U.S. stock futures edged higher on Wednesday, as did gold, which rose above a record $2,000 an ounce, as investors studied fresh economic data amid signs of progress in Washington on a new coronavirus aid package.
Futures for the S&P 500 suggested a gain of about 0.5 percent on Wall Street at the start of trading. London’s FTSE 100 led European indexes, up more than 1 percent in midmorning trading. Asian markets had a mostly positive day.
Gains in stocks were reflected in the dropping price for 10-year Treasury notes. And oil was having a good day, with both Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate about 2 percent higher.
Disney shares were trading about 6 percent higher after the company reported Tuesday that it has signed up 60.5 million subscribers for its Disney+ streaming service in the first nine months.
There were a variety of factors helping push stocks up. The IHT Markit composite eurozone Purchasing Managers’ Index for June showed the fastest growth in over two years — not a particular surprise because economies were so dormant in the preceding months, but still a positive development. The Bank of Ireland’s chief executive, Francesca McDonagh, told Bloomberg Television that she was feeling marginally more optimistic about the prospects of an economic recovery. And Britain’s auto manufacturers said new-car registrations were up 11.3 percent in July, although it was unclear when demand for cars would return to pre-pandemic levels.
In Washington, White House officials and top Democrats reported some movement in their negotiations over a new pandemic relief package. They agreed to an end-of-the-week deadline to reach a deal to restore expired jobless aid for tens of millions of Americans.
On Tuesday, the S&P 500 closed up roughly 0.4 percent, adding to a steady climb that has lifted the index to within 3 percent of its record. That has been fueled by government spending, the efforts of the Federal Reserve to backstop the economy and a surge in shares of technology stocks like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft.
When areas first started to lock down, many businesses were shocked when their claims under business interruption insurance were refused.
The New York Times’s Mary Williams Walsh reports that many of those businesses are taking their insurers to court, hoping to force them to cover some of the financial carnage:
“I think business interruption claims should be paid when business is interrupted,” said Nick Gavrilides, owner of the Soup Spoon Cafe in Lansing, Mich.
Insurance companies don’t see it that way. Most business interruption policies include highly specific language stating that for a claim to be paid out, there has to be “direct physical damage” — say, a flood that washes away a building or a fire that burns down inventory, forcing a business closure.
On top of that, after SARS swept through Asia nearly two decades ago and caused widespread economic damage, many insurers began to write in language that excluded business interruption caused by viral epidemics. For instance, Mr. Gavrilides’s policy states that the insurer “will not pay for loss or damage caused by or resulting from any virus, bacterium, illness or disease.”
Insurers say they aren’t being stingy; they simply don’t have enough capital to cover all coronavirus-related claims and would suffer enormous losses if they had to pay out.
The industry’s position hasn’t deterred business owners. Some plaintiffs are arguing that the pandemic calls for new interpretations of what “direct physical damage” means for their business. Others are highlighting the spillover effects of closures on local economies.
So far, it’s not looking good for the plaintiffs.
On July 1, a county circuit judge threw out Mr. Gavrilides’s case, one of the first to be decided anywhere. Judge Joyce Draganchuk, ruling from the bench in a Zoom hearing, said that for coverage, there had to be tangible damage, something “that alters the physical integrity of the property.”
TikTok appears headed for a shotgun wedding after President Trump decided to force its owner, the Chinese tech conglomerate ByteDance, to sell the hit video app to an American acquirer or be barred from operating in the country.
There are a million questions still swirling around a possible acquisition of TikTok by Microsoft. But the most glaring question mark is that nobody has figured out exactly what “buying TikTok” will mean, or whether the complex algorithms that make the app so addictive would be included in a deal, writes Kevin Roose:
By all accounts, TikTok’s core algorithm — which selects videos for the central feed users see when they open the app, called the “for you page” or FYP — could be the most valuable asset the company owns. Eugene Wei, a former Amazon executive and blogger, likens TikTok’s FYP algorithm to the Sorting Hat from the Harry Potter series — a “rapid, hyper-efficient matchmaker” that analyzes users’ behavior and places them into personalized niches, based on their interests.
The FYP algorithm is TikTok’s secret sauce, and a big part of what makes it so accurate is ByteDance’s global reach. Every swipe, tap and video viewed by TikTok users around the world — billions and billions of data points a day — is fed into giant databases, which are then used to train artificial intelligence to predict which videos will keep users’ attention.
But even if ByteDance was willing to part with TikTok’s algorithms and the machine learning models they rely on, it’s not clear that an American acquirer would be able to recreate TikTok’s magic right away. A new TikTok might essentially need to start from scratch, said Karl Higley, an engineer who previously worked at Spotify.
“In order to personalize the app for existing users, they’re going to need historical data for U.S. folks unless they want to wipe the slate clean, which would be a terrible user experience,” he said.