Business briefing

The daily business briefing: June 16, 2021

New York ends most coronavirus restrictions, stock futures mixed ahead of Fed statement, and more

1

New York ends most coronavirus restrictions

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Tuesday that the state would end most restrictions on businesses and gatherings that were imposed to fight the spread of COVID-19. The changes took effect immediately on what Cuomo described as a "momentous day." The state lifted the pandemic restrictions as it reached its goal of giving 70 percent of adults at least one dose of a vaccine. "What does 70 percent mean?" Cuomo said. "It means that we can now return to life as we know it. ... We can get back to living, and businesses can open because the state mandates are gone." The move came hours after California, the nation's most populous state, let most of its coronavirus restrictions expire, although businesses and institutions still have the right to require masks.

2

Stock futures mixed ahead of Fed statement

U.S. stock futures were mixed early Wednesday ahead of the Federal Reserve's statement at the close of a two-day policy meeting. Futures tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were narrowly lower, while those of the tech-heavy Nasdaq edged higher several hours before the opening bell. The Fed is expected to say it will keep short-term interest rates near zero and continue buying at least $120 billion a month of Treasury and mortgage bonds to boost the economic recovery from the damage of the coronavirus pandemic. But the central bank also will release updated economic projections that could raise expectations that Fed leaders are leaning toward raising interest rates and scaling back bond purchases sooner than previously anticipated.

3

Retail sales drop as consumers shift spending 

Retail sales fell by 1.3 percent in May as consumers spent less on big-ticket items, such as cars, electronics, and building supplies, and more on goods and services as states lifted coronavirus restrictions and life began returning to normal. Americans increased spending on major purchases and home improvements during the pandemic as they were forced to spend more time at home during lockdowns. Now they are rushing to visit restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that were off limits for months. "The great pivot from goods into services has gained traction," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton. "As we shift into seeing and being seen, that whole process means spending on things that we didn't spend on during the pandemic."

4

Biden picks Big Tech critic to lead FTC

President Biden has appointed prominent Big Tech critic Lina Khan as Federal Trade Commission chair, the White House announced on Tuesday. Hours earlier, the Senate confirmed Khan as a commissioner in a 69-28 vote. Khan, 32, became the youngest chair in history on the FTC, which investigates corporate issues such as antitrust violations and deceptive trade practices. "I look forward to working with my colleagues to protect the public from corporate abuse," Khan said. A president can pick any FTC commissioner as chair. The selection of Khan  was widely seen as a sign that the agency will step up efforts to take a tough position against the practices and dominance of giant companies.

5

MacKenzie Scott gives away another $2.7 billion

MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and one of the richest women in the world, announced that she and her husband, Dan Jewett, had donated $2.74 billion to 286 charitable organizations in her latest bid to fulfill her vow to donate most of her fortune. Scott, who said she was troubled by the increasing wealth inequality, has now distributed a total of $8 billion. As part of her divorce, she received 4 percent of Amazon's stock, then worth $36 billion. But her stake has grown to $60 billion despite her contributions as Amazon shares soared during the pandemic. The recipients included the Apollo Theater and Ballet Hispanico and other arts groups, as well as colleges groups advocating racial justice and countering domestic violence.

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