Google shuts a high-flying cell service project. The tech giant said it was ending Loon, which used high-altitude helium balloons to beam internet access. Loon was one of Google’s most prominent “moonshot” projects, which have fallen out of favor as the company tightens its belt.
Signs of a green revolution for regulations
On the eve of President Biden’s inauguration, the Federal Housing Finance Agency made a quiet announcement that speaks volumes about the changes coming to financial regulation. The agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, requested input on climate-change risk management, noting a “growing body of research” on the threat extreme weather poses to the economy.
The timing looks suspicious, but is fortuitous, agency spokespeople told DealBook. It may seem like an about-face from the agency run by Mark Calabria, a libertarian economist appointed by a president who dismissed climate science. But the move was not designed to please a new, green administration, they insisted. Extreme weather is an obvious problem for the housing market, as Fannie and Freddie found with mortgage defaults following Hurricane Harvey in Texas in 2017. Mr. Calabria has long been building up a research and data team, soon to include an environmental economist, they said.
The change in administration could bring powerful new partners. The Treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen said that she would appoint “someone at a very senior level” to create a hub in the Treasury focused on climate change and financial system risks. Many of Mr. Biden’s other nominees come with green credentials, forming “the largest team of climate change experts ever assembled in the White House.”
The move is “consistent with a sea change in how financial regulators will be thinking about risk,” said Mark Zandi, Moody’s chief economist. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Fed recently addressed climate risks in high-profile reports. Legally and politically, agencies can act quickly on climate initiatives now, given the new administration’s priorities.
“We have one of those rare moments of hope,” said Tim Mohin of the carbon accounting start-up Persefoni, who has seen climate risks go from a fringe notion to mainstream over 30 years working on sustainability in government and at companies like Apple and Intel. “There is no reason to go slow.”
Business & Economy
Pushback against Nasdaq’s diversity move
As the S.E.C. considers Nasdaq’s proposal to require greater diversity on the boards of its listed companies, criticism has come from an unexpected source: Arthur Levitt Jr., the commission’s chairman in the Clinton administration.
Mr. Levitt aired several arguments against the proposal, writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the requirement would be “political” and that evidence of a link between diverse boards and financial performance was lacking. He urged the S.E.C. to study the issue and let Nasdaq make it a voluntary measure. A Nasdaq spokesman declined to comment to DealBook.
Others have written in support of the proposal:
“We believe it is critical not just for us, but for all our nation’s leading companies to compose their boards in a manner that values diversity and inclusion as key drivers of value and productivity,” wrote Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, which is listed on the Nasdaq.
The Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness, an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said that it “commends Nasdaq for promoting a private sector-based solution to foster greater diversity among boards of directors,” but opposes a mandated quota system.
The S.E.C. is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks. You can read all of the comments it has received here.