The daily business briefing: January 10, 2020

Harold Maass

1.

President Trump on Thursday proposed easing regulations to speed up approvals of new mines, pipelines, and other projects. The plan would loosen rules under the National Environmental Policy Act requiring impact assessments by federal agencies before construction on the projects, some of which could hurt the environment or contribute to climate change. The proposed rules would give local communities little influence over projects in their area. Industry has complained that the current process results in burdensome delays. Trump said the changes would let builders complete new highways "in a fraction of the time." "We will not stop until our nation's gleaming new infrastructure has made America the envy of the world again," he said. [The Washington Post]

2.

U.S. stock index futures rose early Friday as concerns about U.S.-Iran tensions continued to ease, and investors awaited the December jobs report being released Friday. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq were all up by 0.2 percent or more several hours before the opening bell. The three main U.S. indexes soared to record highs on Thursday after President Trump said Iran, which hit an Iraqi base housing Americans but caused no casualties, appeared to be "standing down." The Dow closed less than 50 points shy of the psychologically important 29,000 threshold. Wall Street also got a boost from rising optimism on trade, as the U.S. and China prepare to sign a "phase one" trade agreement aiming to de-escalate the trade war between the world's two largest economies. [CNBC, MarketWatch]

3.

Lebanon on Thursday imposed a travel ban on former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, who fled house arrest in Japan ahead of his trial on financial misconduct charges. Ghosn this week made his first public appearance since arriving in Lebanon, where he holds citizenship, saying he left Japan because his treatment there since his November 2018 arrest was "anachronistic and inhumane." He said Japanese authorities once held him in solitary confinement for 130 days. He said he came "to the conclusion that you're going to die in Japan or you have to get out." Japanese Justice Minister Masako Mori said Ghosn was falsely maligning Japan's justice system, and that his escape could amount to a new crime. [The Washington Post]

4.

The U.S. employment report being released Friday is expected to show that the pace of job growth slowed to 164,000 in December after November's big 266,000-job gain. The lower number would still be strong enough to keep the record-long economic expansion going. "The solid job growth at the end of 2019 set the stage for continued strength from the consumer in 2020, helping to keep the economy chugging along at a decent clip," said Ben Ayers, senior economist at Nationwide in Columbus, Ohio. Concerns that the Trump administration's trade war with China could trigger a recession prompted the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates three times in 2019. Economic growth did slow to 2.1 percent last year, after nearly reaching 3 percent in 2018, but Fed leaders say the interest rate cuts helped make a recession less likely. [Reuters, MarketWatch]

5.

Boeing employees made disparaging remarks about federal rules, flight simulators used to train pilots, and colleagues involved in developing the 737 Max jet, according to internal messages delivered to congressional investigators on Thursday. "Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn't," one employee said to another in 2018, before the first of two crashes that killed 346 people and led to the plane's global grounding. Another employee suggested Boeing workers had not been forthcoming with the Federal Aviation Administration, saying in 2018, "I still haven't been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year." Another employee said in 2017 that the 737 Max was "designed by clowns, who are in turn supervised by monkeys." [The New York Times]

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