The Week in Business: Apple Expands in Austin, and the Fed Gears Up on Interest Rates

The Week in Business: Apple Expands in Austin, and the Fed Gears Up on Interest Rates


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Hi there! Here you are, rushing around with too many plans, not enough holiday shopping done and perhaps a mild headache from last night’s mulled wine. The least we can give you is a quick rundown of what’s going on in the business world. If you like what you’re reading and haven’t already subscribed, click here — and then forward to a friend if you’re feeling generous.

Speaking of the holiday season, are you one of the 45.7 million Americans planning to fly in the next two weeks? If so, keep an ear out: Customs officials at Kennedy Airport have intercepted almost 200 live finches (70 last week alone) that were smuggled on flights from Guyana. Once in the United States, the birds compete in chirping competitions, and a winner can fetch up to $10,000. While we do not condone any illegal behavior, in the grand scheme of sounds to be heard on a plane, a finch sounds downright pleasant.


DEC. 9-15

Want a shot at an Apple employee discount? Now may be your moment. Apple announced plans on Thursday to invest $1 billion in a slick new campus in Austin, Tex. It will eventually bring 15,000 jobs to the area, while additional offices in Seattle, San Diego and Culver City, Calif., each plan to hire more than 1,000 employees. For years, Apple has been under fire for relying heavily on China for its product manufacturing, and this announcement makes good on its recent promise to expand operations in the United States. Other tech giants like Amazon and Google have made similar moves to expand their domestic work force in the past few months.

Consider popping over to England for some holiday shopping — you’ll get a good deal on your dollar, as the British pound fell last week to its lowest value in a year and half. That’s only one symptom of the instability brought on by Britain’s floundering attempts to extricate itself from the European Union. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Theresa May — whose name is almost impossible to say without the word “embattled” before it — postponed the parliamentary vote on her Brexit proposal, which was clearly headed for defeat. Now, having survived a no-confidence vote, she’s back to the drawing board with exasperated European leaders, who have expressed little to no interest in renegotiating.

Trade tensions with China eased slightly as President Xi Jinping began to lift new barriers to American imports like cars and food (phew). But the dispute is far from over, and China’s economy is showing signs of stress, weakened by mounting debt and the Trump administration’s tariffs. On Friday, Chinese officials reported bleak numbers for monthly sales and industrial production, jolting markets around the globe. Auto sales have also plunged, and some factories are sending workers off for the Lunar New Year holiday two months early.

DEC. 16-22

Don’t be surprised by a tremor in the markets this Wednesday — it’s just the Federal Reserve making its last interest rate decision of the year. The Fed is expected to raise benchmark rates by another quarter point, and to do so twice more in 2019. Officials hope to stem inflation and keep the economy solid as it grows over the long run, but these upticks affect home buyers and other borrowers most acutely in the short term: Higher interest rates on mortgages and other loans can add up, and quickly. President Trump has made no secret of his distaste for rate increases of any amount, and blamed this fall’s market volatility on the Fed’s choice to impose them.

So much for Washington going quietly into the holiday break. Funding for parts of the federal government will expire this Friday unless Congress and Mr. Trump can agree on legislation to keep the lights on. In an awkward televised spat with the Democratic congressional leaders, Representative Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, the president said he would be “proud to shut down the government” if the funding bill did not include $5 billion for his proposed southern border wall — which he has repeatedly said that Mexico would pay for, but never mind. Democrats have agreed to dedicate funds to border security, but not enough for the wall.

While Nissan’s former chairman, Carl Ghosn, sits in jail, awaiting trial on charges of financial misconduct, the future of his auto empire (the alliance of Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors) is in limbo. Nissan’s stock has dropped 9 percent in recent weeks, and its board members are meeting on Monday to attempt to appoint a new chairman. It’s unlikely that they will agree on one. They’ll also set a date for a shareholder vote to oust Mr. Ghosn from the board altogether. Rather awkwardly, Renault has stuck by Mr. Ghosn, and he remains chief executive. So much for an alliance.


Federal prosecutors are examining the finances of Mr. Trump’s 2017 inauguration committee and a pro-Trump super PAC to determine whether foreigners illegally funneled money to both in hopes of buying influence over American policy. Also, the tabloid publisher American Media Inc. admitted to participating in a hush-money scheme intended to protect Mr. Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. Speaking of settlements, CBS paid the actress Eliza Dushku $9.5 million after she spoke up about sexual harassment on the set of TV drama “Bull” and was written off the show, adding to the list of sexual misconduct issues at the network.

100 euros: An increase to the monthly minimum wage in France, as promised by President Emmanuel Macron this week, in an effort to quell the Yellow Vest protests. France’s current monthly minimum wage is 1,498.5 euros, or a little over $1,700.



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