The daily business briefing: August 10, 2020

Harold Maass
An empty department store in North Carolina.


Amazon in talks to put fulfillment centers in Simon malls

Amazon is negotiating with mall-owner Simon Property Group to transform empty department-store spaces into Amazon fulfillment centers, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday. The vacant stores include Sears and J.C. Penney locations that have been closed as malls struggle but online shopping surges during the coronavirus crisis. A deal would show that Simon, the nation's biggest mall operator, is willing to give up spaces it needs to attract mall traffic to secure a steady tenant. It wasn't immediately clear how many fulfillment centers Amazon would add, but Simon malls have 63 Penney and 11 Sears stores, according to a May public filing. J.C. Penney, which filed for bankruptcy protection in May, is closing 154 stores this summer. Long-struggling Sears also plans to close dozens of its remaining stores. [The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch]


Pelosi calls Trump orders 'absurdly unconstitutional'

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday called President Trump's executive orders on coronavirus relief "absurdly unconstitutional," and she and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said they were restarting talks on a new aid package. The White House and Democrats last week hit an impasse on legislation that was to include extending extra unemployment benefits, eviction protection, and other measures. Trump on Saturday bypassed Congress by signing four actions, including one aiming to provide up to $400 in enhanced unemployment benefits that states would have to help cover. The other actions would extend the moratorium on evictions, defer payroll taxes on people making less than 100,000 per year, and pause student loan payments. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) called the actions "unconstitutional slop," and Pelosi said she shared that view. [CNN, Reuters]


Stocks mixed after Trump's coronavirus-relief executive orders

U.S. stock index futures were mixed early Monday after President Trump signed executive orders seeking to bypass Congress and extend some coronavirus relief. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were up by 0.4 percent and 0.1 percent respectively, while those of the Nasdaq were down by less than 0.1 percent several hours before the opening bell. Trump's orders seek to revive recently expired extra unemployment benefits, but at $400 per week instead of the original $600. Trump also called for deferring student loan payments, extending a federal moratorium on evictions, and pausing collection of some payroll taxes. The moves came as stalled talks on new coronavirus relief legislation raised fears of a sudden economic shock after several key benefits from the first coronavirus relief package lapsed. [CNBC]


Oil prices rise on signs of recovering demand

West Texas Intermediate crude oil futures rose by 1.7 percent on Sunday, breaking a two-day losing streak after Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said that oil demand in Asia had nearly returned to pre-coronavirus pandemic levels. Prices pushed through the top end of the range where they had been stuck for months, but they continued to face downward pressure as surging coronavirus infections in many U.S. states raised doubts about the prospects for an economic rebound. Oil drilling in the U.S. has dropped to a 15-year low and global oil exploration is stalled. Saudi Aramco reported Sunday that its quarterly profit shrank by 73 percent compared to the same period last year as coronavirus lockdowns sharply reduced the demand for oil. [Bloomberg, The New York Times]


Tourism-dependent Mauritius rushes to contain spill

Thousands of environmental activists, students, and others rushed to create floating oil booms to contain a spill from a wrecked Japanese ship that threatens to damage the Mahebourg Lagoon in Mauritius, where there are wetlands the government described as "very sensitive." Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of emergency after the ship ran aground on a reef, releasing oil from its cracked hull. He said the spill "represents a danger" to the country of 1.3 million people. The Indian Ocean island nation depends heavily on tourism, which is tied to its clear waters and coral reefs and already has been hurt by coronavirus-related travel restrictions. [The Associated Press]