The Week in Business: This Is Getting Awkward

Welcome to the weirdest Thanksgiving week ever. Whether you’re staying home — an excellent choice — or taking your chances by traveling, be safe, and keep your gathering small. (Remember, that means more pie for you.) — Charlotte Cowles

What’s Up? (Nov. 15-21)

Recovery on the Rocks

Despite more promising vaccine news, the economy’s recovery is looking shakier by the day. New claims for unemployment rose last week for the first time in over a month, and coronavirus outbreaks continue to shatter records and prompt new lockdowns. Despite these alarming developments, the Trump administration is actually ending some current pandemic relief programs. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asked the Federal Reserve to return unused funds earmarked for virus-related emergency loans by the end of the year. (The Fed said that it “would prefer” that the funding stay in place to support “our still-strained and vulnerable economy.”) In reclaiming the money, Mr. Mnuchin makes it harder for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s incoming administration to restart the Fed’s aid efforts next year.

Speaking of 2021 …

In his first major policy speech since he won the election, Mr. Biden called on Congress to pass a large stimulus package immediately, even as lawmakers remain hopelessly deadlocked. He also met with business and union leaders, including the chief executives of General Motors, Microsoft, Target and Gap, to hear their concerns about safely reopening workplaces. But no matter what he does now, Mr. Biden will face an uphill battle once he takes office, especially if Mr. Trump continues to hobble the transition process. The president-elect will be contending with a dangerous phase of the virus, a floundering economy and a population that’s tired of being stuck at home. He may also be hamstrung by a divided Congress, depending on the outcome of two runoff elections in Georgia in January.

A Bruised Apple

Have you ever suspected that your iPhone was getting slower? You aren’t the only one: Apple paid $113 million to end an investigation into whether it purposely (and secretly) “throttled” the speed of its older phones to prolong their battery lives. Customers also accused the company of slowing down older iPhones after new models came out, ostensibly to encourage people to upgrade. As part of the settlement, Apple said it would be more transparent about how it manages battery life on its devices but did not admit any wrongdoing. The company previously agreed to pay up to $500 million to customers who “experienced diminished performance” on their iPhones in a separate class-action suit.

What’s Next? (Nov. 22-28)

Boeing’s Long Layover

It’s been more than 20 months since two deadly plane crashes led the Federal Aviation Administration to ground Boeing’s 737 Max jet and conduct a huge investigation into the plane maker’s safety practices. Now the F.A.A. has approved Boeing’s next steps to get the planes flying again. But don’t expect to see the 737 Max in the sky anytime soon. In addition to retraining pilots to use its upgraded software, Boeing has to regain the trust of the airlines that bought its aircraft and the passengers who fly on them (which aren’t many these days, given the pandemic’s blow to the travel industry). The 737 Max disaster has cost the company billions and tarnished its reputation as a leader in American manufacturing.

Airbnb Checks In

Airbnb long planned to go public in 2020, but the pandemic threw a wrench in its timeline. Now it’s rushing to finish the process next month, despite taking steep losses in revenue earlier this year. Why the hurry? Airbnb compensated many of its early workers with stock options, and a large chunk of that equity is set to expire next spring. To avoid making those long-term employees angry (and much poorer than they planned to be), Airbnb must stick to its deadline. The paperwork for its initial public offering, filed this past Monday, showed that the company turned a profit last quarter after making harsh cuts. It plans to raise as much as $3 billion in its I.P.O.

Early Christmas for Elon Musk

Tesla will become the largest-ever company added to the S&P 500 when it joins on Dec. 21. To qualify for the index, a company must be profitable for four straight quarters — which Tesla hadn’t accomplished until this year. It’s unusual for a company to be as valuable as Tesla when it earns S&P status, and its inclusion has already raised its stock price even further. Investors often scramble to buy shares of a company when it’s added to the index, because many investments are intended to reflect the index’s makeup exactly.

What Else?

Amazon delivers drugs now, too: The e-commerce giant rolled out an online pharmacy that will bring your medication or prescription refills straight to your doorstep in a few days. Speaking of speed, the world’s most expensive racing pigeon sold for a record 1.6 million euros, about $1.9 million, after a bidding war between two Chinese buyers at a Belgian auction. And the digital media company BuzzFeed is buying the news website HuffPost from Verizon Media to better compete in an increasingly crowded field.

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The Week in Business: The Election Made Markets Happy

The days ahead may bring more turmoil, but the worst uncertainty is behind us. (And at least you’re not a Danish mink.) Here’s how Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory affects business and tech, and what to know for the coming week.

What’s Up? (Nov. 1-7)

The Future of the Economy

Another thing to be less stressed about this week: Your stock portfolio. Markets made up for their losses in late October as President-elect Biden cemented his lead in the presidential election results and signs pointed to Republicans keeping their majority in the Senate. If Congress remains divided, Wall Street can expect few changes in tax or regulatory policies in the coming years. And if Democrats do wind up taking the Senate (which will be determined by two runoff elections in Georgia in January), a surge of government spending aimed at shoring up the economy could also bolster markets. But some analysts worry it’s too soon to celebrate, warning that postelection unrest could shake the country for weeks to come.

A Victory for Uber and Lyft

Ride-hailing companies have spent the past year battling a new California law that requires companies to give gig workers protections like minimum wage, overtime pay and other benefits. The rule would make operations more expensive for Uber, Lyft and delivery services like DoorDash, whose business models depend on their independent fleets of drivers. The issue wound up on the ballot again this month, and this time the companies won (notably, they also spent a record amount of money to court voters). The new measure, Proposition 22, says that app-based drivers will be classified as independent contractors, not employees, although it does include concessions like a wage floor. Labor groups say that it leaves thousands of gig workers without basic rights, and they worry that it will set a precedent for how other states shape labor laws in the future.

Just Say Yes

Americans seem to agree on at least one thing right now: Drugs are not so bad. On Tuesday, residents of New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Arizona voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Voters in Mississippi and South Dakota did the same for medical marijuana. And other states passed measures to loosen legal restrictions on psilocybin, the active compound in psychedelic mushrooms. That’s good news for the increasingly lucrative (and job-creating) cannabis industry, as well as those state governments that are struggling under pandemic-induced budget shortfalls and need the tax dollars that drug sales can bring in.

What’s Next? (Nov. 8-14)

Some Relief, Please

Oh yeah, and the pandemic is still raging. The United States broke its previous record for new infections several days in a row this past week. The resurgence of the virus also continued to hamper the economy’s recovery, with new unemployment claims remaining steady. But the election has renewed hope for a new stimulus bill before Christmas. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said that reaching a deal on aid legislation would be “Job 1” when lawmakers return for the lame-duck session, although the bill would probably be less comprehensive than what Democrats have been holding out for.

Social Media vs. Truth

As baseless claims about election fraud continue to spread online (in some cases propagated by the sitting president), social media platforms are taking unprecedented steps to crack down on misinformation. Facebook is rolling out emergency measures to slow the transmission of live video and content that its algorithms flag as potentially false. This week, the platform took down the account of a day-old, rapidly growing group called “Stop the Steal” for trying to incite violence at vote-count protests around the country. (The group’s organizers have accused Facebook of silencing conservatives.) At Twitter, the company has labeled more than a third (and counting) of President Trump’s posts since Tuesday with warnings that they contained misleading claims about the electoral process.

Let the Tariffs Begin

And now, news from someplace else: The European Union’s target date for imposing tariffs on up to $4 billion of American goods, including frozen fish, chemicals and ketchup, is this Tuesday. The tariffs are a retaliation against the U.S. government for giving subsidies to Boeing, the American aircraft maker, in violation of international trade rules. But some E.U. countries, including Germany, have been hesitant to raise tariffs so close to the U.S. election. (Others, like France, are jonesing to increase them as soon as possible.) The outcome of the election may persuade the E.U. to hold off and try instead to settle the dispute through trade talks.

What Else?

Denmark, one of the world’s top mink exporters, announced it would slaughter millions of the creatures after they contracted a mutation of the coronavirus that could interfere with the effectiveness of a vaccine for humans. On Wednesday, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba will hold its annual Singles’ Day sale, the world’s largest shopping event, which has broken sales records since it began 11 years ago. And Ant Group, the Chinese financial technology company that challenged Beijing’s state-dominated banking system, was expected to set a record as the biggest initial public offering in history — until China’s government blocked its I.P.O. at the last minute.

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