Business briefing

The daily business briefing: October 30, 2017

Puerto Rico cancels its controversial power contract, lobbyists come out against the House GOP tax-cut bill, and more


Puerto Rico power authority cancels controversial contract

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority on Sunday canceled a controversial $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy to restore the country's power grid, which was knocked out by Hurricane Maria. Critics, including some in Congress, had questioned whether Whitefish, a tiny Montana company from the same town as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, was up to the massive job, and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said the contract had become a distraction. About 80 percent of the U.S. island territory's residents are still without electricity more than a month after the storm. Ricardo Ramos, the power authority's executive director, said Whitefish would be paid to finish repairing two transmission lines. Rosselló said he was requesting assistance from Florida and New York to help with additional work under mutual aid arrangements for emergencies.


House GOP tax-cut bill faces opposition from lobbyists

President Trump's tax cuts faced growing opposition on Sunday from interest groups opposed to eliminating popular deductions to help pay for them. The National Association of Home Builders, a powerful housing industry trade group, said it would work to kill the bill after House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said the legislation, which will be released Wednesday, would not include a homeownership tax credit. "We're opposed to the tax bill without the tax credit in there, and we'll be working very aggressively to see it defeated," NAHB chief executive Jerry Howard said. House Republicans also face opposition over proposals to reduce tax-free 401(k) contributions, and deductions for state and local tax payments.


Walmart tests robot stocking clerks

Walmart is testing two-foot robots to roam aisles in 50 U.S. stores to scan products for incorrect prices and mislabeling, check stock, and identify missing or incorrectly placed items. The robots are programmed to relay the information to employees so they can restock shelves and fix errors. The robots are being used in select stores in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and California. "If you are running up and down the aisle and you want to decide if we are out of Cheerios or not, a human doesn't do that job very well, and they don't like it," said Jeremy King, chief technology officer for Walmart U.S. and e-commerce. Walmart said the use of the robots would not result in staff reductions at the stores.


U.S. stocks head for lower open after last week's records

U.S. stock futures declined on Monday, suggesting a lower open to start the week following a series of record closes last week. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures fell by 0.1 percent and S&P 500 futures were down by 0.2 percent, while Nasdaq-100 futures were flat. Stocks got a lift Friday from strong quarterly results reported by tech giants such as Amazon and Microsoft, but there are no major earnings reports scheduled for Monday. Facebook and Tesla report on Wednesday, followed by Apple, Starbucks, and Dow DuPont on Thursday. Federal Reserve policy makers meet on Tuesday and Wednesday, although they aren't expected to make any changes to monetary policy, and the October jobs report is coming on Friday.


Trump nears decision on new Fed chair

President Trump is nearing a decision on his nominee to be the next Federal Reserve chair. CBS News reports that current Chair Janet Yellen, who has led the central bank since 2014, is out of the running, although she has been named as one of the people on Trump's short list of five candidates. Trump reportedly is leaning toward Fed governor Jerome Powell, although administration officials stress that the decision is not yet final. Trump is expected to name his pick before he leaves for Asia on Friday. A Senate majority will have to confirm the nominee, who will take the reins as the Fed gradually hikes interest rates it slashed to help boost the economy after the 2008 financial crisis.


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