The daily business briefing: February 8, 2019

Harold Maass
Jeff Bezos at a press conference
David McNew/Getty Images
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Amazon's Jeff Bezos accuses National Enquirer publisher of blackmail

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos on Thursday accused the National Enquirer's parent company of "extortion and blackmail." In a post on the Medium blogging platform, Bezos said American Media Inc. threatened to publish intimate images of him after he started investigating how the Enquirer got text messages between him and his girlfriend, former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez. Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, said a lawyer for AMI emailed his representatives saying the company would release the images, including nude selfies, unless he and his security consultant falsely declared that they "have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI's coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces." AMI is led by David Pecker, a longtime friend of President Trump. [CNN, The Washington Post]


Renewed concerns over U.S.-China trade tensions rattle stocks

U.S. stock index futures fell early Friday as fresh concerns about U.S.-China trade relations weighed on markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq-100 were all down by about 0.5 percent, or a little more. U.S. stocks fell sharply on Thursday after reports that President Trump would not be holding an expected trade meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a March deadline marking the end of a truce in the trade war between the world's two biggest economies. The Dow and the broader S&P 500 closed down by about 0.9 percent on Thursday, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite dropped by 1.2 percent. [Business Insider, CNBC]


BB&T and SunTrust announce biggest bank merger since financial crisis

SunTrust shares surged by more than 10 percent Thursday and BB&T rose by more than 3 percent after the banks announced that BB&T would buy SunTrust Banks for about $28 billion. The all-stock deal is the biggest bank deal since the 2007-2009 financial crisis. The $66 billion merger will create the sixth largest U.S. lender. The combined company, which will operate under a new name, will boast around $442 billion in assets, $301 billion in loans, and $324 billion in deposits. The announcement by the two companies came as the Trump administration rolls back regulations on big banks that were imposed in response to the financial crisis. [USA Today, Reuters]


Bankruptcy judge approves Sears sale to Lampert

A bankruptcy judge on Thursday approved a plan by Sears' chairman and largest shareholder, Eddie Lampert, to buy the troubled iconic retailer for $5.2 billion and save it from liquidation. Judge Robert Drain overruled objections from creditors who complained the plan was unfair to them, saying, "I conclude that the process here was proper and appropriate." Lampert, who engineered Sears' $11 billion 2005 merger with Kmart and tried to turn around the company for years, was the only bidder proposing to keep Sears alive, aiming to stave off liquidation and preserve tens of thousands of jobs. [Reuters]


Woody Allen sues Amazon Studios for halting film deal

Director Woody Allen filed a $68 million lawsuit against Amazon Studios on Thursday, accusing it of breaching a film contract with him over "a 25-year-old, baseless allegation." Amazon signed the five-picture deal with Allen in 2016, but has only released one, Wonder Wheel. The second film under the contract, A Rainy Day in New York, was shot in 2017, but Amazon reportedly held its release after allegations that Allen sexually abused his daughter, Dylan Farrow, resurfaced; he has denied the allegations. In the lawsuit, Allen says Amazon is refusing to release the film in theaters as agreed, and moved to terminate his deal in June 2018, even though the company knew about the allegation before signing the deal. [Variety]