Business briefing

The daily business briefing: March 18, 2022

The House passes bill seeking to suspend normal trade relations with Russia, jobless claims fall as hiring rebound continues, and more

1

House passes bill that would suspend normal trade relations with Russia

The House on Thursday approved legislation seeking to suspend normal trade relations with Russia and its ally Belarus as part of the ongoing effort to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine. The bill passed 424 to 8. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he expected the Senate to quickly approve the bill. "We must do all we can to hold Putin accountable for senselessly attacking the Ukrainian people and undermining global stability," House Ways and Means Chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Ranking Member Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) wrote in a joint statement. "The suspension of normal trade relations is an essential part of our effort to restore peace, save lives, and defend democracy."

2

Jobless claims fall as job market continues to bounce back

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell by 15,000 to 214,000 last week in a sign that layoffs are continuing to drop as the job market bounces back from disruption by the coronavirus pandemic. The less-volatile four-week average of new claims dropped to 223,000 from 231,750 a week earlier. A 50-year low of 1,419,000 Americans were receiving unemployment aid in the week that ended March 5, a 71,000 decline from the previous week. The federal government reported in early March that U.S. employers added 678,000 jobs in February, the most since July. The unemployment rate fell to 3.8 percent from 4 percent in January.

3

Russia says it sent bond interest payment to prevent default

Russia's Finance Ministry said Thursday it transferred a $117 million bond interest payment to stave off a potentially devastating default on government debt, although it did not confirm whether the money reached foreign investors in time to beat a Wednesday deadline. The statement, released through Russian state media, said money was sent to a Citibank account in London. Citibank made no immediate comment. Some Russia creditors have received payment, Reuters reported. Russia has faced harsh sanctions and financial isolation over its invasion of Ukraine. Western governments have frozen much of Moscow's hard currency reserves that are held outside Russia, and limited transactions with Russian banks, making it hard for Russia to come up with money to make debt payments.

4

35 companies agree to produce generic Pfizer COVID pill versions

Thirty-five global manufacturers have signed agreements to produce generic versions of Pfizer's antiviral treatment for COVID-19. The Medicines Patent Pool, a United Nations-backed nonprofit that negotiated a licensing deal with Pfizer last fall, announced the list of companies participating in the effort and said a 36th company, in Ukraine, was unable to sign its sublicense due to Russia's invasion. The companies plan to sell their versions of Pfizer's COVID pills inexpensively in 95 lower-income countries that are home to half the global population. Together, they operate in 12 countries in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. It will take several months for the companies to get production up and running.

5

Stock futures fall but indexes finish a strong week

U.S. stock futures fell early Friday after a three-day rally that has left the S&P 500 in position to end the week with its biggest gains in a year. Futures tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average were down 0.5 percent at 6:30 a.m. ET. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were down 0.6 percent. The Dow is up 4.7 percent for the week, on pace for its biggest weekly gain since November 2020. The Federal Reserve earlier this week raised its benchmark interest rate for the first time since 2018, signaling six more increases this year to fight inflation. Oil prices, which recently eased after surging due to the Russia-Ukraine war, rose 8 percent on Thursday to close above $100 per barrel again.

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