Business briefing

The daily business briefing: March 12, 2021

Biden signs the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, Netflix tests a way to discourage sharing passwords, and more

1

Biden signs $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill

President Biden on Thursday signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package into law, setting into motion the distribution of checks of up to $1,400 to most Americans and billions of dollars in aid to schools, businesses, and state, local, and tribal governments to help them contend with the pandemic. The bill also extends extra unemployment benefits and provides more funding for vaccine distribution. "I believe this … historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people of this nation — working people, middle class folks, people that built the country — a fighting chance," Biden said, before signing the bill from the Oval Office with Vice President Kamala Harris. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Americans could start receiving the direct payments as early as this weekend.

2

Netflix tests policy to discourage password sharing

Netflix is testing a way to get people to stop sharing their passwords to let other people use their accounts without paying. The streaming video service is posting an on-screen notification when some people try logging on with the credentials outside their household, asking, "Is this your account?" The message then informs the would-be viewer that they need their own account if they don't live with the account's owner. The non-subscriber can then create their own account, with a 30-day trial in some areas. "This test is designed to help ensure that people using Netflix accounts are authorized to do so," a company spokesperson said in a statement. The Streamable, which first reported the policy, said only connected-TV subscribers have run into the paywall notification so far.

3

S&P 500 closes at record high as tech stocks rebound

U.S. stock index futures rose overnight after the S&P 500 rose by 1 percent to close at a record high on Thursday, fueled by a rebound in tech shares. The tech-heavy Nasdaq spiked by 2.5 percent, led by surging tech giants, including Netflix and Facebook. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 0.6 percent to close at a record high for the 12th time this year. Demand for stocks has bounced back this week as bond yields stabilized after a recent surge. "Some calm has come back into the bond market," said Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist at LPL Financial. "And that's brought some more calm and confidence from equity investors." U.S. stock futures dropped early Friday, led by tech shares, as the 10-year Treasury note yield ticked up again.

4

Weekly jobless claims edge lower as some states lift restrictions

The Labor Department reported Thursday that 709,000 workers filed initial claims for unemployment benefits last week, a decline of 47,000 from the previous week. The drop supported recent indications that hiring is starting to pick up as the pace of coronavirus vaccinations increases and some states lift restrictions on businesses that were designed to help fight the pandemic. The latest data on jobless claims was around the lowest level in the last year, although the figure remained far above pre-pandemic records. There are still 9.5 million fewer jobs than there were a year ago. "We're still not yet at the phase of the recovery where we're seeing the floodgates open up," said Daniel Zhao, senior economist with the career site Glassdoor. "I don't think it's quite fair to call what we've done so far 'reopening' because there's still a lot of people who are out of work and a lot of businesses that are closed."

5

Amazon halts sales of books presenting transgender identity as mental illness

Amazon said in a letter to lawmakers on Thursday that it had decided to stop selling books that "frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness." The online retail giant sent the letter to Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Mike Braun of Indiana, and Josh Hawley of Missouri in response to their written request that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explain why When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment had disappeared from the Amazon, Kindle, and Audible platforms. The book, written by conservative scholar Ryan T. Anderson, focuses on gender identity and other issues. Anderson and the book's publisher responded to Amazon's letter by saying that the company was trying to "shut down" debate on "how best to treat patients who experience gender dysphoria."

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