The daily business briefing: November 19, 2020

Harold Maass
An Apple iPhone 7
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

1.

Apple agrees to $113 million 'batterygate' settlement

Apple on Wednesday agreed to pay $113 million to settle state consumer fraud lawsuits over its practice of slowing down old iPhones to preserve their batteries. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia investigated the so-called batterygate controversy. Many consumers, frustrated by the slowdown, purchased newer models. Under the agreement, Apple has committed to being more transparent, but does not admit guilt. The company did not immediately comment on the settlement. In March, the company agreed to pay up to $500 million, or at least $25 per iPhone, to settle claims it intentionally slowed down 2014 to 2016 models. Also on Wednesday, Apple said it was cutting App Store fees for the "vast majority" of developers — a move one critic argues shows that "they're sweating" under antitrust scrutiny. [NPR, The Wall Street Journal]

2.

Meadows 'can't guarantee' deal to avert December shutdown

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday he "can't guarantee" Congress and the White House will be able to reach a deal to prevent a partial government shutdown in mid-December. Unless a new spending bill is approved by Dec. 11, funding for government agencies will run out as the government struggles to confront an explosion of coronavirus cases. Meadows said he remained hopeful that lawmakers and the White House could avert what would be the third shutdown in President Trump's four years in office. One of them lasted more than a month. Lawmakers this week started negotiations but face numerous sticking points, including international aid policy, public health spending, and tribal health care, according to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. [The Washington Post]

3.

AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine triggers immune response in older people

Early-stage trials indicated that British drug maker AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine, which it is developing with the University of Oxford, was safe and effective, according to results published Thursday in The Lancet, a top medical journal. The study of 560 healthy adults found that the vaccine produced a similar immune response in all adults, meaning it could protect older people who face a "significant risk" of developing a severe illness if they are infected with the coronavirus. "We hope that this means our vaccine will help to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society," said Dr. Maheshi Ramasamy, a co-author of the study at the University of Oxford, "but further research will be needed before we can be sure." [CNBC]

4.

China sells its first bonds with negative yields

China sold its first negative-yielding debt in Europe, raising the equivalent of $4.7 billion in euros. The debt sale was split among 5-, 10-, and 15-year bonds, with the 5-year notes priced late Wednesday with a yield of negative 0.152 percent. The 10- and 15-year bonds had slightly positive yields. Investors, already accustomed to near-zero interest rates in Europe, were drawn to the securities because of China's "COVID turnaround" and a desire for "more exposure to China," said Samuel Fischer, head of China onshore debt capital markets at Deutsche Bank, one of the banks that handled the deal. China had incentive to borrow in euros because it "wants to be less reliant on the U.S. and U.S. dollar markets," said James Athey, an investment manager at Aberdeen Standard Investments. [The Wall Street Journal]

5.

Stock futures fall as rising COVID cases offset vaccine hopes

U.S. stock index futures fell early Thursday, pointing to a lower open after Wednesday's losses. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq were down by 0.2 percent several hours before the opening bell. Those of the S&P 500 were down by 0.1 percent. The Dow was flat for most of the day on Wednesday, then plunged late in the day to close down by 1.2 percent. The S&P 500 also lost 1.2 percent. The Nasdaq fell by 0.8 percent. The losses came as rising rates of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, and deaths raised concerns about fresh economic damage from the pandemic. That offset good news on the vaccine front, with Pfizer announcing that a final late-trial analysis indicated its experimental vaccine was 95 percent effective. [CNBC]