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Natural Gas Prices Jump After Freeze Disrupts Production: Live Updates

Filling a pickup truck and gas cans in Tomball, Texas, on Monday. A winter storm has disrupted energy supplies and caused widespread power outages.
Credit…Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press

Energy prices in the United States rose on Tuesday after a huge winter storm hit the southern and central parts of the country, with 150 million people under storm warnings. Millions of people have been left without power in freezing temperatures.

Natural gas futures for March delivery rose as much as 6.3 percent, the biggest jump since Feb. 1, when a storm hit the Northeast. Demand for natural gas has risen but disruption from the storm means gas production has plummeted.

The Texas energy regulator said on Saturday it was aware that local natural gas distributors “may be required to pay extraordinarily high prices in the market for natural gas and may be subjected to other extraordinary expenses” in responding to the storm.

For oil, futures jumped more than 5 percent over the weekend as the coldest weather in three decades interrupted road transportation and some wells had to shut down. On Tuesday, West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, rose 0.7 percent to $59.87 a barrel, the highest in 13 months. Futures for Brent crude, the European benchmark, fell 0.2 percent. The largest refineries in the country, including Port Arthur in Texas, closed on Monday because the weather had led to power outages across the state.

“Some producers, especially in the Permian Basin and Panhandle, are experiencing unprecedented freezing conditions which caused concerns for employee safety and affected production,” the Texas energy regulator said Monday.

Markets in the United States were shut on Monday for the Presidents’ Day holiday.

Futures of stock indexes on Wall Street are set to open higher on Tuesday, following most European and Asian indexes higher. Last week, the S&P 500 reached a record high amid anticipation of a fiscal stimulus package in Washington, and growing confidence that vaccines should enable the global economy to recover later in the year.

  • The Stoxx Europe 600 index rose 0.1 percent, extending a 1.3 percent gain from Monday. In Germany, the ZEW survey of investor sentiment recorded a big jump in future expectations for the economy, but the view of the current situation worsened.

  • In Britain, the government reached its target of vaccinating 15 million people, the most vulnerable in the country, by mid-February but now the prime minister, Boris Johnson, is under increasing pressure to lay out a clear plan for the end of the long lockdown. The central bank has forecast a relatively strong economic rebound later in the year, but business leaders have warned that companies need to prepare to reopen and the recovery could be impeded if they are given enough support. The pound rose above $1.39 this week, the strongest against the U.S. dollar since early 2018.

  • Indexes in Asia rose, with the Nikkei 225 in Japan up 1.3 percent; on Monday, it climbed above 30,000 for the first time since 1990. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong closed 1.9 percent higher.

  • Softbank’s shares closed at a record high. Last week, the Japanese company recorded huge profits in its tech investment fund amid a flurry of public offerings by companies it backs.

More than 10 suits echoing government antitrust cases have been filed against Google, Facebook or both in recent months.
Credit…Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Private lawsuits are adding to the mounting legal pressure on Big Tech companies.

Already, more than 10 suits echoing government antitrust cases have been filed against Google, Facebook or both in recent months. Many of them lean on evidence unearthed by the government investigations, writes David McCabe for The New York Times.

If successful, the lawsuits could be costly for Facebook and Google. The companies work with millions of advertisers and publishers every year, and Google hosts apps from scores of developers, meaning there are many potential litigants. After the United States sued Microsoft for antitrust violations a generation ago, the company paid $750 million to settle with AOL, at that point the owner of the browser Netscape, which was at the core of the government’s case.

“There’s a fair amount of scrambling going on and folks trying to figure out what private suits might be successful and how to bring them,” said Joshua Davis, a professor at the University of San Francisco’s law school.

Facebook declined to comment about the lawsuits. Julie Tarallo McAlister, a spokeswoman for Google, said in a statement that the company would defend itself against the claims.

“Like other claims courts have rejected in the past, these complaints try to substitute litigation for competition on the merits,” she said.

The private suits follow similar ones from the government for a simple reason: Regulators have distinct advantages when it comes to obtaining evidence. Federal and state investigators can collect internal documents and interview executives before filing a suit. As a result, their complaints are filled with insider knowledge about the companies. Private individuals can seek that kind of evidence only after they file lawsuits.

If the government cases succeed against Google or Facebook at trial, it is likely to bolster the case for private lawsuits, experts said. Lawyers could point to those victories as evidence the company broke the law and move quickly to their primary aim: obtaining monetary damages.

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