The daily business briefing: November 5, 2018

Harold Maass
Theresa May in Brussels


Amazon narrows hunt for second headquarters city

Amazon is holding late-stage talks with Dallas, New York, the Crystal City area of northern Virginia, and a few other front-running candidates vying to become the home of its second headquarters, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, citing people familiar with the matter. Talks with local officials in some of the top cities are getting more intense, while discussions with some of the other 20 finalists have cooled. Sources told the Journal that the online retail giant might build smaller facilities in some of the leading candidates on the short-list that don't get the headquarters, which will bring a $5 billion investment and 50,000 jobs. Amazon is expected to announce its decision this month. [The Wall Street Journal, Reuters]


British pound rises on report of Brexit deal

The British pound climbed on Monday after a report that Prime Minister Theresa May had sealed a customs deal with the European Union. The Sunday Times said May and the EU had reached a "secret" agreement on keeping an open border between Ireland, which is part of the EU, and the U.K.'s Northern Ireland. The issue has been one of the main sticking points in talks on the terms of Britain's looming exit from the trading bloc. "Any shift in the participants' attitudes toward greater compromise that would lead to a 'softer' Brexit would certainly be positive for the pound," said Marshall Gittler, chief strategist at ACLS Global. The British government dismissed talk of a deal as "speculation," and said negotiations were ongoing. [MarketWatch, The Associated Press]


Oil prices sag as Iran sanctions start

Oil prices edged down on Monday as renewed sanctions against Iranian oil exports took effect, but the U.S. temporarily granted waivers to eight countries to keep importing Iranian crude. Futures for Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, fell by 0.4 percent overnight. The sanctions, aiming to force Tehran to curb its nuclear and missile programs, could dent supply and push up prices, but news of the waivers changed things. "All eyes will be on the outcome of negotiations on possible waivers to U.S. sanctions on Iran," ANZ bank said on Monday. "Any deals allowing oil importers to continue buying from Iran could see prices come under further pressure." [Reuters]


Stock futures drop on concerns over Iran sanctions, midterms

U.S. stock futures pointed to a slight drop at the opening bell on Monday, as investors showed caution over renewed oil sanctions against Iran and Tuesday's tight midterm elections. The dip came after stocks had a volatile Friday due partly to conflicting signs on global trade, with White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow saying there was "no massive movement to deal with China" shortly after a report that President Trump had asked aides to prepare a draft on a U.S.-China trade deal. At the start of a major trade expo in Shanghai on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated his promise to increase imports and promote free trade. [CNBC]


Amazon ditches minimum purchase rule for free holiday shipping

Amazon said Monday that it would offer free shipping for non-Prime customers with no minimum for the first time this holiday season. Dropping the $25 minimum purchase rule, effective Monday through just before Christmas, will ratchet up pressure on rival retailers such as Walmart during the crucial holiday shopping season. The move also could help Amazon maintain its rapid sales growth, after it forecast its slowest rise in revenue since early 2016, sending its shares tumbling last month. Amazon also reportedly will offer Prime customers, who pay $120 per year for free two-day shipping and other perks, free same-day shipping on "over three million items." More than half of the households in the U.S. have a Prime subscription. [Reuters, Engadget]