The daily business briefing: September 10, 2019

Harold Maass
The Google logo on a screen


50 states, territories start Google antitrust investigation

Attorneys general in 50 U.S. states and territories have launched a joint antitrust investigation of Google, they announced Monday. The investigation, which is not a lawsuit, will seek to determine whether Google's dominance of search and advertising online violates antitrust regulations. Google faced a previous probe from the Federal Trade Commission, which evaluated the tech giant's methods but ultimately decided not to impose a major fine or force it to break up. Google has not yet commented on the newly announced investigation. [The Washington Post]


Fred's files for bankruptcy protection and plans to close its stores

Discount retailer and pharmacy chain Fred's on Monday filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company plans to close all of its stores and liquidate, with its going-out-of-business sales expected to be completed within two months. Fred's collapsed rapidly in recent months with several rounds of store closures. The company had 568 stores, 169 of them with full-service pharmacies, in 15 states as of early February. By the end of August it was left with just 80 locations. The collapse followed the unraveling of the proposed merger of Walgreens and Rite Aid due to federal antitrust objections just over two years ago. Fred's had been expected to profit from the deal by adding numerous stores. [USA Today]


FDA orders Juul Labs to stop claiming e-cigarettes are safer

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday told Juul Labs to stop marketing its e-cigarettes with claims they are safer than traditional cigarettes. "The law is clear that, before marketing tobacco products for reduced risk, companies must demonstrate with scientific evidence that their specific product does in fact pose less risk or is less harmful," acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a statement. The warning was the FDA's latest effort to discourage vaping, which has become increasingly popular among teens as concerns over health risks rise. The Federal Trade Commission last month launched an investigation into Juul's use of social media influencers to gain customers, including young people. [Reuters]


U.S. stock futures point to slightly lower open

U.S. stock index futures inched down early Tuesday after the Dow Jones Industrial Average posted its fourth straight day of gains. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq were all 0.1 percent to 0.2 percent lower ahead of the open. The Dow closed up by 0.1 percent on Monday on signs of optimism ahead of new U.S.-China talks on ending the trade war between the world's two largest economies. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the two sides had reached a "conceptual agreement" on intellectual property theft, a key sticking point. On Tuesday, market focus is expected to turn to fresh economic data, including a new Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey and a small-business data survey. [CNBC, MarketWatch]


Jack Ma steps down as Alibaba chairman

Jack Ma stepped down Tuesday as chairman of Alibaba, the world's biggest e-commerce company. Ma will remain one of the 36 members of the Alibaba Partnership, which can nominate the majority of the Chinese online retail giant's board of directors. Ma's departure is part of a succession plan the company announced last year. The company has shifted to focus on domestic business, which accounted for 66 percent of its $16.7 billion in revenue last quarter, as the industry faces uncertainty due to the U.S.-Chinese tariff war. Growth in online sales was 23.9 percent in 2018, but it fell 17.8 percent in the first half of this year as China's economic growth slowed down. [The Associated Press]