The daily business briefing: November 4, 2020

Harold Maass
Ant Group hq
STR/AFP via Getty Images

1.

China halts Ant's massive IPO

China on Tuesday abruptly suspended financial technology powerhouse Ant Group's initial public offering of stock, which was on track to raise at least $34.4 billion in what would be the largest IPO ever. China rebuked the company's controlling shareholder, billionaire co-founder Jack Ma, and the Shanghai Stock Exchange halted the IPO a day after four regulatory agencies summoned him and two top Ant executives to a private meeting. The company said its Hong Kong listing also would be suspended, and investors who subscribed to the IPO would get their money back. "Ant Group apologizes for the trouble this has caused investors," the company said in a post on Chinese social media. The unexpected development so close to the listing was "very striking," said Cornell University trade policy professor Eswar Prasad. [The Wall Street Journal]

2.

Stocks mixed as presidential election remains undecided

U.S. stock index futures fluctuated early Wednesday as the U.S. presidential election remained too close to call. The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged down while the S&P 500 rose slightly, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq jumped by 2.4 percent. The three main U.S. indexes all jumped on Tuesday while millions of Americans were at the polls voting in the general election. It was the second-best Election Day for the S&P 500 on record after 2008, though trading has only been taking place on the day since 1984. While there's some indication that Wall Street is anticipating a Joe Biden victory, the upward trend could simply be a sign that investors are betting on a decisive election one way or another, despite fears of a drawn-out contest. If the latter scenario does end up being the case, there's a chance the markets could reverse. [CNBC]

3.

Californians approve gig-work measure pushed by Uber, Lyft

California voters on Tuesday approved a ballot measure exempting Uber, Lyft, and other companies from classifying drivers and couriers as employees rather than independent contractors under the state's gig-work law. Gig-economy powerhouses including Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates pumped more than $200 million into a campaign backing the measure, Proposition 22. Opponents raised less than $20 million. The proposition will let app-based transportation and delivery companies continue to classify drivers as independent contractors ineligible for employee benefits, but gives them the right to some protections, including minimum earnings and vehicle insurance. Uber and Lyft are still struggling to reach profitability, and say the contractor-driver system is key to getting there. [San Francisco Chronicle, CNBC]

4.

BMW profits rise on strong luxury-vehicle, China sales

German automaker BMW said Wednesday that its third-quarter profit rose by 17 percent to $2.2 billion. The gains came thanks largely to booming sales in China and strong demand for lucrative luxury models, including the 8 series coupe and the X7 sport-utility vehicle made at the company's South Carolina plant. The profit figure was up from $1.8 billion in the same period last year. The strong earnings report was offset by the company's warning that future risks from the coronavirus crisis were "high" because "the pandemic is now clearly gaining momentum." BMW didn't change its earnings forecast for the full year, but said it expected "significantly lower" profits than in 2019 due to the pandemic. The company's shares fell by 1.8 percent in Europe. [The Associated Press]

5.

Florida voters back initiative to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour

Floridians on Tuesday approved a ballot measure to gradually raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour. The initiative, backed by slightly more than the 60 percent needed to pass, would hike the current minimum wage of $8.65 an hour to $10 next year, and by $1 an hour every year after that until it reaches $15 in 2026. Florida is the eighth state and the second most populous one to approve a $15 pay floor. Labor advocates argued that the hike was necessary to guarantee a living wage. Many Florida businesses argued that the change would kill jobs. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden backed calls for a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage. President Trump said it should be left to the states. [The Washington Post]