Business briefing

The daily business briefing: January 7, 2022

Mortgage rates rise to highest level since May 2020, the Supreme Court hears arguments on Biden's vaccine mandates, and more

1

Mortgage rates rise to highest level since May 2020

U.S. mortgage rates jumped this week to their highest level since May 2020. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.22 percent in the seven-day period that ended Thursday, up from 3.11 percent the previous week. A year ago, the average 30-year rate was 2.65 percent, the lowest on record. Ultra-low interest rates have helped drive a housing boom since the pandemic started two years ago, as people who held onto their jobs and had savings took advantage of low borrowing costs to buy bigger houses as Americans shifted to working, studying, and socializing virtually, from home. Economists have expected rates to rise as the economy improves, inflation looms, and the Federal Reserve tapers its efforts to boost the recovery with asset purchases and low rates.

2

Supreme Court to hear arguments on Biden vaccine mandates

The Supreme Court is scheduled to review two challenges to President Biden's coronavirus vaccination requirements for private employers and health-care facilities on Friday. Biden has said the rules, which would affect nearly 100 million workers, will help make it safer for people to go to work by expanding protection against COVID-19. "Too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good," he said in November when he announced the mandates. The measures were supposed to take effect on Jan. 4, but they have been put on hold while courts consider challenges by business and religious groups that argue they exceed the Biden administration's authority. The high court will decide whether to block the rules while the cases continue.

3

Jobs report expected to show hiring rebound before Omicron hit

Economists expect the federal jobs report to show Friday that hiring remained strong in December. A survey by data provider FactSet found that economists expected a gain of 400,000 jobs last month, up from 210,000 in November. The unemployment rate was projected to drop from 4.2 percent to 4.1 percent. The numbers will reflect the hiring situation before the Omicron coronavirus variant sparked a spike in COVID-19 cases that has started impacting some businesses. Companies had record numbers of open positions last year. Many sharply increased pay, nevertheless prompting a wave of resignations as people sought better pay. Economists expect job growth to slow in January and early February, although "the hit from Omicron will probably be modest and relatively brief," TD Securities economist Jim O'Sullivan said.

4

Stock futures rise slightly at end of tough week

U.S. stock index futures edged higher early Friday ahead of the December jobs report. Futures tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were up by 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively, at 6:45 a.m. ET. Futures for the Nasdaq were up by 0.3 percent. All three of the main U.S. indexes fell on Thursday. The Dow fell by 0.5 percent. The S&P 500 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq both dropped by 0.1 percent. Stocks have struggled this week since Federal Reserve minutes indicated that the central bank's leaders supported speeding up interest rate hikes. The prospect of higher borrowing costs hit high-growth technology stocks especially hard. 

5

GameStop working on launching NFT marketplace

Struggling brick-and-mortar videogame retailer GameStop is working toward creating a marketplace for nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, as part of a turnaround plan, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the plans. GameStop has hired more than 20 people to operate a new unit focused on developing the marketplace, and is recruiting game developers and publishers to list NFTs on the marketplace, which it aims to launch later this year, the Journal reported. Prices of NFTs, a technology allowing proof of ownership of digital goods stored on a blockchain, have risen sharply in recent months, driven by enthusiasm among holders of Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. GameStop shares shot up by 14 percent in after-hours trading after the Journal report.

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