The daily business briefing: January 23, 2020

Harold Maass
Passengers at LAX
MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

1.

Coronavirus outbreak adds pressure to global markets

Concerns about China's coronavirus outbreak continued to weigh on global markets on Thursday as health officials scrambled to contain the pneumonia-like virus' spread. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average inched down while those of the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were flat. Asian and European shares slipped. The death toll from the virus has risen to 17 with cases now reported in several countries. Chinese authorities have placed residents in Wuhan, a city of 11 million that is the epicenter of the virus, under a travel ban, with the restrictions promptly expanded to two nearby cities. The World Health Organization is holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday on whether to declare a global health emergency like the 2003 SARS outbreak. [CNBC, The Associated Press]

2.

Trump removing environmental protections for streams, wetlands

In a victory for fossil fuel producers and real estate developers, the Trump administration on Thursday will remove an Obama-era regulation that protected 60 percent of the country's waterways. Under President Trump's new rule, landowners will be able to dump pollutants, including fertilizers and pesticides, into waterways and destroy wetlands for construction projects, The New York Times reported Wednesday. Trump called the regulation — which he likely encountered as a real estate developer and golf course owner — "horrible" and "destructive," and repealed it in September. The Trump administration has eliminated or weakened dozens of environmental regulations and laws, including those that protect endangered species and combat pollution. [The New York Times]

3.

U.N. report supports suspicion that Saudi crown prince hacked Bezos

A United Nations report released Wednesday concluded with "medium to high confidence" that an account belonging to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman infected Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos' phone with malware, allowing the theft of a massive amount of data. The crown prince reportedly sent the world's richest man an infected video link over WhatsApp after the two exchanged contact information on bin Salman's tour of the U.S. in early 2018. The U.N. investigators called for further investigation, saying the alleged hacking appeared to have been part of an effort by Saudi Arabia to "influence, if not silence" The Washington Post's reporting on the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has previously denied targeting Bezos' phone. An investigation by experts hired by Bezos also concluded Riyadh was likely responsible. [The Associated Press, The Washington Post]

4.

Arizona company vows to phase out coal in a decade

Arizona's largest utility provider announced Wednesday that it will phase out coal power just after the end of the decade. The company, Arizona Public Service Co., currently relies on its coal-fired Four Corners Power and Cholla Power plants for 22 percent of its electricity production. Cholla is scheduled to close in 2025. Four Corners previously was supposed to shut down in 2038, but APS said Wednesday it had moved up the closure to 2031. CEO Jeff Guldner said the company would completely shift to carbon-free power by 2050. The U.S. is the second biggest emissions producer in the world, with a quarter of the pollution coming from energy production. [AZ Central]

5.

Amazon asks court to put hold on Pentagon JEDI contract

Amazon filed a motion Wednesday asking a court to halt a $10 billion cloud computing deal between the Defense Department and Microsoft. Amazon wants the court to keep the deal from going through while it challenges the contract. Amazon was an early favorite to get the job, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud, or JEDI, which aims to give members of the military better access to data and technology in remote areas. Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud division, said it is "common practice" to delay contracts when a protest is pending. The company, which has accused President Trump of anti-Amazon bias, said "numerous evaluation errors and blatant political interference" affected the decision on the JEDI contract. [Reuters]