The daily business briefing: November 18, 2020

Harold Maass
An at-home COVID test
Leon Neal/Getty Images


FDA approves first complete at-home rapid COVID-19 test

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday granted emergency use approval for the first rapid coronavirus test for complete use at home. The test, developed by California-based company Lucira Health, requires a prescription, and is expected to cost $50 or less. It relies on a nasal swab, and can provide results in half an hour. Other at-home tests that have already received FDA approval require samples to be shipped to a lab for analysis. Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said the authorization of a complete at-home test marks "a significant step" for the FDA's COVID-19 response. "Now, more Americans who may have COVID-19 will be able to take immediate action, based on their results, to protect themselves and those around them," Shuren said. [The New York Times]


GOP defectors join Democrats to hold up controversial Fed nominee

Two Republican senators joined Democrats on Tuesday to block President Trump's nomination of Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) voted "no." Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) also opposes confirmation, but he wasn't present. "In her past statements, Ms. Shelton has called for the Federal Reserve to be less independent of the political branches and has even questioned the need for a central bank," Collins said in a statement. "This is not the right signal to send, particularly in the midst of the pandemic." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also voted against advancing the controversial nomination in a procedural move to allow him to bring it up later. [The Washington Post, The Associated Press]


Stock futures bounce back after Tuesday's losses

U.S. stock index futures made modest gains early Wednesday, rebounding from Tuesday losses that paused a record-setting rally. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq were up by about 0.3 percent several hours before the opening bell. On Tuesday, the Dow dropped by nearly 0.6 percent, weighed down by Walgreens, Home Depot, and Walmart, which reported that quarterly sales grew at a slower pace than earlier in the coronavirus pandemic despite continued strong demand for food and cleaning supplies. Target on Wednesday reported sales that smashed expectations thanks to rising online and curbside-pickup sales. The Dow and the S&P surged to record highs earlier this week after positive news on potential coronavirus vaccines. [CNBC, The Wall Street Journal]


Retail sales rise, but at slowest pace since May

U.S. retail sales increased by 0.3 percent in October, marking a slowdown from the previous month's 1.6 percent gain as surging coronavirus cases restrained consumer spending. The monthly gain reported by the Commerce Department on Tuesday was the smallest since the economy started recovering in May from the damage caused by the nation's initial coronavirus shutdowns. Other data released Tuesday indicated that factory production picked up last month, although output remained below pre-pandemic levels. Fed Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the recovery was slowing and would need more support. "It looks like consumer spending is increasingly turning into a headwind for this recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression," said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. [Reuters]


FAA expected to let Boeing 737 Max jets return to service

The Federal Aviation Administration is expected on Wednesday to clear Boeing's 737 Max jets to resume passenger flights. The aircraft were grounded in March 2019 after two crashes that killed 346 people. The FAA's approval would let Boeing resume deliveries of the once popular jets, and allow airlines to use them to carry passengers. But the decision comes as demand for air travel is being sharply reduced by the coronavirus pandemic. Airlines and aircraft-leasing companies have canceled 10 percent of Boeing's outstanding 2020 orders for Max jets. Boeing has said it expected to lose $20 billion from the debacle. The company has faced lawsuits, a criminal investigation, and congressional questioning over the crashes, which have been linked to a faulty automated flight-control system. [The Wall Street Journal]