The daily business briefing: February 17, 2021

Harold Maass
McDonald's workers rally
David McNew/Getty Images


Biden extends mortgage-foreclosure moratorium

President Biden signed an executive order Tuesday extending the moratorium on mortgage foreclosures by three months to June 30, a policy intended to help people unable to keep up with their mortgage payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden also ordered government agencies to extend the window for people to apply for mortgage forbearance, the White House said. With millions of Americans still unemployed due to the pandemic, 12 percent of homeowners with mortgages have missed payments. Biden's order will let anyone with a federally guaranteed mortgage apply for a pause or reduction in their payments until June 30, and will exempt them from foreclosure. The Trump administration paused foreclosures and evictions last March, and Biden extended the policy on his first day in office. [CBS News]


Fast-food workers strike in 15 cities demanding $15 minimum wage

Fast-food workers in 15 U.S. cities went on strike Tuesday to demand an increase of their minimum wage to $15 an hour. The strikes by McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's employees, who were joined by home care and nursing home workers, took place in Charleston, South Carolina; Chicago; Flint and Detroit, Michigan; Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina; Houston; Miami, Orlando, and Tampa, Florida; St. Louis; Oakland, Sacramento, and San Jose, California; and Milwaukee. Low-wage workers have been participating in the Fight for $15 movement since 2012, but this year's push comes as the Biden administration is trying to increase the federal minimum wage, currently $7.25, for the first time since 2009. [The Guardian]


Bitcoin surpasses $50,000 mark for 1st time

Bitcoin's price on Tuesday rose above $50,000 for the first time in an ongoing rally fueled by the cryptocurrency's increasing acceptance by major companies as a form of payment. The world's largest digital currency retreated below the $50,000 level later in the day, only to surge again early Wednesday to surpass $51,000 for the first time. Bitcoin has doubled in two months. The recent surge came after Tesla, Mastercard, and other big companies expressed confidence in Bitcoin. Tesla last week disclosed that it had bought $1.5 billion worth of bitcoin and planned to start accepting it as payment. Mastercard also said it would start dealing with some cryptocurrencies. Paypal and BNY Mellon were among other firms expressing support for digital currencies. [CNBC]


Alden Global Capital to acquire Tribune Publishing

Investment fund Alden Global Capital said Tuesday that it was taking over Tribune Publishing, owner of major newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, and New York Daily News. Under the deal, Tribune would spin off the Baltimore Sun to a nonprofit, the Sunlight for All Institute, led by business executive and former Maryland state legislator Steward Bainum Jr. Newspapers have struggled to compete in recent years as digital rivals attract ad customers and readers. Alden, based in New York, is one of a few firms that have been buying up newspapers. Alden, which owns about 200 publications, is known for cutting newsroom jobs and selling off real estate and other assets to reduce costs at the papers it buys. [The Washington Post]


Stock futures struggle after Dow's latest record

U.S. stock index futures were flat early Wednesday following the Dow Jones Industrial Average's latest record high. Futures for the Dow and the S&P 500 were down by less than 0.1 percent several hours before the opening bell after fluctuating overnight. Futures for the Nasdaq fell by 0.2 percent. The wavering came ahead of retail sales data expected to show a rebound fueled by coronavirus stimulus money after sales slipped in the crucial holiday period due to a COVID-19 surge. The Dow gained 0.2 percent on Tuesday to close at an all-time high, the 30-stock blue-chip average's eighth record in 2021. The S&P 500 closed down by under 0.1 percent Tuesday after a day of volatile trading. The tech-heavy Nasdaq fell by 0.3 percent, partly due to Apple's 1.6 percent drop. [CNBC, The Wall Street Journal]