The Week in Business: The Shutdown Ends (for Now), and Venezuela Has One More President Than It Needs
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Hi there. Did you see the lunar eclipse last week? I didn’t, either. (I thought about it, and then fell asleep.) Of course, of all the eclipses to miss, this one was eventful: A mysterious flash of light appeared on the side of the moon right around midnight. Astronomers believe that it was a meteoroid that crashed and burned, but we may never know.
Scientists also reported last week that a planet the size of Mars collided with Earth about 4.4 billion years ago, scattering a shower of rocks that coalesced into the moon. These celestial events put this dark, endless-seeming January into perspective, don’t they? Or they’re just one more reminder that NASA has been mostly closed for weeks, another casualty of the government shutdown. You can catch up on the latest shutdown (and reopening) news below, plus the biggest stories in business and tech, in much less time than 4.4 billion years (more like four minutes). Then, get back to enjoying this particular rotation of the Earth.
And Just Like That
President Trump made a surprise announcement on Friday that he had agreed to reopen the federal government for three weeks. During that time, Congress can pass spending bills to temporarily restore normal operations at a number of federal agencies and resume paying the 800,000 workers who have been furloughed or forced to work for free for 35 days. (They’ll also receive back wages.) Mr. Trump will continue to negotiate for more funding to secure the nation’s southwestern border, although he appears to be retreating from his previous demands for a $5 billion wall. The cease-fire came after a backlash against Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s suggestion that furloughed workers take out personal loans to cover their bills. There were also widespread flight delays on Friday because of a shortage of air traffic controllers, who called in sick after more than a month of working without pay.
Dispatch From Davos
You know who doesn’t have paycheck woes? The business tycoons who took a record number of private jets (about 1,500 in total) to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week. On the ground, the hot topic was tech. Several world leaders called for international regulations in the technology sector, particularly over the collection and use of our personal data. But could that really happen? A recent report showed that Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft spent a combined $64 million in 2018 to lobby for measures that would keep regulators at bay. And they aren’t the only ones working behind the scenes. Many business elites claimed to be worried about how artificial intelligence and automation could replace people’s jobs, but privately they’re investing in it.
Who’s in Your Fave Five?
The latest in the battle against fake news (and that annoying friend who sends spam to your social media every day): WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging application with 1.5 billion users, has capped the number of times someone can forward a message at five. The limit is intended to curb the rapid dissemination of false information like doctored photos, manipulated recordings and straight-up lies. Previously, a WhatsApp user could forward a message to 20 individuals or groups, allowing rumors to spread faster than anyone could monitor. The company has been working to resolve these issues since July, when misinformation on social media led to deadly mob violence in India.
JAN. 27-FEB. 2
China Comes to the Table
China and the United States will face off in a round of high-pressure trade talks in Washington this week, and it’ll be a nail-biter: Both economic superpowers want to end what has become a destructive trade war, but that’s about it for their common ground. The Trump administration is pushing for China to significantly open its markets to foreign investment and stop forcing American companies to hand over trade secrets. But those may be nonstarters. If no agreement is reached by March 2, Mr. Trump has said, the United States will raise tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods. That’d be a lose-lose for Chinese and American businesses and consumers.
The Fracas in Caracas
Meet Venezuela’s dueling presidents: the incumbent, Nicolás Maduro, who claimed office after a disputed election, and the 35-year-old opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, who appointed himself last week to oversee a transitional government. Mr. Guaidó was quickly backed by the United States, which offered $20 billion to aid his efforts. The sentiment was echoed by other countries in the region that view Mr. Maduro as an illegitimate dictator who has driven the oil-rich and formerly prosperous country into an era of crisis. But he won’t go quietly. Russia is a major stakeholder in Venezuela’s energy sector and has funneled more than $10 billion to Mr. Maduro’s government (and its military). There’s much to gain from being on the winning side of this clash — fossil fuels, in particular.
Kicking the Can Down the Road
Another week, another clobbering for Prime Minister Theresa May and her plan for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. Next up: Parliament will vote on amendments to Mrs. May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday. She’s proposing to renegotiate with the European Union over the plan’s major sticking points, namely customs checks on the Irish border. (The European Union wants them, and Britain doesn’t.) European Union leaders will debate the deal the next day, but don’t expect much progress. What you can anticipate, though, is that more companies will pull out of Britain, worried that a no-deal Brexit could create a giant financial mess.
The Postal Service is raising the price of a first-class Forever stamp to 55 cents from 50, effective this week. It’s the largest postage price increase ever. What’s not rising? Interest rates. They’re likely to stay right where they are when the Fed meets to discuss them this week. In other news, more companies are using “cube satellites” to spy on their competitors from space. Wave hello.
$238 million: The record selling price of a penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park, purchased by a hedge fund billionaire last week. It’s the most anyone has ever paid for a home in the United States, breaking the previous record of $137 million for an East Hampton house that sold in 2014.