Business Briefs – June 11, 2020

1.5 Million More Laid-Off Workers Seek Unemployment Benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) — About 1.5 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, evidence that many Americans are still losing their jobs even as the economy appears to be slowly recovering with more businesses partially reopening.

The latest figure from the Labor Department marked the 10th straight weekly decline in applications for jobless aid since they peaked in mid-March when the coronavirus hit hard. Still, the pace of layoffs remains historically high.

The total number of people who are receiving unemployment aid fell slightly, a sign that some people who were laid off when restaurants, retail chains and small businesses suddenly shut down have been recalled to work.

Microsoft Joins Amazon, IBM In Pausing Face Scans For Police

(AP) – Microsoft has become the third big tech company this week to say it will not sell its facial recognition software to police departments following similar moves by Amazon and IBM.

Microsoft’s president and chief counsel, Brad Smith, announced the decision and called on Congress to regulate the technology during a Washington Post video event on Thursday.

“We’ve decided we will not sell facial recognition technology to police departments in the United States until we have a national law in place, grounded in human rights, that will govern this technology,” Smith said.

The trio of tech giants is stepping back from law-enforcement use of systems that have faced criticism for incorrectly identifying people with darker skin.

Chinese Officials Call For Improved Ties With U.S.

BEIJING (AP) — Beijing will honor its trade deal with the U.S. and wants to see better ties with Washington, senior Chinese officials said Thursday.

Zhu Guangyao, a former finance minister and Cabinet advisor, said the two countries should “waste no time” in improving relations to help better coordinate a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

He and other officials told reporters in Beijing that the two biggest economies are so closely entwined that they must find a way to work together because a lack of cooperation has come at a “high price.”

U.S. Wholesale Prices Rise 0.4% In May Led by Food and Energy

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. wholesale prices rose 0.4% in May, led by a gains in the cost of food and energy.

The Labor Department said Thursday that its Producer Price Index, which measures inflation pressures before they reach the consumer, showed an increase after three straight months of declines. Those declines had reflected in part the steep drop in demand caused by government-ordered shutdowns to deal with the coronavirus.

The cost of food rose a sharp 6%. Food costs have been rising due to high demand from Americans cooking more at home, but also because of lost production following virus outbreaks at food processing facilities. Energy prices, which had fallen for three straight months, increased 4.5%.

U.S. Long-Term Mortgage Rates Mostly Steady; 30-Year at 3.21%

WASHINGTON (AP) — Long-term U.S. mortgage rates were mostly steady this week, continuing to hover near all-time lows.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate on the benchmark 30-year home loan edged up to 3.21% from 3.18% last week. A year ago, the rate stood at 3.82%.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage was unchanged at 2.62%.

The government reported Thursday that about 1.5 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, evidence that many Americans are still losing their jobs even as the economy appears to be slowly recovering with more businesses partially reopening.

Meatpacking Rebounds but High Prices and Backlogs to Persist

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Meat production has rebounded from its low point during the coronavirus pandemic when dozens of plants were closed, but experts say consumer prices are likely to remain high and it will take months to work through a backlog of millions of animals, creating headaches for producers.

Earlier this week, meat plants were operating at more than 95% of last year’s levels, which was up from about 60% in April at the height of plant closures and slowdowns, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. That increased production came as companies took steps to protect workers, such as adding plastic partitions between work stations and staggering shifts, that are essential but could slow down the work. The safety measures and bonuses to incentivize workers have increased costs.

Lufthansa Warns 22,000 Jobs At Risk Despite Bailout

BERLIN (AP) — German airline Lufthansa says 22,000 full-time jobs may need to be cut worldwide due to the drop in demand for flights caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s more than twice the number of jobs that the airline, which says it has over 135,000 employees, previously said might need to be axed.

Lufthansa, which also owns Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines, said it expects to have about 100 planes fewer in operation after the pandemic.

Shares in Lufthansa were down almost 8% on the Frankfurt exchange Thursday.