Business briefing

The daily business briefing: September 1, 2021

Jury selection begins in Theranos founder's fraud trial, mandates helped boost vaccination rates in August, and more

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Jury selection begins in Theranos founder's fraud trial

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes appeared in court Tuesday for jury selection on Day 1 of her criminal fraud trial. The onetime rising star of Silicon Valley is accused of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for allegedly making misleading statements to investors and patients about Theranos' technology. Holmes has pleaded not guilty. The defense team and prosecutors have a pool of nearly 200 potential jurors to find 17 to serve in what is expected to be a four-month trial. Court documents disclosed over the weekend that Holmes might argue that she deferred to Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, her former boyfriend and Theranos' onetime president, because she was in an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship with him. Balwani also was charged and pleaded not guilty.

2

Vaccination rates rose in August as mandates spread

Vaccination rates rose in August as COVID-19 cases surged, driven by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeffrey Zients said Tuesday. About 14 million people in the U.S. got their first vaccine dose last month, an increase of 4 million over the July total. Zients credited the increase to vaccine mandates imposed by large companies, governments, and schools. He noted that Washington state saw a 34 percent rise in its vaccination rate after it started requiring shots for state employees and school staff. "Bottom line," Zients said, "vaccination mandates work." The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said regulators' full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could push vaccination rates even higher.

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Analysts expect limited Ida impact on fuel prices

Energy analysts said Tuesday that gasoline supplies and prices were unlikely to be dramatically affected by Hurricane Ida, although oil companies have not yet completed damage assessments at oil rigs and refineries that were hit by the storm. Pump prices could rise by a few cents, analysts said. AAA warned of potential price volatility. Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at research firm GasBuddy, tweeted after the storm temporarily shut down 95 percent of Gulf Coast oil and gas production that pump prices probably would rise by at least 5 cents per gallon nationally. Gas prices shot up by 45 cents after Hurricane Katrina caused massive damage in New Orleans and nearby areas. "This is not Katrina," says Richard Joswick, head of oil analytics at S&P Global Platts.

4

Stock futures rise after S&P's 7th straight monthly gain

U.S. stock index futures rose early Wednesday, poised to open September with gains after the S&P 500 wrapped up its seventh straight month of gains. Futures linked to the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up by 0.3 percent several hours before the opening bell. Nasdaq futures were up by less than 0.1 percent. The S&P 500 rose by 2.9 percent in August. The tech-heavy Nasdaq and the Dow gained 4 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively, despite concerns about economic fallout from surging coronavirus cases. "Although this bull market has laughed at nearly all the worry signs in 2021, let's not forget that September is historically the worst month of the year for stocks," said LPL Financial Chief Market Strategist Ryan Detrick.

5

Judge to rule on proposed Purdue Pharma opioid settlement

Federal bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain is expected to rule Wednesday on whether to accept OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma's proposed $10 billion settlement with states and thousands of local governments over the company's role in the opioid crisis. Under the proposed agreement, the Sackler family would give up its ownership of the drug company and pay $4.5 billion. Purdue Pharma would be converted into a new entity whose profits would be used for treatment and education about the opioid epidemic, which has killed a half-million Americans in the last two decades. Eligible victims also would get compensation of $3,500 to $48,000. Several states and some activists are holding out and hoping the judge rejects the plan, which would trigger fresh negotiations and the possible resumption of paused lawsuits against the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma.

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