The Federal Reserve meets in Washington on Wednesday, and while it is widely expected to leave interest rates near zero while continuing to buy about $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month, Chair Jerome H. Powell could stage an interesting news conference afterward.
Mr. Powell answered many of the urgent monetary policy questions of the day at an appearance on Jan. 14, making it clear that interest rates will rise “no time soon” and that the Fed will “let the world know” when it is starting to think about slowing down its mass Treasury and mortgage-debt bond buying.
“His goal will be to preserve the status quo — it’s too soon for the message to change,” Roberto Perli and Benson Durham at Cornerstone Macro wrote in a note previewing the meeting.
That could leave the door open for a suite of more thematic questions. The Fed’s policy statement comes out at 2 p.m., and the webcast question-and-answer session starts at 2:30.
Mr. Powell could be asked to give his assessment on whether a bubble is building in stocks, digital currency, house prices — everything, basically — and, if so, what the Fed can do about it. Low interest rates and bond-buying have the effect of pushing investors into riskier assets, and the Fed underlined in its revised policy framework last year that it keeps a wary eye on financial risks.
The Fed chair might also need to take on the question of inequality. As asset prices boom, the wealthy people who disproportionately own stocks are becoming paper millionaires, billionaires, multibillionaires and so on even as the working class struggles with high pandemic-era unemployment and cars continue to line up at food banks. Mr. Powell has typically pushed back on the idea that monetary policy — which also lowers unemployment and sets the stage for higher wages in the longer run — can be boiled down to having one simple effect on income and wealth distribution.
Finally, Mr. Powell might face queries about his own future. He was appointed chair by President Donald J. Trump, and his four-year term expires in early 2022. It is unclear whether President Biden will reappoint him or whether Mr. Powell will seek another term.
The restarted Paycheck Protection Program allows hard-hit small businesses to get a second government-backed relief loan, but thousands of business owners who are trying to apply have been ensnared by what the Biden administration said are significant errors in the program’s loan records.
P.P.P. loans are guaranteed by the government but made by banks and other lenders. For months, lawmakers and government watchdogs — including the Small Business Administration’s inspector general — have raised alarms about signs of fraud and mistakes that allowed potentially ineligible borrowers to obtain billions of dollars from the aid program.
Those reviewing the program’s loan records, which were released in December after a court ordered they be made public, have also noted that they are rife with errors, like inaccurate loan amounts or loans that were canceled before being disbursed.
The S.B.A. said on Tuesday that it had found “anomalies,” which it described as “mostly data mismatches and eligibility concerns,” in 4.7 percent of the 5.2 million loans made through the program in its initial round of lending, which ended in August.
Those errors have complicated efforts by some borrowers to obtain second-round loans, which the agency began approving two weeks ago, using $284 billion in fresh funding provided by Congress last month to restart the relief program. The S.B.A. said it would provide lenders with additional guidance and resources for resolving troubled cases.
The problems came to light in part because of new fraud checks the agency imposed before it began approving applications for the new funding round.
The agency “is committed to making sure stringent steps are put in place on the front-end and compliance checks address issues more efficiently moving forward so we are ensuring fair and equitable access to small businesses in every community,” said Tami Perriello, the agency’s acting administrator. (President Biden’s nominee to lead the agency, Isabel Guzman, is awaiting her confirmation hearing.)
The S.B.A. said Tuesday that it had approved 400,000 loans, totaling $35 billion, in the new lending round.
Lenders said the new process has generally been working, with some glitches. Some banks have had high numbers of applications rejected because of formatting issues and other technical challenges in getting through the S.B.A.’s new automated vetting system, said Dan O’Malley, the chief executive of Numerated, a software company that is handling P.P.P. applications on behalf of more than 100 lenders.
Shelly Ross, the owner of Tales of The Kitty, a cat-sitting business in San Francisco, said she applied last week for a second loan, but was caught in a holding queue. She tried three other lenders, with results ranging from no response to cryptic replies telling her she did not qualify.
“I’m ready to bang my head against a wall,” she said. But others have had better luck: Ms. Ross said a friend of hers got a quick approval on her own loan application through PayPal.
The hotel industry, where occupancy rates are still down 30 percent from a year ago, is getting in on the ghost kitchen trend.
Ghost kitchens, also called digital kitchens, are cooking facilities that produce food only for delivery or takeout. Demand for the concept is booming, Debra Kamin reports in The New York Times.
The pandemic has opened the business model to more entrepreneurs. To turn his chicken cutlet sandwich concept into a business, Richard Zaro started renting space in July at the Four Points by Sheraton Midtown near Times Square, paying $6,000 a month for a fully outfitted catering kitchen. Average restaurant start-up costs for brick-and-mortar locations, in comparison, can run from $200,000 to more than $1 million.
Within four months, he had generated enough revenue — and created a large enough base of loyal customers — to move to a stand-alone location. His new business, Cutlets, opened in a former Tender Greens restaurant near Gramercy Park on Dec. 1, and has plans to expand.
Mr. Zaro found his rented kitchen space through Use Kitch, an online commercial kitchen marketplace that likens itself to an Airbnb for the restaurant industry.
Testing from a base at a Times Square hotel was the ultimate risk reduction, Mr. Zaro said, adding that the hotel benefited, too: “It was nice for them to have incoming revenue.”