• Biden Begins Infrastructure Pitch, Office Use Holds Steady, Olive Garden Sales Extend Slide

    Biden Begins Infrastructure Pitch, Office Use Holds Steady, Olive Garden Sales Extend Slide

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    President Biden's first press conference included the beginning of his pitch for a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure proposal. (White House)
    President Biden's first press conference included the beginning of his pitch for a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure proposal. (White House)

    Biden Begins Infrastructure Pitch

    Investing in improving the country’s infrastructure could mean not only more jobs for Americans but also better economic development opportunities for cities and states, President Biden said about a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure plan he expects to unveil next Friday in Pittsburgh.

    During his first press conference since taking office, Biden said the country needs to focus on infrastructure to stay competitive, pointing out the United States ranks 13th globally on infrastructure and that China’s spending on infrastructure is triple that of the United States.

    The plan, which is part of Biden’s “build back better” push, is expected to cost more than $3 trillion.

    He ticked off a list of problems with infrastructure that included more than a third of bridges across the country needing repair and the poor condition of 20% of highways and major roads.

    “If you think about it, it’s the place where we will be able [to] significantly increase American productivity; at the same time providing really good jobs for people,” he said.

    To pay for it, Biden may propose rolling back tax cuts on the wealthiest people that had passed under former President Donald Trump. Republicans already are lining up to oppose the infrastructure plan, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    The infrastructure discussion was a small part of his press conference that lasted more than an hour. Biden spoke about a variety of issues, notably saying that the new vaccination goal is to have 200 million shots in arms by the end of his first 100 days now that his initial 100 million-goal has been hit.

    He said since passing the $1.9 trillion aid package the country is “starting to see new signs of hope in our economy.”

    Earlier in the day, the Labor Department reported the lowest new weekly jobless claims in a year with 684,000 claims, nearly 100,000 fewer than the previous week. In addition, the Commerce Department’s third and final reading for the fourth quarter's gross domestic product was adjusted to 4.3% from 4.1% in the second reading, another positive sign.

    John Lonski, chief capital markets economist for Moody’s Analytics, said in a market review that GDP growth this year could be the biggest improvement since 1950.


    Office Use Holds Steady

    Vaccinations may be picking up across the country but that hasn’t translated yet to more workers heading into the office as employers wait for coronavirus cases to drop significantly before fully opening the doors.

    Office use through the week that ended March 17 changed little across many of the major metropolitan areas where Falls Church, Virginia-based security firm Kastle Systems has client buildings.

    Kastle gathers anonymous employee data from buildings where it provides access control technology for workplaces. While it is only a sampling of buildings by one security company, the data gives a peek into how employees and employers are responding to the constantly changing pandemic.

    The Dallas, Houston, and Austin areas of Texas, as well as Phoenix, all have office usage between 33% and nearly 38%. Miami hovers around near 50%.

    Olive Garden Sales Continue Decline

    Darden Restaurants reported another quarter of lower sales across its restaurants as the pandemic limited capacity at its locations.

    Olive Garden, the Orlando, Florida-based company’s biggest brand, saw sales fall to $872 million in the quarter that ended Feb. 28, a 25.4% decline from the same time last year before the lockdowns related to the pandemic set in. LongHorn Steakhouse’s sales decline wasn’t as steep, falling 11% to $454.3 million.

    Through the first nine months of its fiscal year, Darden’s sales are down nearly 25% at $4.9 billion.

    Like a lot of casual dining chains, Darden felt the crunch of closed dining rooms and lower capacity once they were allowed to reopen. The company had to pivot toward delivery and pickup.

    Darden is maintaining capacity limits at restaurants in keeping with recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though states such as Texas and Florida have removed capacity restraints on restaurants.

    Gene Lee, Darden’s CEO, told investors on the company’s earnings call that restaurants are operating at 50% to 65% capacity, except in California, where 25% is the restriction.

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