The daily business briefing: December 31, 2020

1.

British Parliament on Wednesday approved the post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union. The House of Commons overwhelmingly backed the deal in a 521-73 vote. The House of Lords then passed it, completing the ratification process a day before the end of the transition period in which the U.K. continued to follow E.U. customs rules after leaving the trading bloc in January. The approval marked a major victory for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had campaigned on a promise to “get Brexit done” ahead of his Conservative party’s landslide victory last December. Labor Party leader Keir Starmer said the deal was “thin,” but that “a thin deal is better than no deal.” [The New York Times]

2.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that there was “no realistic path” to quickly pass the House-approved proposal to raise individual coronavirus stimulus checks to $2,000 from $600. House Democrats pushed through the bill after President Trump called for bigger individual payments, and several Senate Republicans have said they would vote in favor. But McConnell said the chamber would not vote on the bill, essentially ruling out a compromise before the end of the year. “The Senate is not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money into the hands of Democrats’ rich friends who don’t need the help,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Senate leaders blocking the bill are “in denial of the hardship the American people are experiencing.” [The Washington Post]

3.

U.S. stock index futures were little changed early Thursday ahead of the final day of 2020. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 fluctuated between minor gains and losses several hours before the opening bell, while those of the Nasdaq edged higher. The three main U.S. indexes made modest gains on Wednesday. The Dow gained 0.2 percent to eke out a record high in a sign of investor optimism about the 2021 economic outlook. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq made slightly smaller gains. “The markets are saying ‘what have you done for me lately?’ and people are going to be focusing on what’s going to happen if we see more and more restrictions due to the pandemic,” said Matthew Keator, managing partner in the Keator Group, a wealth management firm in Lenox, Massachusetts. [CNBC, Reuters]

4.

The Biden administration will block so-called midnight regulations issued by the Trump administration that have not taken effect by Inauguration Day, Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team said Wednesday. “The Biden-Harris White House will issue a memo to take effect afternoon Eastern Time on January 20 that will halt, or delay, midnight regulations,” Psaki said in a news conference. Psaki said one such rule issued in the lame-duck period of Trump’s presidency would be a Labor Department regulation that would make it easier for companies to call workers independent contractors to avoid minimum wage and overtime protections. She said the rule would cost workers more than $3.7 billion annually. Psaki also said that the transition team would announce more Cabinet-level nominations in the coming week. [Reuters]

5.

U.S. companies are bracing for higher taxes on some imports from China as exclusions from President Trump’s trade war are scheduled to expire at midnight Thursday. Trump imposed tariffs on more than $360 billion of Chinese goods in 2018, but thousands of companies requested and received temporary waivers on 7.5 percent to 25 percent taxes on goods from electric motors to salad spinners, and from breast pumps to forklifts. The Trump administration announced on Dec. 23 that it was extending some of the exclusions, but many are still set to expire. Trump could still extend them, but has not indicated he will. The Office of the United States Trade Representative did not respond to The New York Times‘ requests for comment. [The New York Times]

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