The daily business briefing: October 23, 2020

Harold Maass
The Gilead logo
OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

1.

Weekly new jobless claims fall below 800,000

The number of Americans filing new jobless claims has declined to less than 800,000 for the first time in seven months. The Labor Department on Thursday said that 787,000 Americans filed new jobless claims last week, a decline of 55,000 from the previous week's revised level and significantly below the expected 875,000 claims. It was the first time since the middle of March that the number of claims was below 800,000. Additionally, the number of continuing claims declined by about 1 million to 8.37 million claims. Last week, the number of new jobless claims unexpectedly rose to the highest level in almost two months. At the same time, CNN notes that "23.2 million Americans received some form of government jobless benefits in the week ended October 3." [CNBC, CNN]

2.

FDA approves remdesivir for COVID-19 treatment

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved remdesivir to treat COVID-19, making Gilead Science's antiviral drug the first and only coronavirus treatment with full federal approval. The FDA gave remdesivir emergency-use authorization in May, giving doctors the option of administering the drug to hospitalized COVID-19 patients after an extensive consent process. Full approval required further evidence of the drug's safety and effectiveness, which came through three clinical trials. A National Institutes of Health-funded trial found that remdesivir reduced hospital stays for moderately ill patients by four days, from 15 to 11. The drug has not been shown to significantly reduce mortality, and a multi-country trial backed by the World Health Organization found the drug had "little to no effect." [NBC News, Politico]

3.

Walmart files pre-emptive opioid lawsuit against federal government

Walmart on Thursday filed a pre-emptive lawsuit ahead of a looming Justice Department civil suit against the retailer in connection with the opioid crisis. Walmart accused DOJ and the Drug Enforcement Administration of trying to scapegoat the giant retail chain to hide their own "profound" regulatory and enforcement failings in the fight against the deadly opioid epidemic. Walmart said federal authorities were trying to impose harsh financial penalties by arguing that Walmart's pharmacists have filled dubious prescriptions for addictive painkillers. Walmart's suit argues that the federal government has no legal basis for suing Walmart, which operates more than 5,000 in-store pharmacies in the United States. The Justice Department and DEA declined to make any immediate comment. [The Wall Street Journal]

4.

Mortgage rates fall to 11th low of 2020

Mortgage rates fell to their 11th record low of the year last week. The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 2.8 percent, the lowest level in nearly 50 years, according to Freddie Mac. The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 2.33 percent. Today's rates are more than a full percentage point lower than they have been over the last five years, said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac's chief economist. "This means that most low- and moderate-income borrowers who purchased during the past few years stand to benefit by exploring refinancing to lower their monthly payment," Khater said. Unfortunately for buyers, prices are rising as the number of available homes declines. The median home price jumped by 15 percent in September over the same month last year. [CNN]

5.

Stocks rise slightly as coronavirus stimulus talks remain in focus

U.S. stock index futures edged higher early Friday as investors continued to monitor talks on a new round of coronavirus relief. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up by 0.3 percent several hours before the opening bell. Those of the S&P 500 rose by 0.2 percent, while those of the tech-heavy Nasdaq were up by less than 0.1 percent. The Dow and the S&P 500 gained 0.5 percent on Thursday. The Nasdaq closed up by 0.2 percent. Investors also were monitoring earnings. Intel shares dropped by 9 percent after the chip maker reported mixed quarterly results. Coronavirus developments also remained in focus after the Food and Drug Administration made Gilead Sciences' drug remdesivir the first drug to receive full federal approval for treating COVID-19 patients. [CNBC]