The daily business briefing: April 12, 2021

Harold Maass
Jerome Powell


Corporate leaders hold call to discuss fighting voting bills

More than 100 corporate leaders met online over the weekend to discuss ways to fight controversial voter-restriction bills under consideration in numerous states, including Georgia Republicans' recently signed law, The Washington Post reported on Sunday, citing four people who participated in the call. One of the proposals discussed by the executives from major airlines, retailers, and manufacturers — along with at least one NFL owner — was suspending donations to politicians who support the bills. Some of the participants also proposed holding off on new investments in states that adopt new voting restrictions. Former President Donald Trump recently called for boycotts of Coca-Cola, Major League Baseball, Delta Air Lines, and other companies that condemned the Georgia law, which critics say will make it harder for people of color to vote. [The Washington Post]


Powell: U.S. economy at 'inflection point'

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said in a CBS 60 Minutes interview Sunday that the U.S. economy is at an "inflection point" thanks to widespread coronavirus vaccination and strong fiscal support, and should soon "start growing much more quickly" with job creation "coming in much more quickly." He said forecasters see growth up to 7 percent, which would be the highest in decades. Powell said that assumes the nation keeps making progress against COVID-19, so he said it was important for people to continue taking precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks. Powell also said that the threat of another global financial crisis, like the one that hit in 2008, is "very, very low." "The risk that we keep our eyes on the most now is cyber risk," he said. [CBS News, CNN]


Microsoft in talks to buy AI company Nuance Communications

Microsoft is near a deal to buy artificial intelligence and speech technology company Nuance Communications at a price that could value Nuance at $16 billion, Bloomberg reported Sunday, citing people familiar with the matter. Nuance's voice recognition technology helped in the development of Apple's personal assistant Siri. The Massachusetts-based company also makes software for the health-care and automotive industries. If the deal, which could be announced as soon as Monday, goes through, it would be Microsoft's second largest acquisition, after its $26.2 billion 2016 deal to buy LinkedIn. "This can really help Microsoft accelerate the digitization of the health-care industry, which has lagged other sectors such as retail and banking," said Anurag Rana, a Bloomberg Intelligence senior analyst. [Bloomberg, Reuters]


Stock futures pull back after last week's records

U.S. stock index futures edged down early Monday following a flurry of record highs last week. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were down by 0.2 percent several hours before the opening bell. Those of the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell by 0.3 percent. The S&P 500 reached its 20th record high of the year on Friday. The Dow also finished the week at its highest level ever. Investors on Monday braced for the start of earnings season and economic data. A report on March inflation due Tuesday is expected to show that consumer prices rose last month. There's "a bit of a question mark in markets just saying: We're seeing strong gains; is this quite right?" said Edward Park, chief investment officer at U.K. investment firm Brooks Macdonald. [The Wall Street Journal, CNBC]


Alibaba shares jump after fine by Chinese regulators

Alibaba shares surged by 5 percent in Hong Kong on Monday after Chinese regulators fined the e-commerce giant $2.8 billion after an anti-monopoly investigation. The investigation started in December, and focused on Alibaba's requirement that merchants list products on one of two sales platforms, not both. China's State Administration for Market Regulation said Saturday that the policy stifled competition and infringed on the rights of the businesses and consumers. "Despite the record fine amount, we think this should lift a major overhang on BABA and shift the market's focus back to fundamentals," Morgan Stanley wrote in a note on Sunday. [CNBC]