In a week dominated by impeachment headlines, big money kept moving. The stock market hummed along, Google hit the $1 trillion valuation mark and banks reported fat quarterly earnings. Next, the who’s who of global politics and finance will fly to the snow-capped ski town of Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum. To catch up and prep for the week ahead, read on.
What’s Up? (Jan. 12-18)
The stock market didn’t react much to President Trump’s signing of the Phase 1 trade deal with China on Wednesday, in part because it may not change a whole lot. Sure, the agreement marks a welcome break in the two-year trade war between the world’s two largest economies, and lifts some (though not all) of the tariffs Mr. Trump had imposed on Chinese goods. But it’s mostly a preamble to harder negotiations down the line and vague on how many of its key points — like China’s promise to spend some $200 billion on American products and crack down on intellectual property theft from American corporations — will be implemented and enforced.
A new report found that popular online dating services like Grindr, OkCupid and Tinder are sharing their users’ personal information with advertising and marketing companies. Which shouldn’t be a huge surprise to anyone familiar with how the internet works, right? But some of the data these sites peddled is really personal, including users’ sexual orientation, drug use habits, dating preferences and precise locations — and that could violate privacy laws. Grindr is already defending its practices by claiming that users “are directing us to disclose” the information provided. (Just a wild guess, but those users probably wanted their profiles shared with potential dates, not online databanks.)
Tens of thousands of Americans got a big tax break this week — on student loans that they shouldn’t have to pay to begin with. Every year, students get scammed into borrowing money to pay tuition at fraudulent for-profit schools that mischaracterize their academic offerings, close abruptly or issue worthless credits. Victims of these schools are entitled to have those loans forgiven, but until this past Wednesday, they still had to pay taxes on them while the paperwork was processed. (Which could take over a year, especially under the current administration, which has been slow to review such cases.) Now the Internal Revenue Service will waive these taxes and issue credits for those who paid them dating back to 2016.
What’s Next? (Jan. 19-25)
Apple is gearing up for a legal fight with the Justice Department to defend the privacy of its customers’ iPhones — or more specifically, two phones used by the gunman behind a deadly shooting last month at a naval base in Florida. Federal authorities are demanding that Apple unlock the man’s phones for the sake of public safety. But the tech giant says it is committed to protecting its users’ information, stating that Americans “do not have to choose between weakening encryption and solving investigations.” The conflict puts Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook, in a tricky spot if he wants to stay in Mr. Trump’s good graces. Their alliance has kept Apple relatively unscathed by trade tensions with China — so far.
BlackRock, the giant money management corporation that oversees nearly $7 trillion in investments, announced that it “will make investment decisions with environmental sustainability as a core goal” moving forward. Which is a little rich, considering it’s also a major investor in fossil fuel companies like Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil firm. But BlackRock’s chief executive, Larry Fink, said that pressuring companies to be greener could still have a major effect on the market, and hopes other money managers will follow suit. He also said that the decision wasn’t a political one, but rather a response to investor demand.
Larry Fink will also give a talk at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. Following the release of new data showing that 2019 was the second-hottest year in recorded history, the global warming crisis will be one of the summit’s central topics. Which could lead to quite the standoff, especially as Mr. Trump — who has openly scorned climate change science — is among the attendees, along with the 17-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg. Also on the speaking docket: Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft, which pledged this past Thursday to erase its carbon footprint and invest $1 billion in carbon removal technology.
The Senate passed Mr. Trump’s United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, more widely known as “the new NAFTA,” by a huge margin, delivering a victory to the president just in time for his impeachment trial to begin. In other news, a new study found that rich people don’t just live longer — they also get eight to nine more healthy years, on average, than poor people do. And finally, the 1,758-carat Sewelo diamond, the second-largest in history, was purchased this week by Louis Vuitton for an undisclosed sum in “the millions.”