The daily business briefing: March 30, 2021

Harold Maass
Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images


Shipping resumes in Suez Canal after grounded ship refloated

Shipping traffic resumed in Egypt's Suez Canal on Monday after tugboats managed to refloat the massive container ship Ever Given, which had wedged across the waterway, blocking it for nearly a week. The successful refloating triggered relief as the threat of a prolonged shipping slowdown eased. "We pulled it off!" Boskalis, a salvage company that participated in the operation, said in a statement. Suez Canal Authority chair Osama Rabie said it probably would take more than three days to clear a backlog of 422 ships waiting to pass through the canal, with 113 ships expected to pass in both directions by early Tuesday. "We'll work day and night to end the backlog," Rabie said. Evergreen Line, which leases the 430-foot Ever Given, said the ship would be inspected for seaworthiness in Great Bitter Lake, a holding basin in the middle of the canal. [Reuters, CNN]


Amazon union vote count begins in Alabama

Amazon's union vote at an Alabama warehouse heads to a count on Tuesday in a potentially game-changing moment for workers at the online retail giant, America's second largest private employer. Nearly 6,000 employees at the building near Birmingham were eligible to cast ballots to decide whether to form the first union at an Amazon facility in the United States. Organizers argued for months that the union was necessary to secure better working conditions and to push back against Amazon's intense monitoring of workers, saying it infringed on workers' dignity. They also called for better pay. Amazon, which has aggressively opposed the organizing drive, countered by noting that its $15 per hour minimum wage is double the state minimum, and that it offers benefits often unavailable to low-wage workers. [The New York Times, CNBC]


Dow hits 17th record high of 2021

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by about 100 points or 0.3 percent on Monday to close at 33,171, its 17th all-time high of 2021. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq fell by 0.1 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively, as a large hedge fund's default on margin calls reportedly worth more than $20 billion last week dragged down bank stocks and triggered a fire sale of some shares. U.S. stock index futures made modest gains before Tuesday's opening bell as many investors shrugged off recent volatility. "Investors seem to understand that faster growth, rising earnings growth expectations, still historically low corporate borrowing costs, and pent up consumer demand will fuel further market gains," Evercore ISI analysts said in a note to clients. U.S. stock index futures were mixed early Tuesday. [MarketWatch, CNBC]


Moderna, Pfizer vaccines "highly effective" at preventing infections in real-world conditions

The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines have been highly effective at preventing infections in real-world conditions, federal scientists reported Monday. By two weeks after the second dose, the vaccines prevented 90 percent of symptomatic and asymptomatic infections. By two weeks after the first dose, they prevented 80 percent of infections. The report was consistent with data from clinical trials. The new study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that transmission was rare among vaccinated people, something scientists have long debated. The research also did not confirm fears that highly contagious coronavirus variants could render vaccines less effective, because the variants were circulating during the study but the vaccines still provided protection. [The New York Times]


Report: Volkswagen to change U.S. division name to Voltswagen in electric shift

Volkswagen appears to be planning to change the name of its American division to "Voltswagen" as it shifts its focus to making electric vehicles, USA Today reported on Monday, citing an announcement briefly posted on VW's website. A person familiar with the company’s plans told the newspaper that the German automaker's website had not been hacked, and the announcement two days before April Fools' Day was not a joke or marketing ploy. Volkswagen declined to comment. The news release was dated April 29, although it was posted on March 29. Volkswagen has invested heavily in EVs as it struggles to recover from a damaging diesel emissions scandal that resulted in criminal charges and more than $30 billion in penalties. [USA Today]