The daily business briefing: March 23, 2021
Powell will testify that the economy is recovering faster than expected, Biden advisers prepare a $3 trillion spending plan, and more
Fed chair to testify economy recovering faster than expected
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will tell the House Committee on Financial Services on Tuesday that the economic recovery has "progressed more quickly than generally expected and looks to be strengthening" despite the coronavirus pandemic, according to Powell's opening testimony release Monday ahead of the hearing on COVID-19 relief. The message is mostly optimistic and consistent with Powell's previous comments. He will note that "while the economic fallout" of the pandemic "has been real and widespread, the worst was avoided by swift and vigorous action." Still, he cautions there are reasons for concern, especially in sectors of the economy most heavily affected by the virus. He also will repeat his warning that the already-elevated 6.2 percent unemployment rate "underestimates the shortfall," with labor market participation still below pre-pandemic levels.
Biden advisers preparing $3 trillion spending plan
President Biden's economic advisers are working on a $3 trillion proposal to boost the economy, support manufacturers, and address financial inequality, The New York Times reported on Monday, citing documents, and people familiar with the plans. The plans, expected to reach Biden this week, include measures to reduce carbon emissions. The first major initiative would be an infrastructure push that would be paid for in part by tax hikes on the rich. The $3 trillion in spending does not include the cost of temporary tax cuts under consideration to fight poverty. That could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the overall cost of Biden's agenda. Administration officials noted that the details of the plan are still changing.
Agency: AstraZeneca might have reported incomplete vaccine-trial data
AstraZeneca might have used outdated or incomplete data from the U.S. trial of its coronavirus vaccine when it reported results on Monday, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Tuesday. The miscues might have resulted in "an incomplete view of the efficacy data," the agency said. Britain's AstraZeneca, which developed its vaccine with Oxford University, reported that its vaccine was 79 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19 in the trial, and 100 percent effective against severe illness. The federal agency urged the company to work with federal regulators to release updated data "as quickly as possible." There have been 29.8 million coronavirus cases and more than 543,00 deaths in the U.S.
U.S. stock futures fall after tech rebound
U.S. stock index futures edged down early Tuesday after Monday's gains. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were down by about 0.5 percent several hours before the opening bell. Futures for the tech-heavy Nasdaq were about 0.3 percent lower. All three of the main U.S. indexes gained on Monday as the 10-year Treasury yield fell from last week's 14-month high, giving a lift to technology and other growth stocks that have struggled due to the prospect of rising interest rates. The Dow rose by 0.3 percent on Monday. The S&P 500 gained 0.7 percent and the Nasdaq surged by 1.2 percent. "While the rise in yields has created volatility, we don't expect it to derail the equity rally," said Mark Haefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management. "We believe rising yields reflect growth optimism and expectations for higher inflation."
Home sales fall as prices rise and inventory drops
Existing home sales fell by 6.6 percent in February compared to January as the housing market remained hot but rising prices and a shortage of available properties frustrated many would-be buyers, the National Association of Realtors reported Monday. Sales were 9.1 percent higher than last February, before the coronavirus hit the United States and caused turmoil in the economy, briefly slowing home sales. The seasonally adjusted rate of 6.2 million annualized units last month did not reflect the impact of the recent rise in mortgage rates, because the contracts that closed in February were signed before rates started climbing. The median home price in February was $313,000, a 15.8 percent jump from a year earlier.