The daily business briefing: May 19, 2017

The Trump administration says NAFTA talks will start soon, Walmart reports its online sales jumped by 63 percent, and more

A Walmart store in Illinois
(Image credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

1. Trump administration tells Congress NAFTA talks starting soon

The Trump administration said Thursday that it plans to start renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada "as soon as practicable." President Trump threatened during his campaign to consider ending NAFTA, calling it a job "killer," but in a letter to congressional leaders his administration formally announced that it was instead seeking the "modernization" of the deal. Canada and Mexico are the second and third largest U.S. trade partners, after China. Trump has threatened border taxes on cars manufactured in Mexico for sale in the U.S., and imposing tariffs on Canadian lumber, raising trade tensions with both countries and stoking fears of trade wars.

BBC News

2. Walmart reports 63 percent jump in online sales

Walmart said Thursday that its online sales grew by 63 percent in the last quarter, calling the unexpectedly strong growth a sign that the nation's largest retailer was making progress beefing up its internet operation. "This is extraordinary growth, and we're pleased with the traction we're generating across our e-commerce offerings," said Brett Biggs, Walmart's executive vice president and chief financial officer. Walmart bought bulk e-commerce retailer last year for $3.3 billion as part of its effort to offer more products online, although it was not immediately clear how much that and other acquisitions contributed to Walmart's quarterly sales, and Walmart executives said most of the growth was organic.

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The New York Times

3. Automakers agree to $553 million settlement with car owners over Takata airbag recall

Toyota, Subaru, Mazda, and BMW have reached a proposed settlement to pay $553 million to compensate owners of 15.8 million vehicles affected by the massive recall of Takata air bags with potentially faulty inflators, according to court documents filed Thursday. A court still must approve the settlement. Takata's inflators, which can explode with too much force and hit drivers and passengers with shrapnel, have been blamed for at least 16 deaths and 180 injuries worldwide and caused the biggest recall in automotive history.

The Associated Press

4. FCC votes to start rolling back net neutrality rules

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted 2-1 along party lines to start rolling back net neutrality rules. The FCC's Republicans, led by chairman Ajit Pai, is seeking to start undoing Obama-era regulations requiring internet service providers to treat all internet traffic equally, which Pai said placed a "bureaucratic straightjacket" on internet providers, preventing them from blocking access to any websites or apps, or giving faster speeds to websites or apps that pay extra. Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn "vociferously" opposed Pai's proposal, saying that trusting broadband providers to "always put the public interest over self-interest" would destroy internet freedom for users.


5. Basquiat painting sells at auction for record $110.5 million

An untitled Jean-Michel Basquiat portrait sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby's on Thursday night in New York, the highest price ever paid at auction for a piece by an American artist. The late art collectors Jerry and Emily Spiegel bought the 1982 painting for $19,000 in 1984. On Thursday, the bidding started at $57 million and the painting went to Japanese art collector and entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa after a 10-minute bidding war. "I remember astounding the art world back in the 1980s when I set an auction record for Basquiat at $99,000," art dealer and Basquiat friend Jeffrey Deitch told Bloomberg. "All of us, Jean-Michel's friends, we totally believed in his genius. I always thought he would be one day in the legion of Picasso, Bacon, and Van Gogh. The work has that iconic quality. His appeal is real." Basquiat died in 1988 of a heroin overdose at the age of 27.


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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.