Business briefing

The daily business briefing: February 5, 2021

Smartmatic files a defamation suit against Fox News, jobless claims fall but remain above pre-pandemic record, and more

1

Smartmatic files defamation lawsuit against Fox News, Giuliani

Electronic voting systems maker Smartmatic filed a defamation lawsuit Thursday accusing Fox News, Rudy Giuliani, and others of falsely claiming the company was part of a conspiracy to steal the presidential election from former President Donald Trump and hand it to President Biden. The suit also names Fox Corp., Fox hosts Lou Dobbs, Maria Bartiromo, and Jeanine Pirro, and former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell. Smartmatic, which provided election technology in a key county, said Giuliani and Powell invented the story that the election was stolen and depicted Smartmatic as "the villain." The complaint says that "Fox joined the conspiracy to defame and disparage Smartmatic" and its software. Smartmatic is requesting $2.7 billion in compensatory and punitive damages. Fox News called the lawsuit "meritless."

2

Jobless claims fall but remain above pre-pandemic record

First-time applications for jobless benefits fell last week to 779,000, a drop of 33,000 from the revised level for the previous week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. Economists had been expecting 830,000 new jobless claims. The latest figure was the lowest since late November, suggesting that the economy was recovering slowly from the business shutdowns and slowdowns caused by the winter surge in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Still, the fact that weekly jobless claims remained above the pre-pandemic weekly record of 695,000 showed how far the recovery has to go. "Approaching the one-year mark of the pandemic, it is quite striking that new claims remain so elevated," Bankrate economic analyst Mark Hamrick said.

3

Senate rejects minimum wage hike but advances Biden relief package

The Senate on Thursday voted against raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour during the pandemic, but hours later approved a budget resolution including President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. The amendment prohibiting raising the minimum wage from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) was approved in a voice vote, demonstrating that it will be tough for Biden to push through the minimum-wage hike in a 50-50 Senate with at least one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, opposing it. "A $15 federal minimum wage would be devastating for our hardest-hit small businesses at a time they can least afford it," Ernst said. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a leading advocate of the wage hike, said he had no issue with holding off on raising the minimum wage during the pandemic, as the plan was always to raise it over five years.

4

Stock futures rise as Wall Street looks to extend winning streak

Stock index futures rose early Friday as investors awaited the Labor Department's January employment report, which is expected to show that U.S. employers added 50,000 jobs after a decline of 140,000 in December. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were up by 0.5 percent several hours before the opening bell. Futures for the Nasdaq gained 0.3 percent. The S&P 500 rose by 1.1 percent to close at a record high on Thursday, thanks to four days of gains fueled by strong corporate earnings reports. The Dow also gained 1.1 percent. The Nasdaq rose by 1.2 percent, also reaching a fresh high. The Dow has gained 3.6 percent this week. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq are up 4.2 percent and 5.4 percent, respectively.

5

Ford reports unexpectedly strong finish in 2020

Ford reported earnings that exceeded expectations on Thursday in a strong finish to a rough year. Ford said it made $1.3 billion in the quarter, up from $499 million in the same period the previous year. Ford said it planned to invest $29 billion in electric and autonomous vehicles in the wake of the release of its first EV in years, the Mustang Mach E. "We watched one out of 10 vehicles sold in Europe in December be pure electric ... We have no intention to cede ground to others," said Ford CEO Jim Farley. The company also said that two gasoline-powered vehicles — the new version of the Bronco SUV and the latest incarnation of the F-150 pickup, the nation's best-selling vehicle — would be important to 2021 revenue.

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