The daily business briefing: December 26, 2019

Harold Maass


Holiday sales rose this year despite a short holiday season, according to a Mastercard report released Wednesday. Record online sales, up 19 percent from last year, helped lift the total. Aggressive discounts also helped. "E-commerce sales hit a record high this year with more people doing their holiday shopping online," said Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard. "Due to a later than usual Thanksgiving holiday, we saw retailers offering omnichannel sales earlier in the season, meeting consumers' demand for the best deals across all channels and devices." The holiday shopping season, which can account for 40 percent of annual sales, runs from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This year it was six days shorter than last year, because Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 28 in 2019 and Nov. 22 in 2018. [Reuters]


President Trump told reporters that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be getting together soon to sign the "phase one" agreement to ease the U.S.-China trade war. "We will be having a signing ceremony, yes," Trump said. "We will ultimately, yes, when we get together. And we'll be having a quicker signing because we want to get it done. The deal is done, it's just being translated right now." Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Wednesday that negotiators from the world's two largest economies are talking to finalize the agreement they reached this month. "Both sides' economic and trade teams are in close communication about detailed arrangements for the deal's signing and other follow-up work," Geng said. [Reuters]


U.S. stock futures edged higher early Thursday as trading was set to resume after the Christmas holiday. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq were up by about 0.1 percent. Wall Street has set a string of records in a year-end rally fueled by reports of progress toward ending the U.S.-China trade war. The S&P 500 is up by 2.6 this month and by 28.6 percent this year. Stocks were mixed in a shortened session on Christmas Eve, with the S&P 500 flat, while the Dow was slightly lower and the Nasdaq slightly higher. Markets remained closed for the holidays in Europe, Australia, and Hong Kong. [CNBC]


Spectrum Pharmaceuticals shares plunged by 17 percent in pre-market trading on Thursday after the company said a lung-cancer treatment trial missed a key goal. In the phase-two trial evaluating poziotinib treatment for non-small cell lung cancer, the response rate for previously treated patients fell short of expectations. CEO Joe Turgeon said, however, that "the positive signals observed for this cohort provide support for the continued clinical evaluation of poziotinib in this patient population with significant unmet medical need." The company also said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had agreed to review its Biologics License Application for Rolontis, a treatment for neutropenia, a chemotherapy-induced low white blood cell count. [MarketWatch]


Another shopping rush begins Thursday as stores reopen for post-Christmas sales and gift returns. Sixty-eight percent of Americans who responded to the National Retail Federation's annual December holiday consumer survey said they would probably shop in the week after Christmas. Forty-nine percent said they would be targeting sales, while 27 percent said they planned to spend gift cards. Fifty-five percent said they expected to return gifts within a month. "If you’re returning a gift this year, I recommend waiting until after January 1 to avoid the after-Christmas sales rush," said Sara Skirboll, RetailMeNot shopping and trends expert. [USA Today]

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