The daily business briefing: October 16, 2020

Harold Maass
A closed store
Victor J. Blue/Getty Images


Mnuchin says differences with Democrats won't derail coronavirus deal

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday that the White House won't let lingering disagreements with Democrats prevent a deal over a new round of coronavirus relief. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has identified the funding target for COVID-19 testing as a key sticking point, but Mnuchin said that issue was "overblown" and compromise was possible. President Trump later criticized Mnuchin for failing to "come home with the bacon" after numerous talks with Pelosi, the Democrats' lead negotiator. House Democrats approved a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package and called Trump's $1.8 trillion counter-proposal inadequate. Trump said he would be willing to go higher, accusing Pelosi of holding up a deal. "I would go higher. Go big or go home, I said it yesterday," Trump told Fox Business. [CNBC]


Jobless claims hit 898,000 last week, most since late August

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose to 898,000 last week, the most since late August, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The number was higher than economists expected, and marked an increase of 50,000 over the previous week. Fresh layoffs and other signs that the economic recovery is faltering as coronavirus infections rise have kept weekly jobless claims stubbornly above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000. The number of people collecting ongoing unemployment benefits through regular state programs fell by 1.2 million to about 10 million. "The jobless claims continued to reflect very difficult labor market conditions," said Kathy Bostjancic, economist at Oxford Economics. "It's representative of still uncertain and challenging economic conditions at large." [The Wall Street Journal]


Twitter service disrupted by system problems

Twitter was hit with an outage on Thursday, with visitors trying to visit its site greeted by an error message. The company tweeted confirmation that the service was down for many users and that it was working on restoring it. "We have no evidence of a security breach or hack, and we're currently investigating internal causes," the company said in a statement. Service was at least partially restored by 7 p.m. ET after being down for more than an hour. The problems came a day after Twitter and rival Facebook restricted access to a New York Post story describing alleged "smoking gun" emails, which have not been authenticated, linking Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to his son's business dealings when the elder Biden was serving as vice president. [The Verge]


Pentagon study finds minimal risk of coronavirus exposure on planes

A Defense Department study released Thursday concluded that passengers faced little risk of catching the coronavirus on a packed commercial flight. Researchers concluded that a passenger wearing a surgical mask continuously would have to sit next to an infectious passenger for 54 hours to get a dangerous level of exposure through the air. The threat of infection is greatly reduced because of the way air is circulated and filtered on airliners. The study used a mannequin expelling simulated virus particles, and researchers conceded that this method of measuring the threat of aerosol exposure had its limitations. Still, Vice Adm Dee Mewbourne said, "the results showed an overall low exposure risk from aerosolized pathogens like COVID-19 on these aircraft." [The Washington Post]


Stocks struggle after 3rd straight day of losses

U.S. stock index futures struggled for traction early Friday after a third straight day of losses on Thursday. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were flat several hours before the opening bell, while those of the tech-heavy Nasdaq were up by 0.1 percent. The Dow fell by less than 0.1 percent on Thursday. The S&P 500 dropped by 0.2 percent and the Nasdaq lost 0.5 percent as uncertainty about the prospects for a new round of coronavirus stimulus spending worried investors. Retail sales data coming out at 8:30 a.m. ET on Friday could provide evidence on how the recovery in consumer spending is going as coronavirus cases begin rising again. Economists polled by Dow Jones forecast a 0.7 percent increase in sales, up from a 0.6 percent rise in August. [CNBC]