The daily business briefing: January 3, 2020

Harold Maass


U.S. stock index futures dropped sharply early Friday and oil prices surged after a U.S. airstrike killed an Iranian general in Iraq, raising fears of Iranian retaliation. "A big fat dollop of geopolitical uncertainty has landed on investors desks," said Jeffrey Halley of Oanda in a report. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq were down by more than 1 percent several hours before the opening bell, retreating from record highs. Oil prices jumped by nearly 4 percent in early Asia trading. Washington has blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers in the region as well as a September assault on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia that briefly cut its output by half. [The Associated Press, CNBC]


Turkey on Thursday detained seven aviation workers, including four pilots, for questioning about former Nissan chair Carlos Ghosn's escape from Japan. Ghosn skipped bail and fled the country while on house arrest and awaiting trial in Japan on financial misconduct charges that he denies. He went to Istanbul, Turkey, and on to Lebanon, one of three countries where he holds citizenship. The Istanbul governor's office on Thursday announced that the seven people had been detained under the investigation into how Ghosn pulled off the escape. Japanese prosecutors on Thursday raided Ghosn's Tokyo house, while Interpol issued a wanted notice for him. Lebanon isn't required to arrest him, though, and it doesn't extradite its citizens. [NBC News, The Wall Street Journal]


The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday officially issued a ban on flavored e-cigarette cartridges, with several notable exceptions. The Trump administration banned fruit, candy, mint, and dessert flavors of small e-cigarette cartridges, but not on menthol and tobacco flavors. Additionally, large tank vaping systems, which are used to mix flavors, will be exempt from the ban, which goes into effect in 30 days. The exceptions marked a step back from President Trump's original plan to ban all vaping flavors, including menthol. He announced the plan after six people died from lung disease tied to vaping. Companies now must stop selling the products covered under the ban or face possible regulatory action. Juul has already stopped selling most flavored e-cigarettes. [The Associated Press, CNBC]


Wall Street surged to the latest in a string of record highs on Thursday, with all three of the main U.S. stock indexes making big gains on the first trading day of 2020. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 1.2 percent to close at 28,868.80. The S&P 500 climbed by 0.8 percent, and the Nasdaq gained 1.3 percent. All three set records. The gains came after a year-end rally that helped the S&P 500 finish the year up by 28.9 percent, while the Nasdaq rose by 35.2 percent on the year. Both had their best year since 2013. The Dow jumped by 22.3 percent in 2019, its best year since 2017. Thursday's gains came after China's central bank injected fresh stimulus into the economy by cutting the amount of cash banks must hold in reserves. [MarketWatch, Reuters]


Ford has stopped taking reservations for the electric Ford Mustang Mach-E near the end of November, saying its First Edition models had sold out just over a month after it started taking pre-orders. Ford didn't say how many reservations it took for the limited First Edition Mustang Mach-E, but it did say that more than 80 percent of the early buyers went for the optional extended-range battery. The Mach-E, unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, will be offered in five versions priced from $47,000 to more than $70,000. The Ford SUV is expected to be as fast as a Porsche 911 GTS, but is widely seen as a direct rival of Tesla's upcoming Model Y. [Autoweek, NBC News]

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