The daily business briefing: August 22, 2018

Harold Maass
The daily business briefing newsletter
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Facebook blocks political influence campaigns linked to Russia, Iran

Facebook said on Tuesday that it had uncovered several new efforts to mislead users. The social network said it had taken down 652 fake accounts, pages, and groups that were spreading misinformation. Facebook said the new activity was far more extensive than another influence campaign it revealed last month, and that the efforts originated in Iran and Russia and were aimed at people in Latin America, the U.K., the Middle East, and the U.S. "We believe these pages, groups, and accounts were part of two sets of campaigns," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "One from Iran, with ties to state owned media. The other came from a set of people the U.S. government and others have linked to Russia." [The New York Times]


S&P 500 bull market reaches record territory

The S&P 500 reached a record on Tuesday and tied the mark for the longest bull market ever, according to the calculations of many market analysts (others disagree). The S&P rose by 0.2 percent on optimism about the strengthening economy despite tensions between the Trump administration and major trading partners. On Wednesday, the bull market will be 3,453 days old, making it a day longer than the record set from October 1990 to March 2000. The S&P 500 has risen by more than 300 percent since hitting bottom on March 9, 2009, during the financial crisis. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite also gained on Tuesday, edging near their own records. Global shares were mixed Wednesday, and S&P 500 and Dow futures edged down by 0.2 percent. [CNBC, The Associated Press]


Target shares rise sharply after strong earnings report

Target shares jumped by 4.5 percent in pre-market trading on Wednesday after the big-box retailer reported better-than-expected quarterly sales and profit. Target said it had its largest same-store sales growth in 13 years in the second quarter thanks partly to a surge in foot traffic. Same-store sales jumped by 6.5 percent, beating the FactSet consensus forecast of 4.1 percent. Digital sales soared by 40 percent. Net income rose to $1.55 per share, up from $1.22 per share in the same period last year. Excluding non-recurring items, earnings per share were $1.47, beating the FactSet consensus estimate of $1.40 per share. Target also raised its 2018 outlook for earnings per share to $5.30 to $5.50, up from $5.15 to $5.45. The stock has gained 28 percent this year. [MarketWatch, CNBC]


U.S. adds to growing list of sanctions against Russians

The Trump administration on Tuesday imposed sanctions on two Russians, one Russian company, and one Slovakian company for allegedly helping another Russian company, Divetechnoservices, sidestep sanctions over hacking efforts by Russia intelligence agents. The U.S. Treasury Department in June sanctioned Divetechnoservices for getting underwater equipment and diving systems for Russian government agencies, including Russia's Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., its main intelligence agency. The Obama administration sanctioned F.S.B. in December 2016 for alleged cyber operations aimed at influencing the 2016 presidential election. The sanctioned companies, Saint Petersburg-based Vela-Marine Ltd and Slovakia-based Lacno S.R.O., and the two individuals, Marina Igorevna Tsareva and Anton Aleksandrovich Nagibin, allegedly helped Divetechnoservices get around the sanctions. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called the new sanctions groundless. [Reuters]


EPA says Trump coal-friendly power plan could cause 1,400 deaths a year

The Environmental Protection Agency's own analysis revealed Tuesday that the Trump administration's reversal of Obama-era restrictions on coal-burning power plants could lead to as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 due to increased pollution linked to heart and lung disease. EPA officials said, however, that other rules on emissions could reduce the toll. President Trump touted the rollback of the regulations Tuesday at a rally in West Virginia coal country. "We love clean, beautiful West Virginia coal," Trump said. The Obama administration used its regulations to steer power companies to cleaner fuels to fight climate change. Trump described the policies as part of a "war on coal" and promised to bring back coal jobs. [The New York Times]