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Futures Flat Ahead of Jobless Claims

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Futures Flat Ahead of Jobless Claims

Futures contracts tied to the major U.S. stock indexes hovered along the flatline on Thursday ahead of key jobless claims data.

Futures for Dow Jones Industrials advanced 44 points, or 0.2%, early Thursday to 23,435.

Futures for the S&P 500 moved up 7.5 points, or 0.3%, at 2,782.50.

Futures for the NASDAQ Composite added 51.75 points, on 0.6%, to 8,645.75.

Thursday’s moves followed a slump during regular trading on Wednesday as gloomy economic data and anemic bank earnings fueled concerns over the coronavirus’s impact on the U.S. economy.

Central to Thursday’s session will be the U.S. Labor Department’s report on last week’s initial jobless claims, which economists polled by Dow Jones expected to total five million.

The jobless figures have proved a key retrospective gauge for those tracking the ailing health of the U.S. economy, with last week’s 6.61 million initial claims. Last week’s print brought total claims over the three weeks prior to more than 16 million, implying that about 10% of the U.S. workforce had filed for unemployment benefits over that time.

Despite the recent dismal economic data, some market strategists pointed to a slowdown in the daily number of new U.S. coronavirus cases and the flattening in the net number of hospitalizations in New York State as evidence that markets may trend upward in the coming weeks.

Eager to restart significant portions of U.S. commerce, President Donald Trump again advocated for a gradual reopening of the economy during a press conference Wednesday evening.

Overseas, in Japan, the Nikkei 225 subsided 1.3% Thursday, while in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index fell 0.6%.

Oil prices gained 20 cents to $20.07 U.S. a barrel.

Gold prices picked up $25.60 to $1,765.800 U.S. an ounce.

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Business

Social Media Stocks Slip As Trump Issues Executive Order

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Social Media Stocks Slip As Trump Issues Executive Order

Social media stocks slipped yesterday after President Trump signed an executive order granting the government broader authority to crack down on social media companies. Twitter fell 4.45%, Facebook dipped 1.61% and Google’s parent company Alphabet dropped 0.08%. Twitter took the biggest hit because Trump said if the company doesn’t operate honorably, he hinted he would consider shutting the company down.

Trump says social media companies have gained “unchecked power” and have taken on the roles of editors and publishers of the content on their websites. His executive order would remove their “liability shield” if they engage in censorship.

What is Section 230?

Section 230 allows tech companies to moderate user-generated content on their site without becoming legally liable for it as a publisher typically would.

The law allows companies to engage in “good Samaritan” moderation of “objectionable” material. This, then, comes without the companies receiving a publisher or speaker treatment. Section 230 allows platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Google’s YouTube to take down terrorist content. It also allows them to track and take down harassing messages while still enjoying other legal protections.

What the law doesn’t allow, and what Trump says the platforms are doing, pertains to selectively moderating what messages users see to silence conservative voices.

“They’re doing things incorrectly, they have points of view,” Trump said at the White House. “My executive order calls for new regulations under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to make it that social media companies that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield. That’s a big deal,” he also stated.

Trump’s Order

Trump said the order would also prevent taxpayer dollars from going to any company that engages in what Trump referred to as deceptiveness. This is in addition to limiting these protections for companies that acted with bias.

Trump’s executive order comes just days after Twitter added a fact-checking feature. The social media site added the new feature alongside two of the President’s tweets about mail-in ballots and fraud. After Twitter added the fact-checking features, Trump then accused the company of engaging in “political activism.”

He also tweeted, “So ridiculous to see Twitter trying to make the case that Mail-In Ballots are not subject to FRAUD. How stupid, there are examples, & cases, all over the place. Our election process will become badly tainted & a laughingstock all over the World. Tell that to your hater @yoyoel.”

“Big Tech is doing everything in their very considerable power to CENSOR in advance of the 2020 Election,” the president also said Wednesday night — on Twitter. “If that happens, we no longer have our freedom. I will never let it happen! They tried hard in 2016, and lost. Now they are going absolutely CRAZY. Stay Tuned!!!” he then added.

Reactions

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that his company is taking a different approach to moderating content on his social media platform.

“I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online. Private companies probably shouldn’t be, especially these platform companies, shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

The interest in updating Section 230 to remove the liability shield for publishers isn’t just a goal for Republicans. It actually has bipartisan support.

This past January, Democratic nominee Joe Biden proposed revoking Section 230 completely. “The idea that it’s a tech company is that Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms. It should be revoked because it is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false.” Biden also never responded to follow-up questions about this statement.

Even former Democratic candidate also Bernie Sanders supported the idea, adding, “Tech giants and online platforms should not be shielded from responsibility when they knowingly allow content on their platforms that promotes and facilitates violence.”

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Mark Cuban Proposes ‘Use it Or Lose It’ Debit Cards to Boost Recovery

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Mark Cuban Proposes ‘Use it Or Lose It’ Debit Cards to Boost Recovery

Mark Cuban hasn’t been shy about voicing his ideas to get our country back on the road to recovery. His latest proposal is that the government issue debit cards to US households to help businesses by boosting consumer spending. The caveat to Cuban’s plan is that the debit cards have a “use it or lose it” feature.

“… I think we need to do a debit card program where we give money literally to each household and make it ‘use it or lose it,’ whether it’s $1,000, or $1,200, or whatever that number is, every couple of weeks and say, ‘You have X number of days to use this debit card, or you lose the money that’s been deposited on there.’”

Cuban came up with the plan. As he said, “we’ve got to get to a scenario where consumers have enough confidence to go out there and spend money… the primary reality is no business can survive without sales. And two-thirds of the economy is consumer-generated demand.”

Without an increase in business, many businesses can’t afford to re-hire their employees. Even if they could, some are receiving more money from their unemployment benefits than they are from working.

Cuban’s Plan

Cuban says his plan is a “perfectly timed stimulus program” and “…by doing that, and timing it right, that’s going to create demand for these companies so they can afford to bring their employees back after they’re off of all that unemployment CARES enhancement.”

The CARES Act became law in March. It added an extra $600 weekly payment on top of the amount someone receives under state law. Those additional benefits will end in July unless the government extends it.

Cuban has also proposed that the government start a federally-guaranteed jobs program. He said these should give people “confidence in their jobs” and help start the rehiring process.

“We’re going to have to have a transitional, not permanent transitional federal jobs program,” he said. He also included jobs like the ones created during the pandemic to track and treat COVID-19 patients.

“And so we’re going to need to hire people, millions of people, you know, preferably for testing, tracing, tracking, supporting vulnerable populations, long-term care, you know, giving people jobs that they know, are stable, because that gives them the impetus to spend money,” Cuban added.

Criticisms

While Cuban’s plan would absolutely boost consumer spending, Scott Baker, an associate professor of finance at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University says it won’t help every industry.

“Some industries you won’t be able to stimulate this way,” said Baker. He also said that the plan cant help the tourism industry. He said this because, even with extra money in their pockets, Americans aren’t travelling.

Baker also says that during economic uncertainty, most Americans will delay durable goods purchases, like electronics, appliances and vehicles.

Cuban, who has become more vocal about his ideas to help the country recover from the coronavirus pandemic, also hasn’t officially ruled out a 2020 presidential run.

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Ackman’s Hot Streak Continues, Dumps Berkshire, Says ‘We Can Be More Nimble’

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Ackman’s Hot Streak Continues, Dumps Berkshire, Says ‘We Can Be More Nimble’

Bill Ackman’s hot streak continues. This comes after he announced that his Pershing Square hedge fund has returned an average of 25% this year. It also trounces the average hedge fund return of -7%. Additionally, this reveals that it sold its $1 billion stake in Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. The fund first invested in Berkshire less than a year ago and only weeks took a larger stake in the conglomerate.

Completely exiting the Berkshire position surprised many on Wall Street, as Ackman has long admired Buffett as a mentor. He recently said that Buffett had built Berkshire “to withstand a global economic shock like this one.”

It appears that Ackman, like many, may have felt frustrated by the lack of activity from Berkshire during the recent market downswing. Berkshire’s cash balance has ballooned to $137 billion. Many, including Ackman, had likely expected a portion of that cash to be used to scoop up bargains during the late-February selloff. The said selloff took markets down nearly 30%.

Instead, Berkshire stood pat, and that appears to have been enough for Ackman to pull the plug on his investment. While discussing the exit, Ackman said that due to Pershing’s smaller size compared to Berkshire, “we can be much more nimble… and so our view was generally we should take advantage of that nimbleness, preserve some extra liquidity in the event that prices get more attractive again.”

Pershing Square’s success over the last two years had thrust Ackman back into the spotlight. This, perhaps, turned the chapter on a period where he became more famous for his misses than his home runs.

He was invested in Valeant Pharmaceuticals as it collapsed. He also famously squabbled on live TV with fellow billionaire Carl Icahn over Herbalife. Then, he gave a nearly 3-hour-long presentation explaining why he thought the company runs as a pyramid scheme. He finally exited his $1 billion short position at a loss.

Ackman’s current hot streak started last year, when Pershing Square returned 58.1%. This is its best annual return since the hedge fund was founded in 2004. After years of letting others make the firm’s investment decisions, Ackman took back the reins in 2018 with a back-to-basics strategy he learned from Buffett.

He returned the fund to a strategy that invests in simple, predictable, cash flow positive companies. He said, “It’s very hard to lose money by buying great businesses if you pay a fair price. For a while there, we forgot that our main job was to make money, so we woke up, and now we’re back in the money making business.”

Making money is exactly what Ackman did earlier this year. He did so with “the single best trade of all-time,” as what many calls it. He correctly predicted that the coronavirus would wreak havoc on our economy. Because of this, Ackman made a $27 million bet that netted his firm a $2.6 billion profit in less than two months as the markets crashed.

Now, his war chest is full again. It appears that Ackman is ready to buy should asset prices come down again.

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