Business briefing

The daily business briefing: November 19, 2021

Jobless claims inch to another pandemic-era low, the U.S. agrees to pay Pfizer $5.29 billion for 10 million COVID treatments, and more

1

Jobless claims edge down to another pandemic-era low

U.S. jobless claims inched closer to pre-pandemic levels last week, falling to 268,000 from a revised 269,000 the week before, the Labor Department said Thursday. The latest figure marked the lowest level since the coronavirus crisis hit the United States more than a year and a half ago. Worker applications for unemployment benefits averaged 218,000 in 2019. Continuing claims, which indicate roughly how many people are receiving state benefits, dropped to 2.08 million from 2.21 million a week earlier as some people lost eligibility for unemployment benefits and others found work. Job openings have risen close to record highs, but many businesses are having trouble finding all the workers they need as they return to full operations after pandemic-induced disruptions.

2

U.S. to pay Pfizer $5.29 billion for 10 million COVID-19 treatments

The U.S. government has agreed to pay Pfizer $5.29 billion for enough of its COVID-19 antiviral treatment for 10 million people if regulators authorize distributing it. If all goes as planned, it will be the biggest purchase yet of a coronavirus therapy. Pfizer on Tuesday asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize emergency use of the experimental treatment, which Pfizer said cut hospitalizations and deaths by 89 percent among high-risk adults with early COVID symptoms. The FDA also is reviewing a similar pill developed by rival drug maker Merck. Pfizer's drug costs $529 per course. The federal government also has agreed to buy 3.1 million of Merck's treatments at a cost of $700 each. President Biden said his administration is working to make the treatments "easily accessible and free."

3

House vote on $2 trillion spending plan delayed by McCarthy marathon speech

The House opened debate Thursday on President Biden's $2 trillion spending proposal, which would expand the social safety net, but Democratic leaders pushed back a planned vote to Friday morning as House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy made a marathon speech that stretched into early Friday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told members of the Democratic caucus in a letter that the spending plan "will create millions of good-paying jobs, lower families' costs, and cut their taxes, while making the wealthiest few and big corporations pay their fair share." The timetable for approving the bill, called the Build Back Better Act, was not clear. Moderates were awaiting the analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, which was released Thursday evening and estimated the package would increase the deficit by $367 billion over a decade.

4

Stock futures mixed as concerns spread about rising COVID cases

Futures tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 edged down early Friday as concerns mounted about rising coronavirus infection rates. Dow and S&P 500 futures were down by 0.4 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively. Futures for the tech-heavy Nasdaq were up by 0.3 percent. Futures also were mixed on Thursday. The Dow fell by 0.2 percent, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq gained 0.3 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. Markets were dragged down by Austria's Friday morning announcement that it would impose a new full national lockdown because of rising COVID-19 cases. Germany announced new restrictions for unvaccinated people on Thursday. In the U.S., investors also are reacting to generally positive corporate earnings. Macy's and Kohl's were the latest retailers to report third-quarter results that beat analysts' expectations.

5

Alibaba shares fall by 11 percent after a disappointing quarterly report

Alibaba's U.S. shares dropped by 11 percent on Thursday after the Chinese online retail giant reported quarterly revenue and earnings that fell short of analysts' expectations. Shares fell about the same amount in Hong Kong on Friday, the biggest one-day drop for the stock since it made its debut in the city in 2019. It is now down by 40 percent this year. The company cut its revenue guidance for the current fiscal year, trimming its growth expectations from 29.5 percent for the year to between 20 percent and 23 percent. With China's economic slowdown hurting consumption, Alibaba reported revenue of $31.4 billion, about 2 percent below the Refinitiv consensus estimate. Earnings per share came in at 11.2 yuan ($1.75), about 10 percent below estimates and 38 percent below the same period a year ago.

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