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The daily business briefing: March 3, 2021


Merck has agreed to produce Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine in a deal expected to boost the nation’s inoculation effort, President Biden announced Tuesday. The deal with Merck, a Johnson & Johnson rival, was hammered out in talks between the two companies’ chief executives and White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients. It will help speed up production and distribution of the vaccine, which received emergency approval from regulators on Saturday and added a third vaccine to the U.S. arsenal, along with those produced by Pfizer and Moderna. Biden said the deal was part of a stepped-up effort that was putting the country on track to have enough vaccine for every adult by May. [The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times]


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday that his state would end its mask mandate and let businesses reopen now that daily coronavirus infections and deaths were falling, and vaccines are becoming more widely available. “It is now time to open Texas 100 percent,” Abbott said flanked by local business leaders in Lubbock. “Everybody who wants to work should have the opportunity. Every business that wants to be open should be open.” Abbott noted that the state had an “abundance” of personal protective equipment, testing facilities, and therapeutic drugs to treat COVID-19. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) also announced Tuesday that businesses can operate at full capacity and county mask mandates will be lifted starting Wednesday. Dr. Mark Escott, Travis County, Texas, Interim Health Authority, urged people to continue wearing masks and social distancing, saying the precautions “remain critical in our ongoing fight against COVID-19.” [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Texas Tribune]


The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Gina Raimondo as President Biden’s secretary of commerce. Raimondo, who rolled back business regulations while serving as Rhode Island’s first female governor, will take control of a sprawling department responsible for everything from forecasting the weather and managing ocean fisheries to handling trade cases. She will be responsible for handling steel and aluminum tariffs on global trading partners and restrictions on Chinese telecom and defense companies. Before the Senate confirmed Raimondo, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) put a hold on her nomination, accusing her of being too soft on China because she declined to commit to keeping Chinese tech giant Huawei on a federal blacklist. The Senate lifted the hold in a procedural vote on Monday and Raimondo overwhelmingly won confirmation in an 84-15 vote. [Politico]


U.S. stock index futures made solid gains early Wednesday after Tuesday’s losses. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the tech-heavy Nasdaq were up by 0.7 percent several hours before the opening bell, while those of the S&P 500 gained 0.6 percent. The three main U.S. indexes made big gains on Monday but gave some back on Tuesday, with the Dow falling by 0.5 percent and the S&P 500 by 0.8 percent. The Nasdaq took the biggest dive, dropping by 1.7 percent as tech giants such as Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google-parent Alphabet, and Netflix closed with losses. “On a day with little major news and ahead of important news soon to come — Fed meeting and the jobs numbers — investors took the opportunity to take some profits from yesterday’s big recovery,” Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist at the Leuthold Group, told CNBC. [CNBC]


Target reported Tuesday that its holiday sales jumped last year, helping comparable sales rise by nearly 21 percent in the quarter that ended Jan. 30. The retailer’s revenue for the whole year increased by 20 percent, resulting in a bigger increase than the company had seen in the combined 11 years before the coronavirus pandemic. Target got a big boost from surging demand for online services such as order pick and delivery as people spent more time at home. Target has invested heavily in recent years to boost its online services. It has built a network of online fulfillment warehouses and used stores as shipping hubs, letting shoppers pick up purchases in parking lots. [The Wall Street Journal]

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