Simple Chart Shows How Much Small Business Continues To Struggle

The election results may appear to be good for markets, but coronavirus cases have crossed the 100,000-cases-per-day mark and are taking a major toll on small businesses.In a note from Torsten Sløk of Apollo Global Management, Sløk pointed out that the virus is preventing key behavior that benefits small business — especially people going to restaurants, bars, cafés and more.

“This continues to weigh on employment numbers for small businesses,” he wrote.The small business index plummeted in March, but it has continued a downward trajectory since recovering slightly in the summer as the virus ebbed somewhat and outdoor infrastructure was established in the warmer months.

“Given half of U.S. employment is in businesses with less than 500 workers and given the lower likelihood of additional fiscal support, this is a downside risk to nonfarm payrolls over the coming months, including tomorrow,” Sløk wrote. The Bureau of Labor Statistics will release the October employment report on Friday, Nov. 6.

This matched trends in ADP data that showed continued struggles for small businesses, which here are qualified as those with fewer than 500 workers.Sløk writes that the crisis for these businesses will not be over until the coronavirus crisis is likewise over, and the earliest would be mid-2021.

The reason why this affects small businesses more than large ones, Sløk told Yahoo Finance, is because small businesses don’t really get much financing in corporate bond markets. Large businesses can do so, and the Fed’s activity has supported these markets considerably. Small businesses, on the other hand, mainly get financing from banks — and banks have tightened their credit conditions, making it harder to get loans.

The corporate bond markets are much easier to tap than bank lending. (Apollo)

This has created a major divergence between small businesses and their larger counterparts. On the one hand, the corporate bond markets are strong. On the other, lending standards for banks are tight.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s small business index has bounced back from a dismal Q2, it’s still behind confidence levels it had before the pandemic. The Chamber noted that small businesses saw the economy as their top voting issue in the recent election — consistent with many exit polls that said the economy was a greater issue than the coronavirus, even though Sløk and other economists see the two as one in the same. To wit, due to lowered economic and consumer activity due to coronavirus, which has cost over 234,000 lives, 60% of shuttered businesses will never reopen, according to Yelp.

At the same time, the National Federation of Independent Business announced this week that many small businesses were looking to hire but were having trouble finding qualified labor.

This is yet another instance of a so-called K-shaped recovery, where one group recovers much faster than the other. Just this week, Jefferies unveiled a new S&P 500 price target of 3,750 for 2021, showing a fairly bullish outlook for these 500 large American companies — especially given the likely election outcome.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.


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By: Ethan Wolff-Mann



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Neil Bradley of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce discusses concern about social unrest after the election, small businesses supporting an economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, and why the US Chamber of Commerce doesn’t support presidential candidates. #2020election#coronavirus#ChamberofCommerce Subscribe to Yahoo Finance: About Yahoo Finance: At Yahoo Finance, you get free stock quotes, up-to-date news, portfolio management resources, international market data, social interaction and mortgage rates that help you manage your financial life. About Yahoo Finance Premium: With a subscription to Yahoo Finance Premium, get the tools you need to invest with confidence. Discover new opportunities with expert research and investment ideas backed by technical and fundamental analysis. Optimize your trades with advanced portfolio insights, fundamental analysis, enhanced charting, and more. To learn more about Yahoo Finance Premium please visit: Connect with Yahoo Finance: Get the latest news: Find Yahoo Finance on Facebook: Follow Yahoo Finance on Twitter: Follow Yahoo Finance on Instagram: Follow Follow Yahoo Finance Premium on Twitter:

Stocks Take a Breather Amid Election Drama

Stocks were flat Friday as investors took a pause after a four-day rally and continued to await election results from key states. However, the three major indices posted strong weekly gains.

The S&P 500 closed out the week higher by more than 7%, as tech stocks and health-care shares advanced strongly. The advance marked the index’s best since mid-April. The Nasdaq outperformed with a weekly gain of about 9%, and the Dow increased by 6.9%.

Better-than-expected jobs data helped to curb Friday’s losses. The Labor Department reported that the economy created 638,000 jobs last month, more than the 580,000 expected, while upwardly revising September’s data to 672,000. Friday’s jobs report also saw upward revisions to the last couple months’ worth of payrolls — a sign that soaring new COVID-19 infections aren’t yet preventing new jobs from being created.

Meanwhile, shares of Square (SQ) surged to a record high on Friday after more than doubling its quarterly sales amid strong demand for its digital financial service transactions during the pandemic, and posting its first quarter in which Bitcoin revenue topped $1 billion. Shares of Uber (UBER) pared losses from the overnight session to close higher after the company reported that gross bookings for its unprofitable food delivery business outpaced those of its core ride-hailing unit for a second straight quarter And shares of Peloton (PTON) ticked down after the company warned of rising supply chain costs and extended delivery delays, offsetting strong third-quarter sales and guidance for the current quarter.

The election remained the key focal point for Wall Street. As of Friday morning and three days after Election Day, several key states including Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia and North Carolina had yet to be called in favor of either candidate. Both candidates still have at least one path to victory depending on the outcome of the states still outstanding.

Vice President Joe Biden had 264 electoral votes and President Donald Trump had 214, according to the Associated Press’s tally as of Friday afternoon. Candidates require 270 electoral votes to be named the winner of the election.

  • States called for Trump: Ky., W. Va., S.C., Ala., Miss., Tenn., Okla., Ark., Ind., N.D., S.D., Wyo., La., Neb. (4 of 5 electoral votes), Kan., Mo., Idaho, Utah, Ohio, Iowa, Mont., Fla., Texas
  • States called for Biden: Vt., Va., Conn., Del., Ill., Md., Mass., N.J., R.I., N.Y., N.M., D.C., Colo., N.H., Calif., Ore., Wash., Hawaii, Minn., Ariz., Maine (3 of 4 electoral votes), Wis., Mich.

A win for Biden has been viewed as increasingly likely, given the candidate would need to capture just one more of the outstanding battleground states to take the White House. He said in a press conference Thursday afternoon that he had “no doubt” that when the counting is completed, he and Senator Kamala Harris “will be declared the winners.”

Trump, however, doubled down on his calls to “stop the count,” after his campaign sued in several states to challenge the ballot counting process. A judge in Michigan denied Trump’s effort to suspend the voting tabulation process in that state on Thursday.

Despite some of the uncertainty still surrounding the election, stocks rallied strongly again in the immediate aftermath of Election Day. According to a number of analysts, traders ascribed more importance to the fact that a divided government was set to be the most likely outcome of the elections, in which no single party would control each of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives. Under that scenario, major policy changes would be unlikely to get advanced.

“This machine that is the market seems to have reacted fairly well to the situation that we’re currently in, and that seems to be this perception that we’ll have a divided Washington, which will mean probably no to low regulatory issues for the Big Tech firms, [and] the corporate tax issue will perhaps fall to the wayside,” Sylvia Jablonski, Direxion Managing Director, told Yahoo Finance.

“And perhaps there’s fiscal stimulus that comes in. Whether it’s a smaller number than we hoped for, it’ll probably still come,” she added.

4:03 p.m. ET: S&P 500 posts best week since April as post-election rally powers tech, health-care stocks higher

Here’s where the markets settled at the end of regular trading on Friday.

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): -0.98 points (-0.03%) to 3,509.47
  • Dow (^DJI): -66.78 points (-0.24%) to 28,323.40
  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): +4.3 points (+0.4%) to 11,895.23

12:58 p.m. ET: Stocks hold lower as session rolls on; election outcome hangs in balance as Biden pulls ahead in key states

The three major indices held lower Friday afternoon, pausing their rally from the past four days.

The health-care and information technology sectors outperformed in the S&P 500, while energy and financials lagged. A more than 2% jump in shares of Dow component Johnson & Johnson was offset by declines across most of the other components, as shares of American Express and UnitedHealth Group led the drop.

Here were the main moves in markets, as of 12:58 p.m. ET:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): -2.4 points (-0.07%) to 3,508.05
  • Dow (^DJI): -66.86 points (-0.24%) to 28,323.32
  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): -13.36 points (-0.11%) to 11,877.87
  • Crude (CL=F): -$1.55 (-4.00%) to $37.24 a barrel
  • Gold (GC=F): +$5.80 (+0.3%) to $1,952.60 per ounce
  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): +4.4 bps to yield 0.822%


10:20 a.m. ET: Here’s what economists are saying about the October jobs report

Many economists underscored the unexpected strength of the October jobs report, with private payroll growth actually accelerating from September. A drop in government employment, largely due to a drop in temporary 2020 Census worker positions, weighed on the headline increase in non-farm payrolls. Still, increasing new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. present a potential downside risk to the labor market heading into the winter months.

Here’s what some economists had to say about the October payrolls report, based on notes and emails sent to Yahoo Finance.

  • “Overall it is a good outcome reaffirming the economy’s strong momentum heading into 4Q. However, we have to remember that there are still 10.1mn fewer people in work than February. Moreover, with daily COVID cases rising above 100k yesterday there is a real threat that what is happening in Europe right now soon heads this side of the Atlantic … Should bars and restaurants be forced to close again those improvements seen in leisure/hospitality employment will swiftly reverse.” – James Knightley, chief international economist for ING
  • “Much of the strength in recent months has likely been due to CARES Act spending, which is now fading. The ongoing surge in COVID cases also cautions against extrapolating from the strength.” – Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. macro strategist for TD Securities
  • “We expect the labor market recovery to continue over the remainder of this year, but the decline in unemployment will be very gradual. The lagged effects of fiscal support provided through the CARES act are fading at a time when COVID cases are surging. Without additional support, the resurgence of the pandemic will deal yet another blow to businesses in high-touch service sectors, which are already struggling to recover from the first shock. Some of these firms may never recover, leaving a large number of people out of a job for an extended period.” – Robard Williams, Moody’s Investor Services senior vice president
  • “We expect the goods sector and retailing to continue strengthening, but the outlook for leisure and hospitality is now deteriorating rapidly as COVID infections and hospitalizations soar … If recent trends in the Homebase numbers continue, it would be reasonable to expect November payrolls to fall outright.” – Ian Shepherdson, chief economist for Pantheon Macroeconomics

9:37 a.m. ET: Stocks fall after four-day rally; Election results in focus

Here were the main moves in markets, as of 9:37 a.m. ET:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): -15.25 points (0.43%) to 3,495.20
  • Dow (^DJI): -114.89 points (-0.4%) to 28,275.29
  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): -89.02 points (-0.75%) to 11,803.67
  • Crude (CL=F): -$0.76 (-1.96%) to $38.03 a barrel
  • Gold (GC=F): +$7.60 (+0.39%) to $1,954.40 per ounce
  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): +4.9 bps to yield 0.827%

9:25 a.m. ET: Biden overtakes Trump in Georgia, Pennsylvania with vote counting still under way: AP

Biden has overtaken Trump in the battleground states of Georgia and Pennsylvania based on tabulations so far in these states, according to the Associated Press. Biden would capture enough electoral votes to win the presidency if he were to be declared the winner of either of these states.

Both races, however, are still too early to call given that votes are still being counted. And Biden’s edge remains razor thin in both states: Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania is by just under 6,000 votes, and by just over 1,000 votes in Georgia.

Trump won both Georgia and Pennsylvania during the 2016 presidential election, and he prematurely and falsely declared victory in the latter earlier this week.

8:30 a.m. ET: Jobs data beat expectations; unemployment tumbles

The U.S. labor market continues to show resilience, as October nonfarm payrolls rise by a better-than-expected 638,000 during the month. Even more importantly, the unemployment rate tumbled to 6.9%, an encouraging sign that the economy continues to recover even as new COVID-19 infections soar to new heights.

Futures are pointing to a softer open after a breathtaking rally this week, but the downside is likely to be contained by the stronger jobs data.

7:20 a.m. ET Friday: Stocks point to a lower open after four straight days of gains

Here were the main moves in markets, as of 7:20 a.m. ET Friday:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): 3,484.5, down 20.25 points or 0.58%
  • Dow futures (YM=F): 28,179.00, down 118 points or 0.42%
  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): 11,983.00, down 93.5 points or 0.77%
  • Crude (CL=F): -$1.18 (-3.04%) to $37.61 a barrel
  • Gold (GC=F): +$9.40 (+0.48%) to $1,956.20 per ounce
  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): -0.3 bps to yield 0.775%

6:19 p.m. ET Thursday: Stock futures flat after rally

Here were the main moves in markets, as of 6:19 p.m. ET Wednesday

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): 3,506.00, up 1.25 points or 0.04%
  • Dow futures (YM=F): 28,308.00, up 11 points or 0.04%
  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): 12,071.5, down 5 points or 0.04%

By: Emily McCormick


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The outcome of the 2020 election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump will likely have a major impact on the equity market. Although the economy has historically performed better under a Democratic president, that doesn’t always necessarily reflect on market performance. However, which party controls the White House can still be an important element for those looking to earn big in the market.

So how does the U.S. election impact the stock market and how should investors prepare? » Subscribe to CNBC: » Subscribe to CNBC TV: » Subscribe to CNBC Classic: About CNBC: From ‘Wall Street’ to ‘Main Street’ to award winning original documentaries and Reality TV series, CNBC has you covered. Experience special sneak peeks of your favorite shows, exclusive video and more. Connect with CNBC News Online Get the latest news: Follow CNBC on LinkedIn: Follow CNBC News on Facebook: Follow CNBC News on Twitter: Follow CNBC News on Instagram:

When It Comes To Markets, Nobody Knows What Is Happening

Market analysts regularly send commentary to journalists who regularly write about finance and economics. And while there is some divergence of opining, frequently you can find common patterns in many of the emails.

Recently, there has been a deluge of analyst comments bouncing off the walls of the email inbox. Many were saying on Wednesday morning that markets were souring because the election was up in the air. Except that wasn’t the case. Major indexes went up.

As I said, it’s about the election, but it really isn’t. This could have been anything. A tremor in trade relations between two major world powers. Unexpected drops in crude oil pricing. The election is nothing more in this case than an object lesson in the limitations of what the market experts can tell you. Recommended For You

To markets, perceived or even potential uncertainty is unsatisfactory. Those placing investment bets want as much information about the chance of success or failure as possible. As equities are focused on future results, the calculus becomes more complicated than that facing a first-year university engineering student trying to determine the volume of a doughnut.

But the delayed nature of this election is nothing historically, when you consider the 1876 contest that stretched into the Compromise of 1877, otherwise known as the Great Betrayal by millions of Blacks in the South. Or every single election, as the Electoral College members meet in mid-December to cast the actual ballots and even those are subject to count and possible challenge by Congress early in January.

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Despite all the political and financial media, pundit, and expert nail biting, markets have been quite happy over the last few days. According to data from S&P Capital IQ, the S&P 500 index was up 1.8% between Monday and Tuesday and then 2.2% from Tuesday to Wednesday. For the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the changes were 2.1% and 1.3%. Nasdaq NDAQ +3% saw 1.9% and 3.9%. The Russell 2000 small cap index jumped 2.9% by Tuesday and was flat on Wednesday.

This looks like a positive reaction. It shows nothing suggesting that markets are worried. Maybe the analysts saw early suggestions in index futures, which were fluctuating.  Who knows, they might have written their commentary the previous night.

Then there were the explanations of what’s been happening since it became obvious that markets were comfortable. Tech stocks were doing well because a divided Congress would make it unlikely that they’d face a breakup or interference, although that isn’t clear. Republican and Democratic elected officials have made their anger at the major tech platform companies clear and have moved back and forth over issues of privacy and censorship. To assume that a Google GOOG +0.8% or Facebook would be safe from any action (which could be newly undertaken or continued by a Department of Justice lawsuit) is unrealistic.

Next came assumptions that the response was all about pandemic stimulus, which at least had some basis in fact. Loose monetary practice and fiscal stimulus have skyrocketed during the pandemic. Mountains of money entered the economy and, with interest rates ensuring low yields on bonds, investors want a return, which has meant stocks. But no one has a clue as to when a stimulus might happen or its size.

Analysts know all this variability, but they can’t account for it on a minute-to-minute basis. There are debates among academics and experts over whether the stock market acts like a random walk—a series of coin flips. Some say that over the long run, there are patterns and the market can be predictable to a degree. Others disagree.

In either case—pure random movement with overall economic forces pushing prices up over time or something with patterns—stocks go somewhere over the long haul. They also do on the short haul although, collectively, with far less precision. Indexes go up and down and large percentages of the stocks represented in them do the opposite.

This is why it’s so hard to beat the markets. You’ll likely never know which ones in particular might do well over a given time frame, and you can’t necessarily predict the macroeconomic forces that will shape the track down which they all race.

But the experts and pundits and reporters and politicians all feel the pressure to explain every bump in that road. Human beings have a natural tendency to look for narratives that offer, in retrospect, the story of why things happened. The expected understanding of all things investing, whether realistic or not, is why they’re paid.

Call a broker and ask what happened today, and that person needs to sound informed. The market reporter speaking with a television anchor wants to sound knowledgeable. The pundit is expected to point a finger in the right direction. But so much of what happens is mass psychology and beyond rational description.

Some people are truly canny and have a better sense of the flow. They still all get caught out often. When they do, there’s a scramble to find a solid ground. Chalk it up to human nature.

So, take all of what you hear with a grain of salt. There are no obvious answers, and the explanations might be right or wrong. Instead, focus on the longer run. That’s where the money’s to be made and the bumps and jags fade into a smoother pattern. Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website

Erik Sherman

Erik Sherman

I’m a freelance journalist and writer with credits in Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, NBC News, CBS Moneywatch, Technology Review, The Fiscal Times, Inc, and Vice. I also do ghost and corporate writing. You can see my portfolio at and find me on Twitter at @eriksherman.



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Yahoo Finance’s Brian Cheung looks at stock market performance after elections. #election#stockmarket#stocks Subscribe to Yahoo Finance: About Yahoo Finance: At Yahoo Finance, you get free stock quotes, up-to-date news, portfolio management resources, international market data, social interaction and mortgage rates that help you manage your financial life. About Yahoo Finance Premium: With a subscription to Yahoo Finance Premium, get the tools you need to invest with confidence. Discover new opportunities with expert research and investment ideas backed by technical and fundamental analysis. Optimize your trades with advanced portfolio insights, fundamental analysis, enhanced charting, and more. To learn more about Yahoo Finance Premium please visit: Connect with Yahoo Finance: Get the latest news: Find Yahoo Finance on Facebook: Follow Yahoo Finance on Twitter: Follow Yahoo Finance on Instagram: Follow Follow Yahoo Finance Premium on Twitter:

Inside Kanye West’s “Almost Daily” Chats With Jared Kushner And Whether The White House Exploits His Mental State


s Kanye West’s bizarre presidential campaign has moved from Twitter sideshow to potential spoiler—the billionaire rapper this week released a website and campaign platform as he moves to get on the ballot in pivotal states—those around him increasingly worry about his mental health issues. And specifically whether one consigliere is trying to exploit them. According to multiple sources, White House senior advisor Jared Kushner has been speaking with West regularly since his July 4 tweet declaring that he was running for president.

While Republican operatives rush to try get him on ballots across the country, the New York Times reported earlier today that Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, met with West last weekend in Telluride, Colorado. The connection goes much further. West has been telling associates that he and Kushner speak “almost daily.” Forbes spoke with four people who have direct access to either West or Kushner, including two with direct knowledge of their conversations.

One thing that particularly upsets those close to the Yeezy sneaker mogul, who is openly bipolar, is his apparent delusion about his chances of winning: When I pointed out to West last week during an interview that he won’t be on enough ballots to win, and thus seemed intent on running a spoiler campaign designed to hurt presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, he responded, “I’m not going to argue with you.” But a few hours after the story appeared, West responded with a change of heart: “THE GOAL IS TO WIN,” he blared in a tweet that was liked more than 260,000 times.

And that seems to be the message that Kushner has been feeding him: “Jared’s scared and doesn’t want me to run because he knows that I can win,” West has told numerous associates after his conversations with the president’s son-in-law, who also serves as de facto chief of Trump’s reelection campaign. That message, the sources close to West acknowledge, is the exact one that will embolden West to stay in the race. “If you know him for more than 20 minutes, you know that will work,” says one West confidant. Adds another: “He’s just like a kid. The more you tell him he can’t do a thing, the more he’ll do it. . . . he has a tremendous drive to prove people wrong.”

Kushner seems to have an outsize influence over West. Their relationship helped bring West and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, to the White House for an instantly famous Oval Office meeting, and they collaborated on ideas for sentencing reform.

He’s mentally ill. When you have people around him who see him as an opportunity, they create a very, very bad scenario.

When I interviewed West on July 7, three days after telling the world he was running, he spent the first hour musing about whether he would actually follow through. The first person he told me he would consult: Kushner. At that time, West also renounced his support for Trump. “I am taking the red hat off, with this interview.” However, he curiously held back on criticizing the president, past a dig about Trump hiding in the bunker during the Lafayette Park protests. “I was just talking to Jared,” he subsequently told me. “It makes it seem like I’m attacking them. Trump’s not attacking me, and I’m not attacking him, even in this. I think it’s really nice to have a civil [competition], where people’s friends go up and play ball, play basketball without someone going to the hospital afterwards, you know?” Biden apparently wasn’t invited to the game: West needed no prompting to go after the former vice president, whom he derided as “not special.”

During that interview, West relayed the details of a previous conversation that he’d had with Kushner. “One time I talked to Jared Kushner, who was saying, ‘We don’t have Black leaders—we just have hustlers.’ Why? Because they killed all the Black leaders.” When we reached out later that day, before publication, to fact-check the article, West petitioned, unsuccessfully, to have the anecdote removed. “I love Jared,” West said. “I was just . . . that’s my boy, you know? That’s really my boy. So I prefer to not drop his name.”

West did not respond today to messages asking for comment, nor did Kushner’s press team at the White House. “We have no knowledge of anything Kanye West is doing or who is doing it for him,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said early this month, a statement that’s clearly untrue. The president himself echoed that message to reporters at the White House: “I like Kanye very much,“ adding, “I have nothing to do with him being on the ballot. I’m not involved.”


The White House gambit, those close to him say, has accelerated West’s mental issues (unquestionably brilliant, he has previously told Forbes that he considers his bipolar condition a “superpower”). “He’s mentally ill,” says a West friend. “When you have people around him who have the best intentions and don’t need anything from him, you can steer him when he’s in that space into a positive place. When you have people around him who see him as an opportunity, they create a very, very bad scenario.”

Some close to West feel that Kushner now falls into that latter camp in ways that flirt with exploitation—concerning, after Kardashian West asked publicly for “compassion and empathy.” One described their understanding of Kushner’s conversations with West as “reverse psychology.” Others prescribe less malicious intent, though that narrative would require a level of naiveté that would rank up there with sitting in a meeting at Trump Tower with Russians who promise to have dirt on Hillary Clinton.

“Jared, why are you meeting with him?” asks one source. “Tell him, ‘Hey, man, I saw you’re running for president—let’s talk when the election’s over.’”

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I am the chief content officer of Forbes Media and editor of Forbes Magazine, and believe strongly that entrepreneurial capitalism and market-based thinking can solve the world’s problems. This is my second stint at Forbes — between 1991 and 1997, I was a reporter, a staff writer (five cover stories), associate editor and Washington bureau chief. In between, I caught the start-up bug: I co-founded P.O.V. Magazine (Adweek’s Startup of the Year), and then launched Doubledown Media (Trader Monthly, Dealmaker, Private Air, etc.). As a fattening hobby, I have reviewed restaurants for various magazines since college (and was a National Magazine Award finalist for my wine writing). I used to think chronicling the world’s greatest business minds made me a great entrepreneur, but I now realize my time as an entrepreneur made me an acute business journalist. For the full story, check out my book, just out in paperback, The Zeroes: My Misadventures In the Decade Wall Street Went Insane.


Mike Bloomberg Wants to Fix America. But Can He Fix the Democrats?

Memphis, Tennessee – February 28, 2020: Former New York City Mayor and 2020 presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg is seen walking with his staff after a political rally in Memphis, Tennessee ahead of Super Tuesday primary voting in key states around the country on February 28, 2020. Photo: Christopher Lee for TIME

Suppose, Mike Bloomberg is telling me, there’s been some sort of explosion. First of all, you want to be ready. “The first thing is preparation,” he says. “You don’t ever want to be in a situation where you have to develop the plan as you go along.”

The 78-year-old billionaire and former New York mayor is in Houston on Feb. 27, backstage from the campaign event where he’s just delivered his stump speech to a couple hundred locals. It’s not a bad crowd for a weekday morning, though the free food and T-shirts surely didn’t hurt. Bloomberg is perched on a small wooden chair; he has a slightly feline way of sitting—drawing inward, legs crossed and arms pulled close. Poised and self-contained, he’s the opposite of the dreaded “manspreader.”

Bloomberg speaks at a rally in Memphis on Feb. 28.

Bloomberg speaks at a rally in Memphis on Feb. 28.
Christopher Lee for TIME

We’re talking about one of his favorite topics: how to handle a crisis. It’s a subject that has become newly relevant lately with the worldwide explosion of coronavirus, which has killed at least 3,000 worldwide and is now spreading in the U.S. Bloomberg has deep experience responding to crises, from the Sept. 11 attacks, which took place during his first mayoral run, to Superstorm Sandy, which slammed New York near the end of his 12 years in office, flooding subway tunnels, cutting off power and causing dozens of deaths and billions in damage. Cool-headed and decisive, Bloomberg thrives in such urgent situations, allies say. In the words of his longtime partner Diana Taylor, “Michael is at his best when he is in the middle of a hurricane.”

Crisis management has become the cornerstone of his presidential pitch. It’s the topline of his stump speech and the subject of a three-minute commercial, styled like a presidential address, that his campaign aired on major networks on March 1, 48 hours before the Super Tuesday polls are set to close. Trump, Bloomberg argues, has utterly failed as a crisis manager, ignoring months of briefings on the coronavirus, failing to staff the White House team in charge of pandemic response and proposing cuts to the Centers for Disease Control. “The mayor, or in this case the president—you have to stand up and be the leader. There’s no argument about that. But you have to be knowledgeable,” Bloomberg tells me. “The mayor’s job was to provide people with the confidence that adults were in charge and that they would be informed. You don’t go out and get them to be overexcited, and you also don’t want them to be complacent. There’s a balance, and you get it by practicing. And that’s what we don’t have in the White House now.”

Bloomberg waits to speak at a rally in Memphis on Feb. 28.

Bloomberg waits to speak at a rally in Memphis on Feb. 28.
Christopher Lee for TIME

Nobody knows how serious the pandemic will be or whether the Administration will bungle it. Not everyone gave Bloomberg great marks for handling crises, either; his approval rating was middling when he left office in 2013. But more than any policy agenda or vision, the image of Bloomberg as world-class fixer is the selling point of his campaign. His speeches double as management seminars, delivered to eager audiences of educated, white-collar moderates. More than mere competence, he’s hawking an unflappable professionalism that contrasts starkly with Trump, renders moot his poor debate performances (he’s a doer, not a talker!), and offers an escape from his adopted party’s ideological battles. What if the next president just, you know, did a good job?

But it’s a very different kind of mess that Bloomberg is now trying to fix: the fractious Democratic presidential primary. In late November, with the field devolving into an acrimonious melee and Senator Bernie Sanders emerging as a front-runner for the nomination, Bloomberg, who’d long flirted with a presidential run, reversed his prior decision to stay out of the race. “I watched and I thought, ‘These people are all going to lose to Donald Trump. He’s much tougher,’” Bloomberg tells me.

Bloomberg greets supporters at the Memphis rally.

Bloomberg greets supporters at the Memphis rally.
Christopher Lee for TIME

He blazed into the race with his usual combination of relentless drive and bottomless pockets, spending more than half a billion dollars of his $60 billion fortune on a campaign as unprecedented as it is overwhelming. Other campaigns buzz about the Bloomberg team’s lavish accoutrements, from $6,000 per month for low-level organizers to free iPhones and furnished apartments in Manhattan for staff at New York HQ. His TV ad spending is quadruple that of his remaining rivals combined. The would-be Bloomberg juggernaut combines a supersized version of rivals’ campaign tactics—more than 200 field offices and 2,400 staff in 43 states and territories—with more unconventional plays: paying social-media influencers for jokey Instagram posts; paying “digital organizers” (that is, regular people) to text their friends.

On March 3, Bloomberg’s big bet will be called. His name will be on the primary ballot for the first time as 15 states and territories vote and about one-third of the total delegates are awarded. Sanders holds a delegate lead over a surging Joe Biden, and Bloomberg’s debate flops have some Democrats accusing him of being an obstacle rather than savior, contributing to the clog of moderate contenders that’s preventing Democrats from consolidating around a non-Sanders candidate. Unlike when he was mayor, Bloomberg can’t order those in the path of his blitz to evacuate—not that he hasn’t tried. In an act of breathtaking hubris, his aides urged candidates who’d been running for many months to get out of the race to make way for Bloomberg, who has yet to contest a single primary.

Bloomberg scoffs at the notion that he’s making the situation worse, contending that he can hardly be considered a spoiler when he hasn’t even been on the ballot in the contests that have produced the current muddle. “Today our internal polls show us at 18%. Now, is it at 24%, where our polls show Bernie? No, but we still have some time,” he tells me. “There’s plenty of other states and maybe nobody will get a majority. And if nobody has a majority, then you go to a convention and they have a democratic process and some rules of how you decide. And we’ll see what happens.”

Bloomberg speaks at a rally in Oklahoma City on Feb. 27.

Bloomberg speaks at a rally in Oklahoma City on Feb. 27.
Christopher Lee for TIME

From Houston, Bloomberg and his entourage fly to Oklahoma City, where a few hundred people are filtering into another impeccably staged event venue. Bloomberg reads the same speech from teleprompters at each stop, with a couple of canned lines about local traffic problems or college rivalries thrown in. He races through it in a singsong lilt, pausing for laughter that never comes at lines he thinks are funny. (Even his staff can’t understand why he’s so amused every time he says, “If you’re looking for a candidate that talks turkey—”, an idiom that’s not remotely a joke.) He does not, as Trump has charged, stand on a box, but he does use an identical lectern at every appearance, a two-toned wooden platform that conveniently hits the 5-foot-8 pol right at his waistline.

Some people take free “I Like Mike” T-shirts on the way in or stop at the catering tables. They’re stocked with red, white and blue donuts; “MB 2020” sugar cookies in both round and rectangular formats; fresh fruit; pretzel bites and cheesy dip; and water infused with your choice of orange or lemon-lime. The spread is unusual for campaigns, which typically hoard their resources to spend on things normal candidates have to worry about, like paying for ads. A younger Bloomberg once said of the lunches Bloomberg LP provides its employees: “If people believe it’s really free, you don’t understand the business model.”

Paul Garrett, a 61-year-old financial adviser and political independent, tells me he’s looking for a candidate who will be an effective president, and has narrowed his choices down to Bloomberg and Amy Klobuchar. (Klobuchar dropped out of the race on March 2, squeezed partly by Bloomberg’s spending.) He didn’t watch much of the “so-called debates,” which he mostly considered useless shoutfests, and is not put off by Bloomberg being a billionaire. “I do not have biases against successful people,” he says.

Cookies and doughnuts at the Oklahoma City rally.

Cookies and doughnuts at the Oklahoma City rally.
Christopher Lee for TIME
Bloomberg speaks during an interview with TIME in Houston on Feb. 27.

Bloomberg speaks during an interview with TIME in Houston on Feb. 27.
Christopher Lee for TIME

Like many successful people, Bloomberg, having made a fortune running his company that sold computer terminals to Wall Street, decided the next step was to run something even bigger. His political career was forged in crisis. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was a long-shot Republican candidate for mayor of overwhelmingly Democratic New York City. It was the day of the mayoral primary, and he had just cast his ballot for himself and returned to his campaign headquarters when the first plane hit, recalls Jarrod Bernstein, who worked for Bloomberg at the time and would go on to serve in his administration and the Obama White House.

A licensed pilot, Bloomberg immediately sensed that what was happening was not an accident. “He got very calm and focused,” Bernstein says. “I remember him saying, in the first two or three minutes: I need to know where my people are. He immediately wanted an accounting of the people he was responsible for.”

Taylor, Bloomberg’s girlfriend, remembers seeing the planes hit on the news and rushing down to the campaign office. “I’ll never forget, he was sitting at his desk,” she says. “Everyone was watching the TVs and what was happening downtown. He looked up at me and said, ‘I guess we’re not having a party tonight.’”

Bloomberg, president and founder of Bloomberg Financial Markets, poses for a portrait, circa 1995.

Bloomberg, president and founder of Bloomberg Financial Markets, poses for a portrait, circa 1995.
Erik Freeland—Getty Images

The primary was rescheduled. After he won it, Bloomberg pivoted off the tragedy in the general election, arguing that the city needed the kind of strong executive experience he could provide. Many observers credited 9/11 for his narrow victory. And while then-mayor Rudy Giuliani is most remembered for his leadership of the city during the attacks, it was Bloomberg who was responsible for dealing with much of the aftermath.

Bloomberg, then a New York City Republican mayoral candidate, speaks to the media in Brooklyn on Sept. 26, 2001, after winning the Republican primary.

Bloomberg, then a New York City Republican mayoral candidate, speaks to the media in Brooklyn on Sept. 26, 2001, after winning the Republican primary.
Mario Tama—Getty Images

The pile had barely stopped smoldering when he became mayor four months after the planes hit. Ground Zero presented a vast array of short- and long-term problems. He had to oversee the cleanup, provide aid and comfort to the victims’ families, restore the city’s morale, get business going again and participate in discussions about what to do with the site. Giuliani had been laser-focused on the rescue effort, but Bloomberg realized there were other issues too, says Madelyn Wils, who was chair of lower Manhattan’s community board at the time.

People in lower Manhattan had lost their homes and businesses, but until Bloomberg took office, the city ignored them, Wils says. “There was an enormous shift when Bloomberg came in,” she says. “Immediately, he started to meet with people in the community. He was very calm and productive and made sure that the community and businesses were being heard.” Bloomberg refereed contentious disputes over the future of the site, she says, expressing his view that Giuliani’s proposal for a 16-acre memorial would turn lower Manhattan into a “cemetery” and embracing plans for a smaller memorial. “He found a way to take care of everyone,” says Wils.

Bloomberg also fought to improve the city’s counterterrorism preparedness and lobbied Congress for funds to monitor and treat the health issues sustained by first responders. He oversaw a secret NYPD counterterrorism program that surveilled Muslims in the city, which he still defends against charges it was discriminatory.

Bloomberg, the New York City mayor, views a map with President Obama during an aerial tour to view damage there from Superstorm Sandy on Nov. 15, 2012.

Bloomberg, the New York City mayor, views a map with President Obama during an aerial tour to view damage there from Superstorm Sandy on Nov. 15, 2012.
Pete Souza—The White House/Getty Images

The 9/11 aftermath was only the first of a series of crises that studded Bloomberg’s tenure. There was a shooting in the city council chamber, an anthrax scare, a Staten Island ferry crash that killed 11. In 2003, a citywide blackout had residents temporarily convinced that another terror attack was under way.

The financial crash of 2008 was a catastrophe of a different sort, but it hit the city hard. Bloomberg takes credit for steering New York out of it, in part by drawing on his elite business contacts. But critics charge that he was too fixated on Wall Street’s challenges to see that Main Street was suffering, too. “The city was facing a massive budget crisis, and instead of supporting more taxes on the wealthy to fill the budget gaps, he pushed through a massive cut to schools, housing and social services,” says Jonathan Westin, director of the community-activist group New York Communities for Change.

It was local austerity as much as national malaise that fueled the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011, Westin says—protests to which Bloomberg responded not with sympathy but with mass arrests and a midnight police raid to clear Zuccotti Park. “When Occupy rose up in response, his reaction was to crush it.”

Bloomberg reviews a speech while driving to catch a flight in Memphis on Feb. 28.

Bloomberg reviews a speech while driving to catch a flight in Memphis on Feb. 28.
Christopher Lee for TIME

As he had done with 9/11 and is doing now with coronavirus, Bloomberg seized on the recession as a political opportunity. He used the downturn to argue that he should stay in office beyond his two-term limit. After a contentious political battle, he got the city council to amend the city charter to allow him to serve a third term—part of what critics argue is a pattern of changing the rules to get his way when it suits him.

Narrowly winning a third term with the help of $100 million in campaign spending, Bloomberg was increasingly assailed for turning Manhattan into a playground for the rich. He spent many weekends jetting off to play golf at his estate in Bermuda, and sometimes violated city airspace rules by taking off in his personal helicopter. He was apparently out of town when a major snowstorm hit in late 2010. This time the city’s response, which included plowing Manhattan streets before those in the outer boroughs, was panned. Bloomberg initially insisted everything was fine because Broadway shows were still going on, but later expressed regret.

Nine months later, Hurricane Irene barreled in from the Atlantic. New York had been one of many cities to take stock of their hurricane preparedness after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005. Bloomberg personally insisted that this be done, even though New York hadn’t been hit by a major hurricane since 1938, says Cas Holloway, who served as deputy mayor for operations. The administration mobilized for Irene, working with the state to order evacuations and shut down the subway system, but the storm ended up petering out before it got to New York City. Holloway says this allowed the city to test-run its hurricane protocols, which proved useful when a bigger storm began heading toward the city the following year.

Superstorm Sandy hit with force, drenching the region and flooding neighborhoods. “There were so many issues—the flooding of the tunnels going into the city, issues with power outages, issues with providing health and welfare assistance to those rendered homeless by the hurricane,” says Janet Napolitano, who was then secretary of homeland security, the federal department that includes FEMA. “It was amazing how quickly New York City got back on its feet and became operational. Literally half the city was in the dark, and they had the lights back on in Manhattan within 24 hours.”

Bloomberg allies say Sandy showcased the mayor at his best. His insistence on preparedness paid off. The credibility he’d amassed with New Yorkers meant that when he ordered evacuations, most people listened. His management approach, which stresses empowering teams of people to rely on data to creatively solve problems, allowed people to customize solutions. For example, Bloomberg quickly determined that the usual solution to hurricane displacement, temporary housing, wouldn’t work in New York City and instead focused his administration on repairing people’s homes as quickly as possible. “He said, ‘There’s no room for trailers in New York City, we’ve got to get people back in their homes,’” Holloway says. “We repaired 11,000 multi-family and single-family homes in 110 days.” People talk about Bloomberg as if he were himself a computer, taking in data and spitting out decisions, emotionless and perfectly efficient—a walking, talking Bloomberg terminal.

Bloomberg was criticized after he left office for the bottlenecks in long-term Sandy aid that followed, and for devoting resources to long-term climate planning when the short-term problems still weren’t resolved. But prevention is really the best crisis management, argues Noah Kroloff, who was Napolitano’s chief of staff. “Not everyone has that natural instinct to lead, to immediately jump in and start solving problems,” he says.

This is the skill set Bloomberg says Trump is missing—with potentially deadly consequences. Rather than talking about the price tag of the coronavirus response, Trump should be laser-focused on making sense of imperfect information and communicating clearly with the public, Bloomberg tells me. “We ran simulations all the time and what-ifs,” he says. “And so when we did have a crisis, the teams were ready. The teams knew each other. They all coordinated. There wasn’t everybody going in a different direction.”

Bloomberg arrives at the airport for a flight in Memphis on Feb. 28.

Bloomberg arrives at the airport for a flight in Memphis on Feb. 28.
Christopher Lee for TIME

Bloomberg’s last stop of the day is in Bentonville, Ark., home of Wal-Mart, where an overflow crowd streams through the doors past a ragged handful of Sanders-supporting protesters. They’re shouting, “Classy Klan rally!” and “No blue Trump!” As she passes them, one woman remarks to her companion, “Those are my son’s friends!”

The crowds at Bloomberg’s events are often racially diverse but economically homogenous—people with graduate and professional degrees, lawyers and bankers, CEOs and executive vice-presidents. At one Bloomberg rally, I meet a former senior adviser with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq; at another, the labor director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Bloomberg signs autographs and greets supporters at a rally in downtown Houston on Feb. 27.

Bloomberg signs autographs and greets supporters at a rally in downtown Houston on Feb. 27.
Christopher Lee for TIME

The people attracted to Bloomberg’s candidacy are achievers and doers; they’re people who feel they’ve earned their success. These aren’t the kind of people who feel personally screwed by the system as currently structured and yearn to overthrow it. But they’re looking for an alternative to Trump, and many are downright alarmed by what’s happening to their country. “We’ve got to find somebody,” Mary Kennedy, a 75-year-old retiree who’s attending the Bentonville event with her husband, tells me, sounding near-frantic. “Our country’s in a mess. Everything’s been gutted. I don’t know how anyone could put it back together.”

From Sanders’s call for political revolution to Biden’s campaign theme of a twilight struggle for the nation’s soul, everyone running in 2020 seems to see a nation in crisis—everyone, that is, except the would-be crisis-manager-in-chief.

A Boy Scout at the Bloomberg rally in Memphis.

A Boy Scout at the Bloomberg rally in Memphis.
Christopher Lee for TIME

When I interviewed Bloomberg, I expected he would pivot from his crisis-management pitch to make the argument that he was thus suited to tackle the larger cataclysm Trump has caused for American democracy. But he didn’t see it that way. To him, crises are discrete situations, not abstract states of being. “We have a potential crisis from the virus,” he says dispassionately. “We have a White House that’s dysfunctional—there’s a crisis there. The stock markets, you could argue that we’re in crisis, although I think that’s a small thing compared to these other things.”

Crisis management, to Bloomberg, is a specific aspect of a chief executive’s job. In his mind, America is still basically OK. “It’s still the country—people vote with their feet, less so maybe than before—this is where you want to go,” he says. “We have an enormous amount to be proud of. We still have the democracy. We have lost a lot, but we’re still the country that most other countries look to for guidance and protection and that sort of thing.”

If America is still essentially intact, is it really such a problem that Trump is arguably a terrible manager? Bloomberg maintains that Trump has been lucky that none of his errors has been truly disastrous so far. “Just be thankful that some of the worst things that could have happened didn’t,” he says, pointing to the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Suleimani, which could have sparked a broader conflagration in the Middle East.

Mike Bloomberg speaks at the Oklahoma City rally.

Mike Bloomberg speaks at the Oklahoma City rally.
Christopher Lee for TIME

Trump and his allies point to episodes like that to argue that he’s right to take bold actions that upset the establishment, and that in doing so he’s taking on the governing class’s endemic timidity. The economy didn’t crash when he was elected. A war didn’t break out when he moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. NATO didn’t fall apart when Trump bad-mouthed it. Time and again, pointy-headed experts have warned of dire consequences from the president’s actions, only to have America muddle through more or less as before.

To Bloomberg, this is attributable to the virtues of the permanent government, which Trump derides as the “deep state.” “The bureaucracy is going to outlive us all, and they know they’re going to outlive us all,” he says. “So if there is something that the president does which is cuckoo, that’s our insurance policy.”

Perhaps, even in a freaked-out Democratic Party, there’s a latent longing for this sort of equanimity. The crowds at Bloomberg’s events, and his initial surge in the polls, suggest that there is at least some appetite for what he’s selling. His flop as a debater deflated the bubble somewhat. Onstage in Las Vegas and Charleston, he struggled to rebut predictable attacks on his history of insensitivity to women, his company’s secret settlements in gender-discrimination lawsuits and his administration’s “stop and frisk” policing practices. Many attendees at his events tell me the debates made them reconsider supporting him. Nevertheless, he still stands in third place in the national polling average with a healthy 15%.

Bernie Sanders' supporters protest outside of a Bloomberg rally in Bentonville, Ark., on Feb. 27.

Bernie Sanders’ supporters protest outside of a Bloomberg rally in Bentonville, Ark., on Feb. 27.
Christopher Lee for TIME
loomberg reviews a speech before speaking at a rally in Bentonville.

Bloomberg reviews a speech before speaking at a rally in Bentonville.
Christopher Lee for TIME B

Biden’s resounding South Carolina win and the withdrawal of Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg have led many Democrats to call for Bloomberg to drop out so the party’s moderates can rally around the former vice president. But Bloomberg says he plans to stay in the race until it produces a clear winner—or not. “If you look at the debate stage, I’m the only one that’s ever done anything,” he tells me. “Joe Biden was a legislator, and Sanders, Warren, and Amy. They don’t have any managerial experience whatsoever, and this is not a job where you can come in and get on training wheels.”

The morning after his first disastrous debate performance, Bloomberg appeared in Salt Lake City. Seeming not at all rattled, he gave his usual speech largely unaltered, talking about uniting the country and getting things done with “common sense plans that are achievable.” He deviated from the usual routine only to proclaim, “Look, the real winner of the debate last night was Donald Trump. Because I worry that we may very well be on the way to nominating someone who cannot win in November.” This imperturbability in the face of a potential campaign-ending calamity seemed discordant, until I realized it was exactly the point. If Bloomberg is the candidate you want in a crisis, it’s precisely because he’s so unruffled. He keeps his head when everyone else is losing theirs.

Bloomberg begins speaking at the Memphis rally on Feb. 28.

Bloomberg begins speaking at the Memphis rally on Feb. 28.
Christopher Lee for TIME

Midway through the Utah speech, a young woman in wide-legged jeans started shouting. “Mike Bloomberg was in Jeffrey Epstein’s little black book!” she yells. “Mike Bloomberg is evil!” As the crowd turns on her, she makes for the exit, crying, “InfoWars dot com!”

It was a reminder that you can try all you want, as Bloomberg has, to run a massive campaign that renders the candidate’s personal qualities all but irrelevant. But no matter how much money you have, you can never completely shut out the conspiracy and chaos of America in 2020.

Bloomberg backstage at the Bentonville event.

Bloomberg backstage at the Bentonville event.
Christopher Lee for TIME

By Molly Ball/Houston

Source: Mike Bloomberg Wants to Fix America. But Can He Fix the Democrats?

Learn more about Mike’s record: Mike Bloomberg delivered remarks at Rosita’s Place restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona.


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