Business briefing

The daily business briefing: April 8, 2022

Senate backs suspending normal trade relations with Russia, appeals court upholds Biden's federal-worker vaccine mandate, and more

1

Senate approves suspending normal trade relations with Russia

The Senate on Thursday unanimously approved bills that would suspend normal trade relations with Russia and ban Russian oil imports. The House, which initially approved the trade measure in mid-March, backed the latest versions of the proposals with minimal opposition, sending them to President Biden for his signature. Senate negotiators had haggled over a few provisions in the legislation for weeks, but the effort to pass the bills regained momentum after the surfacing of evidence of Russian atrocities in Ukraine. "It's a big, big deal we are finally getting them done," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. European Union countries approved new sanctions that include phasing out Russian coal imports, the fifth E.U. sanctions package since Russia invaded Ukraine.

2

Appeals court upholds Biden federal-worker vaccine mandate

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld President Biden's coronavirus vaccine requirement for federal workers, reversing a lower court ruling against the mandate. Biden said in September that the vast majority of federal employees would have to get vaccinated or face discipline, but U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown in Texas blocked the policy in January, saying Biden couldn't make workers "undergo a medical procedure as a condition of their employment." At that point, 95 percent of federal workers were already vaccinated. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans ruled 2-1 that Brown lacked jurisdiction, and ordered that the lawsuit challenging the mandate be dismissed.

3

U.N. agency's food-price index jumps to record high

World food prices surged by nearly 13 percent in March, hitting a record high as Russia's invasion of Ukraine disrupted grain markets, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Friday. The agency's food price index averaged 159.3 points last month, up from an upwardly revised record of 141.4 in February. The FAO's cereal price and vegetable oil indexes jumped 17 percent and 23 percent, respectively, in March. The FAO said last month that the Ukraine conflict could drive up food and feed prices by 20 percent, increasing malnutrition risk. Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of wheat, corn, barley, and sunflower oil, but the war has halted Ukrainian exports via the Black Sea.

4

Walmart raises truck drivers' starting pay to at least $95,000

Walmart said Thursday it was raising starting salaries for its long-haul truck drivers to between $95,000 and $110,000 per year, up from an average of $87,000. The retail giant also is offering a three-month program to retrain existing supply-chain workers to get commercially licensed as drivers so they can join the company's internal fleet. Walmart has about 12,000 truck drivers and it hired more than 4,500 drivers last year. But it needs more to keep goods flowing to its stores and e-commerce warehouses, and keep up with increasing online orders. The pay hike will "help us continue to hire aggressively to meet all-time high demand from customers," a Walmart spokesperson told CNN in an email.

5

Stock futures edge higher after Wall Street snaps 2-day losing streak

U.S. stock futures rose slightly early Friday after a late-day comeback ended a two-day losing streak Thursday. Futures tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 0.2 percent at 6:45 a.m. ET. S&P 500 and Nasdaq futures were up 0.1 percent. Thursday's gains came despite concerns about Federal Reserve signals it would tighten monetary policy more aggressively to fight inflation. The Dow and the S&P 500 closed up 0.3 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively. The tech-heavy Nasdaq gained 0.1 percent. Stephanie Link, chief investment strategist and portfolio manager at Hightower, told CNBC's Closing Bell stocks would be fighting headwinds for a while "because we just have so many unknowns to deal with."

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