Politics

Stimulus is here. But there are some big caveats

Stimulus check issued by the IRS to help combat the adverse economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak

(CNN) — President Donald Trump reversed course on Sunday, signing into law a massive $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and government funding bill that he had objected to at the last minute.

That signature does two important things for the US economy: It averts a government shutdown that was set to begin on Tuesday, and extends billions of dollars in coronavirus aid to struggling Americans.

The estimated 12 million people in two key pandemic unemployment programs, who were facing their last payment this weekend, will now receive benefits for another 11 weeks. Plus, all those collecting jobless payments will receive a $300 weekly federal boost through mid-March.

The relief package also extends eviction protection to January 31 and provides $25 billion in rental assistance for those who lost their sources of income during the pandemic. An estimated 9.2 million renters who have lost employment income during the pandemic are behind on rent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The caveats: Because Trump did not sign the bill on Saturday, those enrolled in the two unemployment programs will likely not receive a payment for the final week of the year. Their payments could also be delayed several weeks while state agencies reprogram their computers.

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US futures and most global markets moved higher on Monday as investors welcomed the additional stimulus.

The backstory: Economists had been arguing for months that US lawmakers needed to deliver another relief package to help protect the fragile economic recovery from the pandemic. The Federal Reserve said so, too.

But getting a deal that was acceptable to both Democrats and Republicans proved to be exceedingly difficult. Trump’s 11th hour intervention — against an agreement his administration negotiated — didn’t help matters.

The deal removes two sources of uncertainty for investors. It provides some relief to struggling Americans before President-elect Joe Biden takes office next month, and keeps the US government running through September 30. That means no pesky government shutdowns until at least the next fiscal year.

China tells Ant Group to quickly overhaul its business

China has ordered Ant Group to overhaul its operations, dealing yet another blow to the payments giant controlled by billionaire Jack Ma.

Financial regulators outlined a laundry list of expectations for Ant Group executives in a meeting on Saturday. The officials blasted Ant Group for having “defied” regulations, edging out rivals from the market place, harming consumer rights and taking advantage of regulatory loopholes for its own profit. They also accused the company’s corporate governance structure of being “unsound,” according to a transcript of remarks by Pan Gongsheng, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China.

Big problems: Ant Group, which is affiliated with e-commerce giant Alibaba, offers everything from investment accounts and micro savings products to insurance, credit scores and even dating profiles. The company been subjected to intense scrutiny in recent weeks after Chinese officials shocked investors by halting its huge IPO at the last minute.

Here’s more great context from my colleague Laura He:

President Xi Jinping made clear at a recent conference that one China’s most important goals for next year is to strengthen anti-monopoly efforts against online platforms and prevent a “disorderly expansion” of capital.

Regulators told Ant Group executives on Saturday to “go back” and focus on its “original” payments services, among other tasks, according to Pan. Regulators also called for a “strict overhaul” of the company’s credit, insurance, and wealth management services.

“Ant Group must fully realize the seriousness and necessity of this rectification,” the regulators told the company. They added that the firm must develop a plan to implement these changes “as soon as possible.”

Ant Group said Sunday that it would take heed of the latest requirements, while focusing on innovation, serving small businesses and increasing competitiveness on an international scale for the benefit of the country.

“We appreciate [the] financial regulators’ guidance and help,” the company added.

Bitcoin prices go berserk

Bitcoin is crashing — upward. Its price briefly topped $28,000 over the weekend and may have more room to run.

The context: Bitcoin passed $20,000 for the first time just 11 days ago, reports my CNN Business colleague David Goldman.

Investors are pouring money into bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies during the Covid-19 pandemic as the Federal Reserve sent interest rates near zero (and expects to keep them there for several more years), severely weakening the US dollar. That makes bitcoin, comparatively, an attractive currency.

Also pushing the valuation: Big, name-brand investors are stockpiling it, and huge consumer companies are embracing it. For example, a top executive at BlackRock recently said the cryptocurrency can replace gold, and Square and PayPal have both embraced bitcoin.

Even with mainstream credibility, the recent cryptocurrency surge is showing signs of a melt-up — over-enthusiasm fueled by the fear of missing out, not simply market fundamentals.

Up next

Weibo reports earnings before the opening bell. There are no major economic reports expected on Monday.

Coming Tuesday: The S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index will be released at 9 a.m. ET.

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