The daily business briefing: January 29, 2016

Harold Maass
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Bank of Japan lowers interest rate below zero, lifting stocks

The Bank of Japan unexpectedly cut a key interest rate below zero on Friday to boost the world's third largest economy. Commercial banks will now pay Japan's central bank 0.1 percent on some deposits. The move lifted global markets after a January selloff that erased $7 trillion in market value worldwide. Japan's Nikkei index gained 2.8 percent, and stock futures suggested a 0.8 percent opening gain for the S&P 500. "There's a significant surprise factor: almost no economist was calling for this," said Alex Dryden of JP Morgan Asset Management. [Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal]


Amazon shares dive after earnings fall short of forecasts

Amazon stock plunged 13 percent in after-hours trading Thursday after the online retail giant reported earnings that fell short of Wall Street expectations. Amazon reported earnings of $1 per share, while analysts had forecast $1.58 per share. The company's fourth-quarter sales of $35.7 billion fell within its own forecast range between $33.5 billion and $36.7 billion. Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos put a positive spin on the numbers, reminding investors that 20 years ago he was "driving the packages to the post office myself," while, "This year, we pass $100 billion in annual sales and serve 300 million customers." [USA Today]


Oil prices jump after hint of production cut proposal

Oil prices rose by 3 percent on Thursday but wavered Friday after Russia's energy minister said Saudi Arabia was proposing production cuts to ease a global crude-oil glut. Prices jumped even higher immediately after the news, gaining as much as 8 percent before edging down a bit after delegates from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said they had heard of no proposed cuts. If oil producers agree to reduce production, it will be the first such global deal in more than 10 years. [Reuters, The Wall Street Journal]


U.S. jobless claims fall more than expected

The Labor Department reported Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits declined last week to 278,000, down from a six-month high of 294,000 earlier in the month. The decline was slightly greater than economists had expected. First-time jobless claims have been below 300,000 for 46 straight weeks, which economists see as the sign of a strengthening labor market. In a separate report, however, the government said durable goods orders fell by 5.1 percent in December, fueling fears of a slowdown. [Bloomberg, MarketWatch]


Mattel gives iconic Barbie doll new looks

Mattel, Inc. is preparing to start selling its iconic Barbie dolls in three new body sizes — curvy, petite, and tall. The changes, which will come later this year, are part of an effort to broaden the doll's appeal and turn around a slump that has seen Barbie sales fall by double-digits for eight straight quarters. Last year, the toymaker introduced new skin tones, hairstyles, and facial features. "We believe we have a responsibility to girls and parents to reflect a broader view of beauty," said Evelyn Mazzocco, a Mattel senior vice president and head of the Barbie brand. [MarketWatch]