Business briefing

The daily business briefing: March 31, 2021

Home prices rise at fastest pace in 15 years, Volkswagen's early April Fools' joke, and more

1

Home prices rise at fastest pace in 15 years

U.S. home prices rose in January at the fastest pace in 15 years, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index released Tuesday. The index, which measures average home prices in major metropolitan areas, jumped by 11.2 percent in the year that ended in January, as buyers competed for a tightly limited supply of properties for sale. There were 1.03 million homes for sale at the end of last month, unchanged from a January level that was the lowest in data that only goes back to 1982, the National Association of Realtors reported in early March. Another reason for the price increases is a surge in demand as many Americans sought more space as they started working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, or felt freer to move farther from their offices.

2

Biden to unveil $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan

The White House on Wednesday will unveil the $2.25 trillion "Build Back Batter" infrastructure and job creation plan that forms the foundation of President Biden's economic agenda, The Washington Post reported, citing two people familiar with the plan. About $650 billion is expected to go toward rebuilding U.S. infrastructure, including highways, water systems, and transit agencies, with another $400 billion allocated to care for the elderly and people with disabilities, and $300 billion apiece will head to affordable housing and reviving U.S. manufacturing. Biden is expected to propose a plan to pay for the infrastructure push that includes increasing the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent, and raising the top individual income-tax rate to 39.6 percent from 37 percent, The Wall Street Journal reported.

3

VW says 'Voltswagen' renaming story was early April Fools' joke

Volkswagen said Tuesday that a press release that leaked this week announcing the rebranding of its U.S. subsidiary as "Voltswagen" was part of an early April Fools' joke designed to promote its new focus on electric cars. USA Today reported that the release appeared briefly on the company's website before being taken down, and cited an anonymous source insisting it was no joke. But a Volkswagen spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that the move was indeed a prank that was unexpectedly interpreted as part of the German automaker's rebranding effort after its diesel emissions scandal. "The whole thing is just a marketing action to get people talking about the ID.4," VW's first all-electric sport-utility vehicle now rolling out in the U.S., the spokesman said.

4

Biden signs law extending Paycheck Protection Program

President Biden on Tuesday signed a law extending the Paycheck Protection Program, which helps small businesses pay workers through the coronavirus pandemic. The loan program now is scheduled to continue through June 30. It had been due to expire on Wednesday. Biden called the legislation a "bipartisan accomplishment," adding that 90,000 businesses were awaiting access to the program's funds. Vice President Harris and Isabel Guzman, head of the Small Business Administration, attended the signing ceremony, as did Democratic and Republican lawmakers, including Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). "The PPP has been an enormous success, sustaining millions of small businesses and tens of millions of American jobs," Collins said in a statement.

5

Stock futures flat after Dow retreats from latest record

U.S. stock index futures were little changed early Wednesday after the Dow Jones Industrial Average pulled back from the latest in a string of record highs. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were down by about 0.1 percent several hours before the opening bell. Nasdaq futures were up by 0.3 percent, and those of the S&P 500 were flat. All three of the main U.S. indexes closed slightly down on Tuesday as concerns about rising interest rates continued to worry investors. Big tech stocks, which depend on cheap borrowing to fuel growth, have had a particularly hard time as rates have risen. Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Microsoft all declined on Tuesday. The market could shift Wednesday as President Biden unveils his $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan.

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