Oil prices near a three-year high as an energy crunch looms.

Analysts say soaring natural gas prices are helping push oil futures higher, as Brent crude topped $80 a barrel.,

Daily Business Briefing

Sept. 28, 2021Updated Sept. 28, 2021, 7:28 a.m. ETSept. 28, 2021, 7:28 a.m. ET

Analysts say soaring natural gas prices are helping push oil futures higher, as Brent crude topped $80 a barrel.

Janet Yellen and Jerome Powell warn that the Delta variant is slowing the recovery.Pushed by rising housing costs, Berliners vote to seize big landlords’ property.SoCal Gas will pay up to $1.8 billion to settle claims from the nation’s biggest gas leak.Follow the Elizabeth Holmes trial with our reporters in the courtroom.Catch up: Two Fed presidents under fire for trades will step down.

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A tanker in Singapore carrying liquified natural gas. One cause of the recent jump in oil prices is the surging price of natural gas, analysts said.Credit…Reuters

Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, topped $80 a barrel on Tuesday for the first time in nearly three years amid growing signs of an energy crunch.

Oil prices have leapt by about a quarter over the last month as fears of a looming tight market have overcome concerns about the Delta variant slowing the global economic recovery. Soaring prices for natural gas are also influencing the oil market, analysts say, as some industrial users of gas switch to oil and other fuels.

This may be the first time that “gas impacts oil and not the other way around,” said Carlos Torres Diaz, head of gas and power at Rystad Energy, a consulting firm.

Brent crude rose as high as $80.70 a barrel on Tuesday. West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, was also approaching a three-year high, reaching $76.64 a barrel.

Analysts say that outages caused by Hurricane Ida, which damaged oil platforms and infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico in late August, have outweighed the modest increases in output agreed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in July.

OPEC and its allies including Russia are likely to come under pressure to speed up their plans for supply increases when the group meets by teleconference on Oct. 4. The group has already been criticized by the Biden administration for not doing enough to cushion price increases.

The long lines at gas stations in Britain, while caused by shortages of fuel truck drivers rather than oil, may also be adding upward pressure to prices.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs recently forecast that Brent would hit a peak of $90 a barrel in December, noting that global inventories are being burned off at what they described as a record rate.

“The current global oil supply-demand deficit is larger than we expected,” they wrote.

At the same time, the analysts said that successful coronavirus vaccine programs were “leading more countries to reopen, including to international travel.”

Aviation fuel has been the key laggard in the global recovery of oil demand, and so a pickup in air travel would be an important factor in bolstering the market.

Jerome Powell, left, the chair of the Federal Reserve, and Janet Yellen, a former Fed chair and now the Treasury secretary, with Ben Bernanke, a former Fed chair, in 2019.Credit…Christopher Aluka Berry/Reuters

America’s two top economic policymakers will warn lawmakers on Tuesday that the Delta variant of the coronavirus has slowed the economic recovery but will convey optimism about the economy’s overall trajectory, according to prepared remarks.

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, will testify before the Senate Banking Committee as the U.S. economy is at a crossroads, with businesses facing labor shortages and consumers coping with rising prices amid a resurgent pandemic. Congress is also grappling with a thicket of legislative challenges in the coming days, all of which could have an impact on the economy. They include extending federal funding to avoid a U.S. government shutdown, raising the debt limit to prevent defaulting on the nation’s financial obligations and passing President Biden’s infrastructure and social safety net packages.

“While our economy continues to expand and recapture a substantial share of the jobs lost during 2020, significant challenges from the Delta variant continue to suppress the speed of the recovery and present substantial barriers to a vibrant economy,” Ms. Yellen will say, according to her prepared remarks. “Still, I remain optimistic about the medium-term trajectory of our economy, and I expect we will return to full employment next year.”

The testimony will offer Ms. Yellen and Mr. Powell a chance to publicly press lawmakers to take action to raise or suspend the nation’s borrowing cap and to warn of the calamitous consequences if the United States defaulted on its obligations. Ms. Yellen has cautioned that debt-limit brinkmanship is eroding confidence in the United States and that a default, which could happen as soon as mid-October, would do irreparable harm to the economy.

For weeks, Ms. Yellen has been quietly pressing lawmakers to put politics aside and ensure that the United States can continue to meet its fiscal obligations. She has been in touch with Wall Street chief executives and former Treasury secretaries as she looks to keep markets calm and find allies who can help her make the case to recalcitrant Republicans, who believe Democrats must deal with the debt limit on their own.

“It is imperative that Congress swiftly addresses the debt limit,” Ms. Yellen will say. “The full faith and credit of the United States would be impaired, and our country would likely face a financial crisis and economic recession.”

Mr. Powell is slated to tell senators that the Fed will continue to support the economy with its monetary policies, which influence how expensive it is to borrow and spend. But he will also make it clear that Fed officials will act if a recent jump higher in prices persists.

“Inflation is elevated and will likely remain so in coming months before moderating,” Mr. Powell is prepared to say, based on remarks released Monday afternoon.

He will cite the lingering coronavirus pandemic as a risk to the economic outlook, according to his prepared statement.

Mr. Powell has also fretted about the debt limit in recent weeks, saying during a news conference last week that default is “just not something that we should contemplate,” and that “no one should assume that the Fed or anyone else can protect the markets or the economy in the event of a failure, fully protect in the event of a failure to make sure that we do pay those debts when they’re due.”

Ms. Yellen and Mr. Powell will testify again on Thursday before the House Financial Services Committee.

Protesters carrying a banner reading “Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co.” at a demonstration this month in Berlin against rising rents.Credit…Christian Mang/Reuters

Communist rule ended more than three decades ago in eastern Germany, but in Berlin, fury over soaring housing costs has at least one socialist idea making a comeback.

In a referendum, Berliners voted on Sunday in favor of appropriating the property of large real estate companies. The initiative, “Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co.,” named after one of the city’s biggest landlords, calls for seizing the property of any company with more than 3,000 apartments.

The measure, passed with 56 percent of the votes cast, or more than 1 million people, is not binding on Berlin’s Senate, which would have to pass a law putting it into force. Real estate companies are certain to oppose the measure as unconstitutional.

But the vote reflects the deep frustration among Berliners at the rise in rents and property prices, which have made the city increasingly unaffordable for middle- and low-income residents.

Organizers of the initiative argue that the expropriation would be legal, citing an article of the Constitution that allows the government to seize land, natural resources or means of production for the common good. (The provision does not mention buildings.)

Activists said they would put pressure on political leaders to implement the people’s will. “Disregarding the referendum would be a political scandal,” said Kalle Kunkel, a spokesman for the initiative, in a statement. “We will not give up until the socialization of housing corporations is a reality.”

Deutsche Wohnen owns more than 100,000 units in Berlin, according to the company’s website. Many were purchased from the government in the 1990s during a privatization drive.

The company said in a statement Monday that it respected the vote and would work with the city to increase the supply of affordable housing, and to avoid sharp rent increases or evictions. Expropriation “would be neither constitutional, nor financially feasible for Berlin,” Deutsche Wohnen said.

The Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon storage facility in Los Angeles. A 2015 blowout took months to contain.Credit…Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Southern California Gas and its parent company, Sempra Energy, have agreed to pay up to $1.8 billion as part of a settlement agreement announced on Monday related to the nation’s biggest natural gas leak.

The settlement would resolve nearly all of the 35,000 claims filed by individuals and businesses after SoCal Gas’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility blew out in 2015. The leak at the facility, in the Santa Susana Mountains northeast of Los Angeles, forced thousands of people from their homes in and around the Porter Ranch community, sickening many from the stench of chemicals wafting through the air near the plant.

From October 2015 to February 2016, the gas company worked to contain the leak, which released nearly 100,000 tons of methane and other substances into the air. Sempra had to temporarily close the facility, at one of the largest natural gas fields in the country. At the time, the leak raised concern among regulators about gas shortages that ultimately never happened.

“Our goal has always been obtaining justice for the men, women and children who were failed by SoCal Gas throughout every turn of this catastrophe,” said Brian Panish, the lead trial lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Scott Drury, the chief executive of SoCal Gas, said in a statement announcing the settlement that the company had worked to improve its operations as a result of the leak and had aimed to maintain new standards to ensure residents’ safety.

“These agreements are an important milestone that will help the community and our company work toward putting this difficult chapter behind us,” Mr. Drury said. “In the years since the leak, SoCal Gas has worked alongside regulators, technical experts and our neighbors to enhance safety at all our underground storage facilities and our engagement with the community.”

Plaintiffs can agree to accept the settlement until June 1, 2022.

Erin Griffith (@eringriffith) and Erin Woo (@erinkwoo), two of our tech reporters, are covering the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, who dropped out of Stanford University to create the blood testing start-up Theranos at age 19 and built it to a $9 billion valuation and herself into the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire — only to flame out in disgrace after Theranos’s technology was revealed to have problems.

Follow along here or on Twitter as she is tried on 12 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The trial is generally held Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Erin Woo

With that, we’re going to break for the weekend. I’ll be in the courthouse Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday next week — see you on Tuesday!

Erin Woo

For the past hour, Rosendorff has testified about problems w various tests, incl. the potassium, chloride and sodium tests. In a 10/27/14 email, he wrote: “I am not sure of the clinical value of a sodium assay, in which the only time we can report it is when it is not critical”

Erin Woo

We’re now getting into Rosendorff’s decision to leave. He forwarded work emails with issues of concern to his Gmail account in 2014, testifying that “I wanted to protect myself.” He also says he started looking for another job in mid-2013, shortly after joining Theranos.

Erin Woo

Today’s theme seems to be a) Rosendorff was concerned about faulty tests, b) Rosendorff recommended the company stop using those tests and c) Holmes/Balwani were aware but declined to change course.

Erin Woo

We’re now on issues with Theranos’s HDL (cholesterol) tests. Rosendorff says he “suspected” Theranos’ HDL was no longer working as of Feb. 2014 and suggested reverting to FDA-approved devices, but received pushback from Balwani, Holmes and Theranos VP Daniel Young.

Two Federal Reserve officials embroiled in controversy for trading securities that could have benefited from the central bank’s 2020 intervention in financial markets announced on Monday that they would leave their positions.

Robert S. Kaplan, who heads the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, will retire on Oct. 8, according to a statement released Monday afternoon. Eric S. Rosengren, the president of the Boston Fed, will retire this Thursday, accelerating his planned retirement by nine months.

The resignations followed the Fed’s announcement earlier this month that the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, had ordered a review of the central bank’s ethics rules in light of the controversy surrounding the trades.

Creative Artists Agency announced Monday that it was buying its smaller rival ICM Partners for an undisclosed amount, the largest industry consolidation in more than a decade and one that could have significant ripple effects in the entertainment and sports worlds.

The agencies’ top executives — Bryan Lourd at CAA and Chris Silbermann at ICM — positioned the deal as a supercharging of the representation business and an opportunity for CAA to expand in both publishing and sports. ICM has a substantial books division and sports assets that include the recently acquired N.F.L. agency Select Sports Group and the London-based soccer agency Stellar Group.

The video game publisher Activision Blizzard said Monday that it would pay $18 million in a settlement with a federal employment agency that filed a civil-rights complaint against the company earlier in the day, accusing it of sexual harassment and discrimination against female employees.

In a news release, Activision said the money would “compensate and make amends to eligible claimants,” with remaining funds going to charities that “advance women in the video game industry or promote awareness around harassment and gender equality issues,” as well as to company diversity and inclusion efforts.

In a seven-page document filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accused Activision of discriminating against pregnant employees, paying female employees less than their male counterparts because of their gender and retaliating against employees who complained about unfair treatment.

Employees were subjected to “sexual harassment that was severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of employment,” said the complaint, which sought a jury trial. “The conduct was unwelcome and adversely affected the employees.” The complaint said “extensive” discussions with Activision to address the agency’s findings and come to an agreement had been unsuccessful.

The federal agency said the complaint had followed a nearly three-year investigation, which occurred while a California employment agency was also investigating Activision. The state inquiry culminated in a July lawsuit that sparked upheaval at the game publisher.

Monday’s settlement does not affect the California agency’s lawsuit, the company said.

Since July, other groups have weighed in. The Communications Workers of America, a labor union, filed a complaint this month with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Activision of violating federal labor law, and Activision said last week that the Securities and Exchange Commission was also investigating the company.

The company said Monday that as part of the settlement, it would also improve its policies to prevent harassment and discrimination and appoint an external consultant to review Activision’s reporting and investigative procedures.

“There is no place anywhere at our company for discrimination, harassment or unequal treatment of any kind, and I am grateful to the employees who bravely shared their experiences,” Activision’s chief executive, Bobby Kotick, said in the news release. “I am sorry that anyone had to experience inappropriate conduct.”

In a separate legal filing, Activision denied “all allegations of wrongdoing,” and said it had agreed to the settlement to avoid “the expense, distraction and possible litigation associated with such a dispute.”

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