The daily business briefing: July 20, 2020

Congress returns to coronavirus aid package negotiations, Trader Joe's urged to nix "racist" food labels, and more

Trader Joe's in Michigan
(Image credit: JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

1. Congress returns to urgent coronavirus aid package negotiations

Congress returns to work Monday facing increasing pressure to pass a fifth coronavirus aid package before its next scheduled break in three weeks. The most urgent task is crafting an extension or replacement for $600 extra in expiring supplemental unemployment benefits, as 20-30 million workers remain unemployed. House Democrats already passed a $3.5 trillion package in May, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is expected to release his $1 trillion proposal this week. His top priority is shielding companies from coronavirus-related lawsuits. President Trump has said he might not sign a bill if it doesn't include a payroll tax cut, an idea unpopular on Capitol Hill. House Democrats want aid for state and local governments. There is broad agreement on some form of direct payments to households.

The Wall Street Journal The Washington Post

2. Petition urges Trader Joe's to get rid of 'racist' ethnic food labels

An online petition is making the rounds asking Trader Joe's to change the labels on some of its products that critics say have "racist" branding. The grocer has special labels on several of its international food items, with "Trader Ming's" appearing on Chinese products and "Trader José" on Mexican products. A petition, started two weeks ago by a high school senior in California, states that this branding is "racist because it exoticizes other cultures — it presents 'Joe' as the default 'normal' and the other characters as falling outside of it." Trader Joe's spokeswoman Kenya Friend-Daniel said in a statement the company has already changed the packaging for a number of products with variations of the Trader Joe's name, but the process is ongoing.

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3. Disney, Facebook's top advertiser, reportedly slashes ad buys

Walt Disney Co. has dramatically but quietly cut its advertising on Facebook and its Instagram subsidiary, The Wall Street Journal reports. The entertainment giant was the biggest advertiser on Facebook for the first six months of 2020, spending about $120 million on ads for its Disney+ service alone, plus another $16 million for Hulu on Instagram. Disney joins several large companies pausing or slashing their ad spending with Facebook amid calls for a boycott over its handling of hate speech and divisive content. Disney is reportedly concerned specifically about Facebook's enforcement of its policies on objectionable content and whether it can prevent Disney ads from appearing along side it. Facebook earns about $70 billion in annual advertising revenue.

The Wall Street Journal

4. U.S. futures wobble as coronavirus cases continue to threaten recovery

U.S. stock futures ticked down slightly Monday morning, indicating a rough start to the trading week as growing coronavirus cases in the U.S. continue to threaten the economic recovery. More than 140,000 people have now died from the disease in the U.S., and Florida continues to see record daily new infections. Futures for the S&P 500 were down 0.24 percent hours before the trading bell, while those for the Dow were down 0.17 percent. Futures for the Nasdaq were mostly flat. "You can't have case numbers and economic activity rising at the same time. Something has to give," said Seema Shah, chief strategist at Principal Global Investors. Investors are keeping an eye on actions out of Washington, as Congress this week considers another coronavirus relief bill. Shares for pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca gained ahead of results from an early clinical trial of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine, expected Monday.

The Wall Street Journal Bloomberg

5. UAE launches Mars mission

The United Arab Emirates launched the Arab world's first interplanetary mission Monday, firing a rocket to Mars from a launch center in Japan. The Amal (Hope) orbiter, built in collaboration with a handful of U.S. universities and launched aboard a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket, is scheduled to enter orbit around Mars in February 2021. The UAE has embrace space exploration and its adjacent science and technology as one way to diversity from its oil-based economy. It has sent three observation satellites into space — two designed by South Korea and sent into orbit by Russia, and the third its own design — and sent an astronaut to the International Space Station last fall. It also aims to found a human colony on Mars by 2117. China and the U.S. are also launching spacecraft headed for Mars this month.

Sky News The Associated Press

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