The Week in Business: Wall Street Is Thankful


Greetings from the land of leftovers. Cut yourself a slice of cold pie and catch up on the business news you need to know for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles

Wall Street rejoiced at the news that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. planned to nominate Janet Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, to head the Treasury Department. Ms. Yellen is known for her patient and steady hand at the Fed, where her policies helped create a record-long economic expansion before the coronavirus hit. If confirmed, she would be the first woman to hold the position. She also faces the unenviable job of rebuilding an economy that’s still being pummeled by the pandemic.

Ms. Yellen wasn’t the only thing that made Wall Street happy this week. Two major stock market indexes rose to all-time highs on Tuesday. Investors were reacting to several signs of future stability, including the Trump administration’s agreement on Monday to finally begin the formal transition process with Mr. Biden’s team, effectively ending the postelection turmoil. Markets were also cheered by more good vaccine tidings, this time from AstraZeneca, which became the third pharmaceutical company to show promising results in trials for its coronavirus vaccine. But the stock market is not the economy, and the latter is still struggling. Unemployment claims jumped again last week as coronavirus cases continued to spike across the country.

Purdue Pharma, the maker of the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin, pleaded guilty to its role in the deadly opioid crisis as part of a multibillion-dollar settlement with the Justice Department. The company admitted to paying illegal kickbacks to doctors who prescribed OxyContin and marketing the drug to doctors who were suspected of illegally prescribing it. Now, Purdue Pharma’s owners (the wealthy Sackler family) will pay $225 million in civil penalties, but they do not face criminal charges — yet. The fine is peanuts compared with the fortune that OxyContin helped the Sacklers build, which is estimated to be at least $13 billion.

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The largest car manufacturer in the United States, abruptly dropped its support for President Trump’s crusade to strip California of the power to set stricter fuel economy standards than the rest of the country. Instead of backing Mr. Trump, General Motors announced that it would dedicate itself to electric vehicles and other green energy initiatives championed by Mr. Biden. The about-face was no doubt driven by the election outcome, and it signals that the auto industry (and perhaps corporate America more generally) may be willing to work with Mr. Biden as he tries to institute stronger climate change regulations.

The holiday shopping season is officially in full swing — and has been for weeks already, from people’s couches. As the pandemic has pushed more people to do their shopping online, retailers are adjusting their business models and encouraging customers to place orders earlier if they want their stuff on time. Macy’s turned two of its brick-and-mortar locations into shipping fulfillment centers. And Amazon has recruited 100,000 temporary workers for the holiday season, on top of the more than 427,300 workers it hired from January to October this year. Analysts are expecting online holiday spending to surge by over 35 percent compared with last year.

Brexit negotiations are as messy as ever, and the deadline for Britain’s trade deal with the European Union is just weeks away. To prepare for the inevitable, French border police tested out post-Brexit procedures at the Eurotunnel, which connects Britain to France. The result: a five-mile traffic jam in southern England. Officials are warning that the gridlock could become permanent starting Jan. 1, when Britain officially leaves the European Union’s customs bloc and French and English officials will begin conducting checks on both sides of the tunnel. But that could be the least of the region’s problems if they can’t reach an agreement and a no-deal Brexit occurs.

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The Netflix show “The Queen’s Gambit,” about a fictional chess prodigy, has boosted the sales of chess sets by 125 percent. The Ad Council, a nonprofit advertising group, is working on a $50 million campaign to urge Americans to immunize themselves once vaccines are ready. And Penguin Random House is buying Simon & Schuster in a deal that would create the first megapublisher.



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