s head of internet software and services, said.
As streaming services, including Apple’s, compete for subscribers, they are cutting more favorable deals with the artists who attract users to platforms. Spotify announced an initiative called “Loud and Clear” this week to detail how it pays musicians following public pressure.
Seventy-two Black executives signed a letter calling on companies to fight a wave of voting-rights bills similar to the one that was passed in Georgia being advanced by Republicans in at least 43 states.
The effort was led by Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck, Andrew Ross Sorkin and David Gelles report for The New York Times.
The signers included Roger Ferguson Jr., the chief executive of TIAA; Mellody Hobson and John Rogers Jr., the co-chief executives of Ariel Investments; Robert F. Smith, the chief executive of Vista Equity Partners; and Raymond McGuire, a former Citigroup executive who is running for mayor of New York. The group of leaders, with support from the Black Economic Alliance, bought a full-page ad in the Wednesday print edition of The New York Times.
“The Georgia legislature was the first one,” Mr. Frazier said. “If corporate America doesn’t stand up, we’ll get these laws passed in many places in this country.”
Last year, the Human Rights Campaign began persuading companies to sign on to a pledge that states their “clear opposition to harmful legislation aimed at restricting the access of L.G.B.T.Q. people in society.” Dozens of major companies, including AT&T, Facebook, Nike and Pfizer, signed on.
To Mr. Chenault, the contrast between the business community’s response to that issue and to voting restrictions that disproportionately harm Black voters was telling.
“You had 60 major companies — Amazon, Google, American Airlines — that signed on to the statement that states a very clear opposition to harmful legislation aimed at restricting the access of L.G.B.T.Q. people in society,” he said. “So, you know, it is bizarre that we don’t have companies standing up to this.”
“This is not new,” Mr. Chenault added. “When it comes to race, there’s differential treatment. That’s the reality.”
Deliveroo, the British food delivery service, dropped as much as 30 percent in its first minutes of trading on Wednesday, a gloomy public debut for the company that was promoted as a post-Brexit win for London’s financial markets.
The company had set its initial public offering price at 3.90 pounds a share, valuing Deliveroo at £7.6 billion or $10.4 billion. But it opened at £3.31, 15 percent lower, and kept falling. By the end of the day, shares had recovered only slightly, closing at about £2.87, 26 percent lower.
The offering has been troubled by major investors planning to sit out the I.P.O. amid concerns about shareholder voting rights and Deliveroo rider pay. Deliveroo, trading under the ticker “ROO,” sold just under 385 million shares, raising £1.5 billion.
The business model of Deliveroo and other gig economy companies is increasingly under threat in Europe as legal challenges mount. Two weeks ago, Uber reclassified more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan, after a Supreme Court ruling. Analysts said the move could set a precedent for other companies and increase costs.
Deliveroo, which is based in London and was founded in 2013, is now in 12 countries and has more t
han 100,000 riders, recognizable on the streets by their teal jackets and food bags. Last year, Amazon became its biggest shareholder.
Demand for Deliveroo’s services could soon diminish, as pandemic restrictions in its largest market, Britain, begin to ease. In a few weeks, restaurants will reopen for outdoor dining. Last year, Deliveroo said, it lost £226.4 million even as its revenue jumped more than 50 percent to nearly £1.2 billion.
Last week, a joint investigation by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was published based on invoices of hundreds of Deliveroo riders. It found that a third of the riders made less than £8.72 an hour, the national minimum wage for people over 25.
Deliveroo dismissed the report, calling the union a “fringe organization” that didn’t represent a significant number of Deliveroo riders. The company said that riders were paid for each delivery and earn “£13 per hour on average at our busiest times.”
On Monday, shares traded hands in a period called conditional dealing open to investors allocated shares in the initial offering. The stock is expected to be fully listed on the London Stock Exchange next Wednesday and can be traded without restrictions from then.
The Chinese tech behemoth Huawei reported sharply slower growth in sales last year, which the company blamed on American sanctions that have both hobbled its ability to produce smartphones and left those handsets unable to run popular Google apps and services, limiting their appeal to many buyers.
Huawei said on Wednesday that global revenue was around $137 billion in 2020, 3.8 percent higher than the year before. The company’s sales growth in 2019 was 19.1 percent.
Over the past two years, Washington has placed strict controls on Huawei’s ability to buy and make computer chips and other essential components. United States officials have expressed concern that the Chinese government could use Huawei or its products for espionage and sabotage. The company has denied that it is a security threat.
In recent months, Huawei has continued to release new handset models. But sales have suffered, including in its home market. Worldwide, shipments of Huawei phones fell by 22 percent between 2019 and 2020, according to the research firm Canalys, making the company the world’s third largest smartphone vendor last year. In 2019, it was No. 2, behind Samsung.
Huawei remained top dog last year in telecom network equipment, according to the consultancy Dell’Oro Group, even as Britain and other governments blocked Huawei from building their nations’ 5G infrastructure.
Announcing the company’s financial results on Wednesday, Ken Hu, one of its deputy chairmen, said that despite the challenges, Huawei was not changing the broad direction of its business. Another Huawei executive recently revealed on social media that the company was offering an artificial intelligence product for pig farms, which some people took as a sign that Huawei was diversifying to survive.
Mr. Hu took note of the news reports about Huawei’s pig-farming product but said it was “not true” that the company was making any major shifts. “Huawei’s business direction is still focused on technology infrastructure,” he said.
More than a week after the Swedish retailer H&M came under fire in China for a months-old statement expressing concern over reports of Uyghur forced labor in the region of Xinjiang, a major source of cotton, the company published a statement saying it hoped to regain the trust of customers in China.
In recent days, H&M and other Western clothing brands including Nike and Burberry that expressed concerns over reports coming out of Xinjiang have faced an outcry on Chinese social media, including calls for a boycott endorsed by President Xi Jinping’s government. The brands’ local celebrity partners have terminated their contracts, Chinese landlords have shuttered stores and their products have been removed from major e-commerce platforms.
Caught between calls for patriotism among Chinese consumers and campaigns for conscientious sourcing of cotton in the West, some other companies, including Inditex, the owner of the fast-fashion giant Zara, quietly removed statements on forced labor from their websites.
On Wednesday, H&M, the world’s second-largest fashion retailer by sales after Inditex, published a response to the controversy as part of its first quarter 2021 earnings report.
Not that it said much. There were no explicit references to cotton, Xinjiang or forced labor. However, the statement said that H&M wanted to be “a responsible buyer, in China and elsewhere” and was “actively working on next steps with regards to material sourcing.”
“We are dedicated to regaining the trust and confidence of our customers, colleagues, and business partners in China,” it said.
During the earnings conference call, the chief executive, Helena Helmersson, noted the company’s “long-term commitment to the country” and how Chinese suppliers, which were “at the forefront of innovation and technology,” would continue to “play an important role in further developing the entire industry.”
“We are working together with our colleagues in China to do everything we can to manage the current challenges and find a way forward,” she said.
Executives on the call did not comment on the impact of the controversy on sales, except to state that around 20 stores in China were currently closed.
H&M’s earnings report, which covered a period before the recent outcry in China, reflected diminished profit for a retailer still dealing with pandemic lockdowns. Net sales in the three months through February fell 21 percent compared with the same quarter a year ago, with more than 1,800 stores temporarily closed.
By: Ella Koeze·Data delayed at least 15 minutes·Source: FactSet
Stocks on Wall Street rose on Wednesday but fell short of a record, as investors waited for President Biden to lay out plans for a $2 trillion package of infrastructure spending.
The S&P 500 rose about 0.4 percent, while the Nasdaq composite climbed by 1.5 percent. Shares of big technology companies including Apple, Amazon, Alphabet and Microsoft were all higher.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes was 1.73 percent, a day after having jumped as high as 1.77 percent.
Prospects of a strong economic recovery in the United States, supported by large amounts of fiscal spending and the vaccine rollout, have pushed bond yields higher. Economic growth and higher inflation have made bonds less appealing as investors adjust their expectations for how much longer the Federal Reserve will need to keep its easy-money policies.
Elsewhere in markets
European stock indexes were mostly lower. The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 0.2 percent, while the FTSE 100 index in Britain dropped 0.9 percent.
H&M shares fell 3.3 percent in Stockholm after the clothing retailer reported a drop in sales in its quarterly earnings and said it was “dedicated to regaining the trust and confidence” of its Chinese customers and partners. Recently, H&M and other brands have been caught up in calls for a boycott in China after they expressed concerns about forced labor in the region of Xinjiang, a major source of cotton. H&M’s shares have dropped 10 percent in the past two weeks.
Deliveroo shares dropped 26 percent below their I.P.O. price on their first day of trading in London. The food delivery company’s public debut has been marred by concerns about low pay for its riders and lack of profits, and major investors sat out the offering.
In today’s On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide talks to New York Times reporter Karen Weise about the vote on whether to form a union at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., and how the outcome may reverberate beyond this one workplace.