Business briefing

The daily business briefing: May 19, 2021

The Trump Organization faces a criminal investigation, Walmart sales rise more slowly as the pandemic eases, and more

1

Trump Organization probe now a criminal investigation

The New York Attorney General's office has informed the Trump Organization that its investigation into the company is "no longer purely civil in nature," spokesman Fabien Levy told CNN on Tuesday night. "We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA," Levy said, adding that the attorney general's office would have no further comment. The news was later confirmed by MSNBC, Politico, and other outlets. The inquiry began in 2019, with investigators looking into whether the Trump Organization inflated the value of its properties to get better loans and insurance, and undervalued them to reduce taxes. Most recently, prosecutors with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s office have been trying to get longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg to cooperate.

2

Walmart sales rise at slower pace as pandemic eases

Walmart reported Tuesday that its sales rose at a slower pace in the recent than quarter than earlier in the pandemic as shopping patterns began returning to normal. Comparable sales from stores and digital channels in operation for at least a year jumped by 6 percent in the quarter that ended April 30, compared to the same period a year earlier. U.S. online sales rose by 37 percent, the slowest online increase for the retailer since the start of the coronavirus crisis in early 2020. The most recent coronavirus relief checks gave sales a boost. "Our optimism is higher than it was at the beginning of the year," CEO Doug McMillon said in a release. "In the U.S., customers clearly want to get out and shop."

3

Russian hackers got $90 million in bitcoin from victims

The Russian hacking group DarkSide, which was behind the cyberattack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline, collected more than $90 million in bitcoin ransom payments from 47 victims, blockchain analytics firm Elliptic said in a report released Tuesday. "To our knowledge, this analysis includes all payments made to DarkSide, however further transactions may yet be uncovered, and the figures here should be considered a lower bound," said Tom Robinson, Elliptic's co-founder and chief scientist. The average payment to get DarkSide to undo the effects of its malware was about $1.9 million. The hacking operation was on track to have its most lucrative month ever when it lost access to its servers and abruptly closed after the attack on Colonial forced the company to shut down a pipeline that supplies about 45 percent of the East Coast's gasoline. Colonial reportedly paid DarkSide about $5 million in ransom.

4

Biden calls electric vehicles auto industry's 'future'

President Biden test drove Ford's electric version of the F-150 pickup on Tuesday ahead of its Wednesday unveiling, after touting electric vehicles as "the future of the auto industry" during a visit to Detroit. "There's no turning back," Biden said. "The question is whether we will lead or we will fall behind in the race to the future." Biden used his stop at the Ford Motor Co. Rouge Electric Vehicle Center to tout his $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan, which includes $174 billion in spending to boost the electric-vehicle industry by supporting domestic manufacturing and supply chains, ensuring a nationwide network of charging stations, and increasing access to EVs to average consumers. Republicans are pitching a less expensive infrastructure plan focused on shoring up concrete infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.

5

Stock futures fall ahead of Fed minutes release

U.S. stock index futures fell early Wednesday as investors awaited the release of minutes from the last Federal Reserve meeting, which could provide indications of whether inflation will prompt the Fed to dial back its efforts to boost the economy. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were down by 0.7 percent several hours before the opening bell. Futures tied to the S&P 500 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell by 0.8 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively. Technology shares led the declines, with a drop in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies dampening sentiment in the sector. Bitcoin dropped under $40,000 for the first time in 14 weeks after China warned banks not to conduct business related to cryptocurrencies. Tesla, a bitcoin investor, fell by 2 percent in pre-market trading. Facebook, Amazon, and Apple all dropped by about 1 percent.

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