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861,000 filed as COVID-19 cases drop

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861,000 filed as COVID-19 cases drop

America may be recovering from its deadly coronavirus surge, but the labor market still has a nasty cough.

The number of workers seeking unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose to 861,000 last week even as COVID-19 infections declined sharply across the country, the feds said Thursday.

The latest batch of initial jobless claims brought the total for the coronavirus pandemic to about 78.9 million — a figure more than twice the size of Afghanistan’s population. That includes the prior week’s 848,000 filings, which the US Department of Labor revised upward from the 793,000 it initially reported.

The data suggests employers and workers are struggling to bounce back after many states imposed lockdown measures to control the record-setting spike in COVID-19 cases that peaked in early January.

“There’s no getting around the ugly look of new jobless claims in the latest reading,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.

Jobless filings have remained above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 for 48 weeks straight. Economists were expecting the historically high number to fall to 775,000 last week, according to Wrightson ICAP, which would have marked the lowest level since the last full week of December.

To unemployment insurance expert Andrew Stettner, the jobless claims data underscore the need for Congress to act on President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal, which would extend key aid programs such as a $300 weekly boost to unemployment benefits that are set to expire in March.

“It will take months, through the summer and beyond, for enough re-hiring to occur to absorb all the workers still on unemployment benefits and the steady stream of new applicants,” said Stettner, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation think tank. “Robust pandemic aid is precisely the medicine the economy needs to get Americans back where they want to be: at work.”

While jobless claims spiked last month as the coronavirus spread rapidly, new COVID-19 cases are now declining in 46 states, and the seven-day average of deaths has dropped about 46 percent from its mid-January high of 4,022, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The decreases have allowed some states to ease lockdown measures they imposed to curb the deadly surge, which has stoked optimism among economists about hiring accelerating in February as more businesses reopen. Indoor dining resumed in New York City last week, and hard-hit California has started easing restrictions under a tiered reopening scheme.

“We may be eventually on the verge of a kind of shoulder, or transition, season for the economy in the coming months as the pandemic eases, more vaccines are administered, and consumers increase spending followed by a pick-up in hiring,” Hamrick said.

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Samsung eyes four locations for $17 billion chip factory

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Samsung eyes four locations for $17 billion chip factory

Samsung is looking at four sites in three different US states where it could build a $17 billion computer chip plant, records show.

The South Korean tech giant is considering two locations in Arizona and one in New York in addition to a site in Austin, Texas, where it’s seeking nearly $1.5 billion in tax breaks for the semiconductor facility, according to documents filed with Lone Star State officials.

Samsung said it’s in “active negotiations” with the other three potential hosts, each of which have offered a combination of property tax abatements, grants or tax credits to support the “highly competitive” project.

The company did not identify the cities it’s courting besides Austin. But The Wall Street Journal has reported that it’s eyeing a big industrial campus in Genesee County, New York, and two sites in the Phoenix area.

“All three alternative sites have the necessary land and are capable of scaling up the required infrastructure within the requisite period of time to meet the project’s accelerated timetable,” Samsung said in a submission to the Texas state comptroller’s office dated Feb. 26.

Samsung said it’s also scouting sites in Korea but suggested that Austin is its preferred location because of its 25-year history in the Texas capital, where it already has a chip plant.

Samsung expects the roughly 7 million-square-foot factory to create 1,800 jobs in its first 10 years with average initial salaries of $66,254, according to another Feb. 26 filing.

While Austin is the apparent frontrunner, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has said he reached out to Samsung in late January about building the plant at the 1,250-acre Genesee STAMP campus, situated between the major cities of Buffalo and Rochester.

“This Samsung project is an exciting and a potential game changer for the region,” Schumer said at the time. “I know firsthand that STAMP is shovel-ready — and that, combined with upstate New York’s robust semiconductor industry, make Genesee the perfect location for Samsung’s new chip fab.”

With Post wires

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GameStop booster ‘Roaring Kitty’ testifies before regulators

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GameStop booster 'Roaring Kitty' testifies before regulators

Keith Gill, the social media persona known as “Roaring Kitty,” whose online posts helped spark January’s trading frenzy in GameStop shares, appeared before Massachusetts securities regulators on Wednesday to testify as part of an examination into his activities.

Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, the state’s top securities regulator, last month subpoenaed Gill, who touted GameStop stock in his spare time while he was a registered broker and working at the insurer MassMutual.

He was a key figure in the so-called “Reddit rally,” which saw shares of GameStop surge 400 percent in a week before crashing back to pre-surge levels. Galvin’s spokeswoman said Gill was giving testimony virtually in response to the subpoena.

William Taylor, Gill’s attorney at Zuckerman Spaeder, declined to comment.

Gill, 34, began sharing his positions on Reddit’s popular Wallstreetbets trading forum in September 2019, posting a portfolio screenshot indicating he had invested $53,000 in GameStop.

By late January, Gill, known as “Roaring Kitty” on YouTube and “DeepF***ingValue” on Reddit, was up over 4,000 percent on stock and options investments in the company, with his GameStop position plus cash worth nearly $48 million, according to his Reddit posts.

Gill testified before the House Committee on Financial Services on Feb. 18 that he remained “as bullish as I’ve ever been on a potential turnaround for GameStop.”

While trading in GameStop, Gill worked at MassMutual in a marketing and financial education job and was a registered financial broker in Massachusetts.

Galvin’s office said that MassMutual has told regulators it was unaware of Gill’s outside activities. He left MassMutual in late January and is no longer a broker registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

The broker-dealer arm of MassMutual on Friday filed a termination notice for Gill with FINRA and said an internal review of his “outside activities” was ongoing.

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Michaels to be acquired by Apollo for $3.3 billion

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Michaels to be acquired by Apollo for $3.3 billion

Arts-and-crafts retailer Michaels said it has agreed to be acquired by private equity giant Apollo Global Management in a deal that values the company at $3.3 billion.

The going-private transaction values Michaels’ outstanding stock at $22 a share, a 47 percent premium to the closing price on Feb. 26, the last trading day before the media reported that Michaels was in play, the companies said.

The deal with Apollo — controlled by billionaire Leon Black, who has been weathering a scandal over his ties to dead pedophile Jeffrey Epstein — is valued at a total of $5 billion including debt.

Michaels shares on Wednesday rose $4.08, or 23 percent, to $22.10 in early trading.

The arts-and-crafts retailer has more than 1,200 stores in North America and it had been a go-to stop for consumers looking for something to do during quarantine.

In the fourth quarter, its comparable sales increased by 16.3 percent compared to a year ago.

“Our Michaels strategy and the work that we have done in the past year have led to phenomenal business results, strengthened our core business and positioned Michaels for long-term sustainable growth,” Michaels chief executive Ashley Buchanan said in a statement.

“As a private company, we will have financial flexibility to invest in, expand, and improve our retail and digital platforms.”

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