Business Updates: Markets Return to Records, Fueled by Tech

United Airlines lost $7 billion in 2020 as the pandemic crushed the travel business.

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S&P 500 climbs into record territory, lifted by a rally in big technology companies.


Trump exempts the United Arab Emirates from aluminum tariffs in last-minute move.

Canadian pipeline company says it is suspending work on Keystone XL ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration.

An Iowa airport will conduct coronavirus screenings of all outgoing passengers.


Wall Street climbed to a record on Wednesday, lifted by shares of technology companies and adding to a rally that fueled by expectations for large-scale economic stimulus from the incoming Biden administration.

The S&P 500 rose 1.4 percent, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 0.8 percent, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite rose 2 percent. All three ended the day in record territory.

“Share buybacks were not something we expected to see in 2021, but we view them favorably,” analysts from J.P. Morgan wrote in a note on the results.


Shares of other high-profile technology companies also enjoyed strong gains on Wednesday. Microsoft, Apple, Tesla and Facebook will report quarterly financial results next week. These large companies exert a pronounced influence over market indexes such as the S&P 500, which is weighted according to market capitalization.

Google’s parent, Alphabet, rose roughly 5.5 percent. Amazon rose more than 4.5 percent. Microsoft rose 4 percent.

Consumer discretionary stocks were the best performing segment of the market, led by strong gains from homebuilders Pulte, Lennar and D.R. Horton. All were up more than 5 percent after a reading from the National Association of Homebuilders showing that homebuilder sentiment remains buoyant.


“The truth is that Covid-19 has changed United Airlines forever,” the company’s chief executive, Scott Kirby, said in a statement. “The passion, teamwork and perseverance that the United team showed in 2020 is exactly what will help us build a new United Airlines that’s better, stronger and more profitable than ever.”

The airline reported about $3.4 billion in operating revenue in the final three months of last year, down more than two-thirds from the same period in 2019. It ended the year with access to nearly $20 billion in cash or cash-equivalent funds, not including federal stimulus loans.

In anticipation of a recovery, United has resumed major maintenance and engine overhauls so that planes sidelined by weak demand will be ready as more people start flying again, it said.


But that recovery is unlikely to arrive for quite some time. United said it expects to bring in about a third as much operating revenue in the first quarter of this year as it did during the same three months in 2019. Most analysts believe the airline industry will not fully recover from the pandemic for several years.

In March 2018, Mr. Trump announced a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports from a variety of countries, including the U.A.E., saying their metal exports had put American aluminum producers out of business and therefore threated national security.

In the announcement on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said the United States and the U.A.E., a major exporter of aluminum, had an important security relationship, and had carried out talks to find another means to address the threat to American national security.


The Trump administration replaced the tariffs on aluminum from the U.A.E. with a quota, which would allow imports “to remain close to historical levels without meaningful increases.” The arrangement would limit export surges by the United Arab Emirates and discourage aluminum overcapacity, the announcement said.

Later Wednesday, after the inauguration, Mr. Biden rescinded the permit as one of his first acts.

The pipeline, intended to bring heavy Canadian crude from oil sands to American refineries, has long been opposed by environmentalists but supported by the oil industry and construction unions. Its construction has been delayed frequently because of government reviews and legal challenges.


“TC Energy will review the decision, assess its implications, and consider its options,” the company said in a statement.

The airport in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, will conduct mandatory coronavirus screenings for all outbound passengers starting on Monday, one of the first airports in the country to take advantage of a decision to allow such evaluations by the Federal Aviation Administration last month.

Under the new “Travel Well” program, the Eastern Iowa Airport will ask a handful of short screening questions and take the temperature of each departing passenger. Travelers who show no signs of having the coronavirus and have no exposure to it will be sent on to the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint.


“The Travel Well program will provide an efficient approach to screening passengers and employees,” Marty Lenss, the airport’s director, said in a statement.

Travelers who might be infected with or exposed to the virus will receive a private second screening. The ultimate decision on whether individuals may board their flight will rest with individual airlines. Eastern Iowa Airport offers nonstop service to 14 destinations on flights operated by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and others.

It is not clear how useful the screenings will be. The value of screening passengers has diminished as the virus has become widespread throughout the country. A passenger who shows no symptoms on the day of travel could still infect others on their journey or at their destination.


The airport had first talked about its screening plan, which it developed with Mercy Medical Center and MercyCare Business Health Solutions, in July. But the plan’s implementation was put on hold pending approval by the F.A.A., which regulates airport spending. Earlier last year, the agency had said that airports could spend money to screen employees, but not passengers. In December, the agency approved passenger screening, too.

The consumer goods giant said on Wednesday that its quarterly revenue jumped 8 percent, fueled by higher demand for its cleaning products, such as Comet and Mr. Clean, and shaving and styling tools, including Gillette and Venus. The company said sales of its grooming appliances jumped 20 percent in the second quarter of its fiscal year, which ended Dec. 31, as people continued to skip the salon and clip and pluck at home.

Procter & Gamble reported revenue of $19.75 billion for the quarter. The company earned $3.85 billion, up from $3.72 billion in the same quarter the previous year.


“We delivered another strong quarter of results across all key measures — top line, bottom line and cash,” said David Taylor, the company’s chairman, president and chief executive.

The company, which also owns brands like Tide and Gain, reported a 12 percent increase in its fabric and home care segment, which includes cleaning products. Its health care segment, which includes Oral B and Vicks products, reported sales growth of 9 percent, offset by a decline in the sales of respiratory products with fewer people catching colds and the flu this season.

Procter & Gamble raised its guidance for the 2021 fiscal year, forecasting sales growth of 5 to 6 percent, from a previous outlook of 3 to 4 percent. But investors were unimpressed, and shares dropped 1 percent after the earnings report was released.


“My family and I are grateful for the opportunity to move forward, and thankful to the President and others who supported and advocated on my behalf,” Mr. Levandowski said in a statement.

Mr. Levandowski had been one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent engineers, earning millions working on technology Google felt would remake transportation. After departing Google, he started his self-driving car company, called Otto, which he then sold to Uber for more than $600 million.

But in 2017, Google’s self-driving car company, called Waymo, sued Uber for theft of trade secrets, singling out Mr. Levandowski for having taken years of autonomous-vehicle research to strengthen Uber’s self-driving efforts. Uber later fired Mr. Levandowski and settled with Waymo.

Mr. Levandowski’s troubles did not end with the settlement. With evidence that he had downloaded thousands of files related to Google’s self-driving technology before leaving, the Justice Department filed criminal charges in 2019. Mr. Levandowski eventually pleaded guilty to one count of trade secret theft in an agreement with federal prosecutors to drop the remaining charges.

He had been scheduled to begin serving his prison sentence after coronavirus outbreaks were under control.

Mr. Levandowski was among a batch of last-minute pardons and clemencies issued by Mr. Trump before leaving office. The list included Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former top political adviser who was under indictment on charges that he misused money he helped raise for a group backing the construction of a border wall; and Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., the rapper known as Lil Wayne, who was facing prison because of a weapons charge.

The White House statement announcing the pardon for the engineer said, “Mr. Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good.”

Mr. Ma now appears to be attempting to put the speculation to rest.

On Wednesday, he made his first public appearance since late October. He spoke at a livestreamed event honoring educators in China’s village schools. He did not address his troubles but said he would spend more time in philanthropic endeavors.

His remarks were widely covered in the Chinese state-run news media, suggesting at the very least that Beijing’s censorship machine approved of his remarks. His appearance relieved some investors, who drove Alibaba’s Hong Kong-traded shares up about 9 percent in afternoon trading.

But the rise of Alibaba’s sister company, Ant Group, put him increasingly at odds with China’s state-dominated financial system. Ant Group, which was once an Alibaba subsidiary and offers services like electronic payments and lending, now plays a huge role in the financial lives of many Chinese people. It had planned an initial public offering for late last year in Shanghai and Hong Kong, in what was widely expected to be the largest fund-raising of its kind.

But in October, at a public event, Mr. Ma accused Chinese state-run banks of behaving like “pawnshops” and the country’s financial regulators of limiting innovation by obsessing over risk.

On his first day as president, Joseph R. Biden Jr. will move unilaterally to aid Americans struggling to afford housing and student loan payments amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but will not cancel large amounts of student debt as progressive activists had hoped.

The long-previewed steps are part of Mr. Biden’s pledge to take immediate executive action to help struggling Americans as the pandemic continues to disrupt everyday life.

He will extend a federal moratorium on evictions and ask agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs, and Housing and Urban Development, to prolong a moratorium on foreclosures on federally guaranteed mortgages. Mr. Biden’s extensions would run through March.

Another planned executive order, for Americans with heavy educational debt, would continue a pause on federal student loan interest and principal payments through September.

Mr. Biden is also set to issue a flurry of orders that seek to narrow racial and gender inequalities in the economy, through actions inside and outside the federal bureaucracy.

He will direct federal agencies to conduct reviews looking to root out systemic discrimination in their policies and to reverse historic discrimination in safety-net and other federal spending, aides said. He will establish a working group examining federal data collection on diversity grounds.

Federal regulators on Tuesday ordered Ford Motor to recall about three million cars to replace defective airbags made by the Japanese supplier Takata.

Ford had sought to have the vehicles excluded from recalls, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found the airbags were similar to those subject to earlier recalls.

The recall order covers vehicles including the Ford Ranger, Edge and Fusion made from 2007 to 2012.

Mazda had also sought to exclude some of its models from recalls. NHTSA ordered Mazda to recall an additional 5,800 vehicles.

More than 70 million vehicles equipped with Takata airbag inflaters have been recalled in more than 40 countries.