September 30, 2022

Debt Ceiling Optimism Lifts Markets Overseas

LONDON (AP) — Hopes that United States politicians will be able to reach a deal on raising the government’s debt ceiling, avoiding the risk of a disastrous default, supported global markets on Monday, with Wall Street closed for a holiday.

Congress must agree by the end of February to increase the limit on how much the nation can borrow so the government can service its debt. If it doesn’t, the country could default, which would deal a heavy blow to global financial markets and undermine confidence in the world’s largest economy.

Republicans appear ready to raise the debt ceiling temporarily and have also backed away from their insistence on deep spending concessions in exchange for a deal. The signs of compromise last week encouraged investors to buy into stock indexes, many of which are near multiyear highs.

“Although this again could be seen as another round of political battle, any progress to avoid immediate dangers will likely be seen as positive by the market,” Gary Yau, analyst at Crédit Agricole, said in a report to investors.

The FTSE 100 in Britain closed Monday up 0.43 percent, at 6,180.98, the DAX in Germany advanced 0.36 percent, to 7,729.80. The CAC-40 in France ended the day up 0.2 percent, at 3,749.79.

United States stock and bond markets were closed on Monday for Martin Luther King’s Birthday.

Dickie Wong, executive director of research at Kingston Securities in Hong Kong, said he was optimistic that an agreement on the debt ceiling would be reached because of the high price tag attached to failing to do so.

“Both parties will find some kind of solution because they all know that the debt ceiling will have to be increased,” Mr. Wong said. “At the very last minute, they will sort it out.”

Earlier in Asia, markets were more cautious, with Japanese shares hit hard by a rise in the yen. The Nikkei 225 fell 1.5 percent, to close at 10,747.74.

The Bank of Japan began a two-day policy meeting and has been under pressure from a new government to take more aggressive steps to fight the long deflationary slump there. Some analysts expect the bank to expand its asset-purchasing program and set an inflation target.

In commodity markets, the benchmark oil contract for February delivery was down 50 cents to $95.06 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 7 cents to finish at $95.56 a barrel on the Nymex on Friday.

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Media Decoder Blog: Redford, Sundance Officials Talk About Guns in Film

PARK CITY, Utah — Does Hollywood play a role in gun violence? Asked that question on Thursday at the Sundance Film Festival’s opening-day press conference, event officials, including Robert Redford, were reticent to wade deep into the debate.

“It’s good that the dialogue about gun control is happening on a national level right now,” Keri Putnam, executive director of the nonprofit Sundance Institute, said carefully. “I don’t think I have anything to add to that really.”

John Cooper, director of the festival, shifted the conversation toward “Valentine Road,” a documentary about a 2008 school shooting in California that has its premiere here on Saturday. After the Newton, Conn., school massacre, he said, that film “all of a sudden has a new resonance.”

Mr. Redford, whose liberal political views are well known, initially stayed silent. Pressed by a reporter, he told a story about how he had noticed a number of movie billboards in Los Angeles recently that prominently featured guns.

“Does my industry think that guns will help sell tickets? I don’t know,” he said. “But it seems like a question worth asking my own industry. It seems fair.”

He added, “I notice how often guns are used in ads as though there’s something that translates in a positive way.”

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Wal-Mart Is Being Pressed to Disclose How Global Suppliers Treat Workers

At its annual shareholder meeting on Friday, the New York City pension funds, which own a small percentage of shares in Wal-Mart, plan to ask the company to require vendors to publish annual reports detailing working conditions in their factories.

Michael Garland, who oversees shareholder activism efforts as executive director for corporate governance at the city comptroller’s office, said the proposal was meant to improve workplace safety and worker rights at companies making goods for Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer.

“No matter how much Wal-Mart and other companies are doing, or claim they are doing, to monitor their suppliers, they just don’t have the capacity to do it in a comprehensive way,” Mr. Garland said. “They put tremendous pressure on their suppliers to cut money out of the system,” which can lead to long hours, low pay or other problems.

Wal-Mart opposes the request, citing the difficulty of persuading suppliers to issue reports. The company contends that even if it could enforce such a plan, to do so might threaten the availability of certain products from those who did not comply.

While Mr. Garland acknowledged that the proposal was unlikely to succeed, he said casting a spotlight on the problem could prompt Wal-Mart to begin considering how to address its association with suppliers who did not treat workers fairly.

Kalpona Akter, a Bangladeshi labor organizer who will present the proposal at the meeting in Fayetteville, Ark., complained that many of the Bangladesh factories that produced goods for Wal-Mart mistreated their workers.

At Wal-Mart suppliers, “very often, first of all, the factory does not enforce the law” regarding minimum wages, she said.

“Though the minimum salary has been cleared by the government, and many factories implemented that,” she said, “we haven’t seen any Wal-Mart suppliers giving a living wage to workers.”

Though Wal-Mart sometimes sends auditors to check on working conditions, “when the auditor goes to the factory, the worker is coached by the management to tell lies in front of the auditors — that they are being paid living wages, that they are not being harassed,” she said.

The proposal states that there is a “significant gap between general policies against labor and human rights abuse and more detailed standards and enforcement mechanisms required to carry them out.”

It asks vendors to publish yearly reports that “include the supplier’s objective assessments and measurements of performance on workplace safety, and human and worker rights, using internationally recognized standards, indicators and measurement protocols.”

“These problems, particularly with regard to labor and human-rights practices, are in the supply chain,” Mr. Garland said. “So even at companies that produce sustainability reports, like Wal-Mart, there’s an inability to get to the practices within the supply chain.”

A Wal-Mart spokesman, David Tovar, said in an e-mail that for years Wal-Mart had maintained standards “that address the treatment of workers by suppliers and supplier workplace safety.”

“We expect our suppliers to meet or exceed these standards. Our supplier standards are not merely goals that we encourage our suppliers to meet; rather, a supplier’s failure to adhere to these standards may jeopardize that supplier’s continued business relationship with Wal-Mart,” Mr. Tovar said.

The New York City pension funds own about 5.7 million shares of Wal-Mart stock worth about $311 million. That gives them an ownership stake of less than 0.2 percent in Wal-Mart.

Despite dim prospects for the proposal, Mr. Garland said he hoped it would provide an opening point for negotiations with Wal-Mart. In the past, when the pension funds have filed shareholder proposals at other companies, “when you file the proposal the company calls you up” and may adopt parts of what the proposal suggests.

“The expectation here is we’re not going to get a majority vote,” he said. “It is an opportunity to make the case directly to the board. The expectation is you persuade the board that it’s the right thing to do for the company and for the shareholders.”

Wal-Mart has been fighting the proposal since January, when it notified the Securities and Exchange Commission that it planned to strike the proposal from its proxy statement, and asked the S.E.C. not to penalize it for doing so.

Wal-Mart wrote the S.E.C. saying it did not have contractual authority to require suppliers to publish the sustainability reports. In addition, using only those suppliers that issued these reports would require renegotiating thousands of agreements.

In the environmental field, Wal-Mart has successfully created metrics for reducing packaging, and asked suppliers to change their practices in response, suggesting that creating new standards across the supply chain is feasible.

In late March, the S.E.C. declined Wal-Mart’s request to strike the proposal.

“Wal-Mart’s practices and policies do not compare favorably with the guidelines of the proposal,” wrote Rose A. Zukin, a lawyer for the S.E.C., and “it appears that the proposal may focus on the significant policy issues of sustainability and human rights.”

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Shortcuts: It’s Just Fine to Make Mistakes

That column eventually grew into a book, “Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong” (Riverhead), which will be published Thursday.

Here is an excerpt:

Perfectionists often get caught in the endless cycle of regret and blame that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to move on from their mistakes.

“Perfectionism,” says Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation in Boston, is “a phobia of mistake-making. It’s the feeling that if I make a mistake, it will be catastrophic.”

Wait a minute here. Aren’t we always complaining that things are going to hell in a handbasket — that no one really cares about doing a good job? Why not strive to be the very best you can be?

And that is true up to a point.

Being a perfectionist is not a bad thing; in fact, it may mean you have very high standards and you often achieve those standards. Those who have perfectionist tendencies, but those tendencies do not rule — or ruin — their lives, are what psychiatrists call “adaptive” perfectionists.

They find it important to do certain things in the right way, but this need does not hinder their lives and can actually help them achieve great success. For instance, Dr. Szymanski told me, he likes all the glasses in his kitchen cupboard lined up a certain way. That does not mean he freaks out if someone changes them (as friends sometimes do for fun), or that everything else in his house is equally ordered. He also strives to be the best executive director and psychiatrist that he can be.

But he knows he is not a great tennis player, and that’s O.K. with him — it doesn’t mean he will give it up because he is not world class, or line up a pro to work with him seven days a week. He is O.K. being O.K. at some things.

On the other hand, what psychiatrists call “maladaptive” perfectionists need to be the best at everything, and if they make a mistake, it’s a crisis. It is also not just about how they perceive themselves, but how others perceive them: they believe they will lose the respect of friends and colleagues if they fail. They have to hit all their marks all the time.

Their need for perfection can also sabotage their own success. They do not turn in projects on time because they’re not yet perfect. They can’t prioritize what needs to be done quickly and what needs more time to complete. They want to rigidly follow rules to get things “right,” and this often means they’re terribly uncreative, because creativity involves making mistakes, Dr. Szymanski says.

Even worse, they don’t learn from their mistakes, because if, God forbid, one occurs, it should be concealed like a nasty secret. So they cannot get crucial feedback — feedback that would both stop them from making similar mistakes in the future and make them realize that it is not a disaster — because they won’t risk punishment or alienation for a blunder. And such a drive for perfection takes a heavy psychological toll, because every flaw, no matter how small, is cause for agony.

A lot of perfectionists feel that they simply have high standards and that it is the rest of the world that falls short.

The problem with maladaptive perfectionists, Dr. Szymanski said, is not that they should not have goals, but those goals are often unrealistic and inevitably lead to a sense of failure.

There is some controversy in the field among those who study perfectionism about whether, in fact, the term “adaptive perfectionism” is valid, as by their very nature, perfectionists have trouble adapting.

Randy O. Frost, a psychology professor at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., who has studied perfectionism for years, said he would prefer the term “positive achievement striving,” but he acknowledged that that phrase was going to be a tough one to sell.

It is also important to remember that few people fit neatly into one category or another. We all tend to be on a continuum of perfectionism.


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