Business briefing

The daily business briefing: July 21, 2022

Heat wave pushes natural gas prices higher, the E.U. tells members to cut gas use as Russia resumes reduced flows through key pipeline, and more

1

Heat wave pushes up price of natural gas

Natural gas futures jumped 10 percent on Wednesday as utilities struggled to produce enough electricity to keep up with demand while Americans crank up air conditioners during some of the hottest weather on record. "The entire country is running their air conditioners," said Eli Rubin, senior analyst at the energy consultant EBW Analytics. Natural gas futures have risen 48 percent this month, reversing last month's decline. Commodity prices had started falling, raising hopes of containing a key driver of inflation, but the heat wave, which is affecting more than 100 million Americans, is pushing prices for raw materials back up and increasing cost pressures again.

2

E.U. tells member states to cut gas usage as Nord Stream pipeline reopens

The European Union on Wednesday told its member states to slash their usage of natural gas consumption by 15 percent until March due to ongoing concerns about the stability of deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline from Russia to Germany. The pipeline accounts for more than a third of Russian gas exports to the trading bloc. Gas flows through the pipeline resumed Thursday at reduced levels after a 10-day shutdown for maintenance. Russian President Vladimir Putin said a day earlier that any delays by the West in providing parts or repairs could result in further cuts. Supplies through Nord Stream were reduced before the maintenance shutdown due to a dispute over sanctions imposed to punish Russia for invading Ukraine.

3

Home sales drop as high prices and mortgage rates discourage buyers

Sales of previously owned homes dropped 5.4 percent in June compared to May, the National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday. The decline came as home prices hit record highs and mortgage rates jumped, putting houses out of reach for an increasing number of buyers. "Even people who want to buy, they are priced out," said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the Realtors. Sales fell to an adjusted annualized rate of 5.12 million units, down 14.2 percent from June 2021. It was the slowest pace since June 2020, when sales briefly slowed amid the uncertainty of the first months of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. The June numbers reflected mostly contracts signed in April and May, before the typical 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose above 6 percent.

4

Tesla profit falls less than expected

Tesla on Wednesday reported a drop in quarterly profit that was smaller than analysts had expected. CEO Elon Musk later warned that prices ot Tesla's electric cars have gotten "embarrassingly high," and that could dent demand. The U.S. price for Tesla's Model Y long-range version, for example, has jumped more than 30 percent this year to $65,990. Still, Musk said on a conference call with analysts that the company's main problems stemmed from production issues, not demand. Tesla also disclosed that it had sold 75 percent of its Bitcoin holdings. Musk said he was open to buy more later, but that Tesla's cryptocurrency investments were "a sideshow." Tesla shares rose 1.7 percent in pre-market trading Thursday. The stock is down 40 percent from its November peak.

5

Stock futures mixed ahead of more earnings

U.S. stock futures struggled early Thursday as a recently renewed appetite for risk eased. Futures tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average were down 0.3 percent at 7 a.m. ET. S&P 500 futures were down 0.2 percent, while Nasdaq futures were up less than 0.1 percent. The Dow and the S&P 500 rose 0.2 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively, on Wednesday. The tech-heavy Nasdaq surged 1.6 percent as a mostly strong earnings season continued. Tesla was expected to start Thursday with gains after its better-than-expected quarterly report. More earnings are due Thursday from AT&T, American Airlines, Snap, Travelers, Philip Morris, and Blackstone.

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