The daily business briefing: January 20, 2021

Harold Maass
The Netflix logo
ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP via Getty Images

1.

Yellen sails through Senate hearing

Janet Yellen, President-elect Joe Biden's treasury secretary nominee, breezed through a key Senate hearing on Tuesday. The former Federal Reserve chair, who would be the first woman to run the Treasury Department, told members of the Senate Finance Committee that the federal government's priority at the start of the Biden administration should be helping Americans weather the coronavirus crisis. "The focus right now is on providing relief and helping families keep a roof over their heads and food on the table and not raising taxes," she said. Some senators expressed concerns about the repercussion for the massive deficits prompted by the pandemic, and about their expectations of higher taxes on the rich and corporations. Still, there were no signs of significant opposition to Yellen's confirmation. [The New York Times]

2.

Netflix reports 200 million subscribers, shares soar

Netflix reported Tuesday that it added more than 8.5 million subscribers to its streaming video service in the fourth quarter of 2020, bringing its total to more than 200 million subscribers for the first time. The gain exceeded the company's forecast, and brought its total subscriber gain for the year to 37 million. Netflix first surpassed 100 million paying viewers in the third quarter of 2017. Last year, pandemic-induced lockdowns prompted Americans to flock to Netflix to watch movies online after theaters were forced to limit crowds or close entirely. The company said its revenue reached $6.6 billion for the quarter, up from $5.5 billion in the same period a year earlier. Netflix shares rose by 11 percent in after-hours trading. [The Wall Street Journal]

3.

Biden to issue executive orders, including rejoining Paris climate accord

President-elect Joe Biden plans to issue a wave of executive orders in the first few hours of his presidency, including one returning the United States to the landmark Paris Climate Agreement setting ambitious goals to reduce countries' carbon pollution. Biden also will direct federal agencies to consider revising vehicle fuel company and emissions standards. The list of 17 orders announced by Biden's team includes one reversing President Trump's withdrawal of the U.S. from the World Health Organization, and another reversing Trump's so-called Muslim travel ban. Biden also plans to extend the pause on interest and principal payments for direct federal loans through September, and require masks and social distancing at all federal buildings. [CNBC]

4.

Alibaba chief Jack Ma makes first appearance in weeks

Alibaba founder Jack Ma on Wednesday made his first public appearance since China started cracking down on his business empire. Ma spoke briefly during an event to recognize rural teachers. Ma toured a school and told the teachers that he planned to spend more time on his philanthropy. Ma had made no previous public outings since Chinese regulators suspended the planned initial public offering of stock by his financial technology company Ant Group in November. Shares of e-commerce giant Alibaba surged 8.5 percent higher in Hong Kong, and jumped by nearly as much in pre-market U.S. trading after the video of Ma's appearance soothed investors who had been increasingly concerned after weeks of speculation about Ma's whereabouts. [Bloomberg]

5.

Stock futures rise ahead of Biden's inauguration

U.S. stock index futures rose early Wednesday ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq were up by 0.6 percent, 0.4 percent, and 0.8 percent, respectively. The three main U.S. indexes all closed higher on Tuesday. The Dow and the S&P 500 closed up by 0.4 percent and 0.8 percent. The tech-heavy Nasdaq jumped by 1.5 percent. The gains came after Biden treasury secretary nominee Janet Yellen urged lawmakers in her Senate confirmation hearing to pass another big round of coronavirus stimulus spending. "Everything else could take a back seat to events in Washington as investors look ahead to big changes in policy and outlook from a new administration," TD Ameritrade chief market strategist JJ Kinahan said. [CNBC]