The daily business briefing: February 22, 2021

Harold Maass
A Boeing 777X airliner
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

1.

Biden administration changes PPP rules to help small businesses

The Biden administration on Monday announced changes to the Paycheck Protection Program designed to help small and minority-owned businesses. Starting Wednesday, the administration will give businesses with fewer than 20 employees a two-week window during which they will have an exclusive opportunity to apply for the loan program created to help businesses affected by coronavirus lockdowns continue to pay their workers. The loans also will be made available to some business owners previously excluded, such as those delinquent on federal student loans and Green Card holders. "While the Paycheck Protection Program has delivered urgent relief to many businesses across the country, the initial round of PPP last year left too many minority-owned and mom and pop businesses out while larger, well connected businesses got funds quickly," an administration official said. [CNN, Fox Business]

2.

Boeing urges airlines to ground some Boeing 777s after incident

Boeing on Sunday called for airlines to temporarily stop using Boeing 777s powered by the same Pratt and Whitney jet engine that broke apart on one of United Airline's planes on Saturday. United announced Sunday that it would voluntarily ground its 24 active Boeing 777s using the engines. Federal Aviation Administration administrator Steve Dickson said on Sunday that the agency was ordering the inspections of some Boeing 777 jetliners after the engine failure forced a United jetliner to make an emergency landing shortly after takeoff in Denver. No one was injured in the incident, but a large engine covering appeared to have landed in front of a house. The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are investigating the cause of the incident. [Reuters, CNBC]

3.

Bitcoin continues push into record territory

Bitcoin hit the latest in a string of record highs on Sunday before falling early Monday. A week after crossing the $50,000 mark for the first time, the world's most popular cryptocurrency reached $58,354, pushing its weekly gain to about 20 percent. Bitcoin has gained nearly 100 percent this year. A two-month rally has lifted total bitcoin capitalization to around $1 trillion. The rally has been fueled by increasing acceptance of bitcoin by mainstream investors and by major companies, including Tesla, Mastercard, and BNY Mellon. Tesla's investment in bitcoin has yielded about $1 billion in paper profits, putting it "on a trajectory to make more from its Bitcoin investments than profits from selling its EV (electric vehicle) cars in all of 2020," according to Daniel Ives, analyst at Wedbush Securities. [Reuters, CNBC]

4.

Israeli data suggests Pfizer vaccine 99 percent effective at preventing COVID deaths

The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is 98.9 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations, the head of Israel's health ministry, Chezy Levy, said in a statement reported by The Times of Israel. Levy said the vaccine was 99.2 percent effective at preventing serious COVID-19 cases. Israel is pushing to inoculate all adults older than 16 before vaccinating children. The speed of the campaign has been widely praised, but Israel has faced criticism over not providing more doses for Palestinian-held territories. Israel began easing its COVID-19 restrictions Sunday as infections continued to decline following a national lockdown and a rapid vaccination effort. Social distancing and masks will still be required, but libraries, gyms, restaurants, and museums can reopen. [The Times of Israel, BBC News]

5.

Stock futures fall as rising bond yields raise concerns

U.S. stock index futures fell early Monday after the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq closed last week with losses. Futures for the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were down by 0.7 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively, several hours before the opening bell. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by nearly 0.6 percent. Stocks have been struggling as rising bond yields threaten to hurt companies that depend on easy borrowing to fuel growth. "The market has principally been saying hooray, the pandemic is coming under control and the economy is starting to grow again," said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial Network. "But now we're actually starting to see the consequences of that in the form of higher rates, and I think the market's processing that." [CNBC, The Wall Street Journal]