The daily business briefing: May 21, 2020

Harold Maass
A Ford sign
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

1.

Ford temporarily closes 2 plants

Ford Motor Co. on Wednesday briefly closed two U.S. assembly plants due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns. A truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan, was closed for cleaning after a worker tested positive for COVID-19, and a Chicago auto-assembly plant was shut down because of a parts shortage. Ford had briefly closed the Chicago plant on Tuesday due to a positive coronavirus test. Ford did not provide specifics on the parts shortage, but a person familiar with the matter told Reuters that supplier Lear Corp. had closed an Indiana plant due to a positive coronavirus test. A Lear spokesman declined to comment on the report. The closures came after Ford, which is the No. 2 U.S. automaker, and other car companies reopened some factories on Monday in an attempt to resume operations after widespread shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic. [Reuters]

2.

JetBlue, United unveil safety measures ahead of Memorial Day weekend

JetBlue Airways and United Airlines on Wednesday announced several safety measures designed to help restore confidence in travelers as demand improves despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Airlines expect a rise in domestic travel over the weekend leading into Memorial Day on May 25. Many airlines are requiring passengers to wear face coverings. JetBlue said it would block seats to allow for some social distancing through at least July 6. It also will check crew members' temperatures, and use electrostatic aircraft fogging to enhance cleaning. United will use Clorox Co.'s electrostatic sprayers and disinfecting wipes at its Chicago and Denver hubs, then expand the program to other airports. It also will check staff members' temperatures. Delta is capping passenger loads at 60 percent beyond June. [MarketWatch, Reuters]

3.

Stock futures fall ahead of latest weekly jobless data

U.S. stock index futures fell early Thursday ahead of weekly unemployment figures that could show that up to 1 in 5 Americans are now out of work. Economists expect the Labor Department to report that about 2.4 million people made initial applications for unemployment benefits last week. That would bring the total number left jobless during the COVID-19 pandemic to nearly 40 million on a seasonally adjusted basis. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq were down by roughly 0.6 percent three hours before the opening bell. All three of the main U.S. indexes gained 1.5 percent or more on Wednesday in continued market volatility as all 50 states gradually reopened their economies despite concerns about a second wave of coronavirus infections. [CNBC, MarketWatch]

3.

AstraZeneca gets orders for COVID-19 vaccine it's developing

Anglo-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca sealed its first agreements to provide 400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine it is developing. The company said it had received more than $1 billion from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for getting the vaccine produced and delivered starting in the fall. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said the investment by the U.S. vaccine agency would help speed up development of the vaccine. The company and other drug makers, including Moderna and Sanofi, are racing to develop vaccines that public health officials say are necessary for removing restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus pandemic. "We will do everything in our power to make this vaccine quickly and widely available," Soriot said. [The Associated Press]

5.

Senate approves bill seeking oversight of Chinese companies

The Senate on Wednesday passed legislation seeking to prevent Chinese companies from listing their shares on U.S. stock exchanges or lining up U.S. investors without following U.S. regulatory standards. Companies also would have to certify that they are not "owned or controlled by a foreign government." Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who sponsored the legislation, said it was necessary because "the Chinese Communist Party cheats," and must not be allowed to do so on American exchanges. "We can't let foreign threats to Americans' retirement funds take root in our exchanges," Kennedy said. Shares of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba fell by more than 2 percent after the vote. [CNBC]