The daily business briefing: September 1, 2020

China's manufacturing activity surges to near decade high, Amazon gets FAA approval for delivery drones, and more

An Amazon drone
(Image credit: MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

1. China manufacturing activity rises at fastest pace in years

China's manufacturing activity rose by more than expected in August, rising at its fastest pace in nearly a decade, according to a private survey released Tuesday. The Caixin/Markit manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI), which is weighted toward small private companies, hit 53.1 for the month, up from 52.8 in July. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast a level of 52.7. It was the index's fourth straight month above the 50 reading separating expansion from contraction. China's factories took a hit earlier this year due to coronavirus lockdowns, but recent data suggest China's economy is bouncing back. China's National Bureau of Statistics reported that the official PMI, which focuses on big and state-owned companies, came in at 51.0 for the month, just below the expected 51.2.

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2. Amazon gets FAA approval for its drones to deliver packages

Amazon has received federal approval to use its fleet of Prime Air drones to deliver packages to customers, the Federal Aviation Administration said Monday. The approval gives the online retail giant broad privileges to "safely and efficiently" using small drones to carry packages "beyond the visual line of sight" of operators. Now that it has the FAA certification, Amazon will start testing customer deliveries. Amazon said it isn't ready to widely deploy the drones, but the certification "is an important step forward for Prime Air" allowing the company to continue refining the technology, which it started testing in 2013 with a goal of shortening delivery times for many items to 30 minutes or less.

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3. J.C. Penney rescue talks stall

J.C. Penney's talks with landlords to keep the company alive have stalled, one of the department store chain's attorneys said Monday in a court hearing. The company, which is seeking a rescue from bankruptcy proceedings, could collapse within days if it can't reach a deal to have lenders take over. The lawyer, Joshua Sussberg of Kirkland & Ellis, said the lenders still might step in to save the company and 70,000 jobs if negotiations go right. But Andrew Leblanc, a lawyer for the lenders, said there were "lots of hurdles" to get over to reach a deal. Penney filed for bankruptcy protection in May. It was already struggling when coronavirus lockdowns forced it to close the nearly 850 stores it still was running when the pandemic hit.


4. Wall Street fights to add gains after best August in 30-plus years

U.S. stock index futures edged higher early Tuesday after the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 wrapped up their best August in more than 30 years. Futures for the Dow were flat while those of the S&P 500 were up by 0.2 percent several hours before the opening bell. Futures for the tech-heavy Nasdaq were up by 1 percent. The Dow and the S&P 500 fell by 0.8 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively, on Monday, while the Nasdaq rose by 0.7 percent to close August up by 9.6 percent, its fifth straight month of gains. Shares of Apple and Tesla were big winners on Monday, the first day of their stock splits. Apple rose by 3.4 percent, making it the best-performing Dow component, and Tesla surged by 12.6 percent. Shares of Zoom video gained more than 17 percent in after-hours trading after the video-conferencing company reported a blockbuster second quarter.


5. Walmart set to launch new membership program

Walmart on Tuesday unveiled its new Walmart Plus membership program. The retail giant's chief customer officer, Janey Whiteside, touted the program as "the ultimate life hack" for customers. Starting Sept. 15, subscribers who pay $98 a year or $12.95 per month will get unlimited free delivery and a fuel discount of up to 5 cents per gallon at 2,000 Walmart, Murphy USA, and Murphy Express fuel stations. Members of the loyalty program also will be able to use an app to scan and pay for their own purchases, avoiding checkout lines. The program is considered a rival to Amazon's Prime subscription program, which offers free expedited shipping, streaming video, and other perks at $119 a year or $12.99 per month.


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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.