Wall Street’s main indexes put on a strong show last week, with the S&P 500 recording its best week since November. For the week, the benchmark index rose 4.65%, while the Nasdaq posted its best week since November 6, 2020.

Markets focused on corporate earnings and progress in vaccine rollouts, with the U.S. coronavirus package on investors’ radar as President Joe Biden seeks to pass his $1.9 trillion recovery plan. The pandemic aid is likely to receive a fillip from dire economic data that showed U.S. employment growth rebounded moderately in January and job losses during the month were higher than expected.

Top Stories This Week

GameStop shares halt plunge as retail frenzy recedes

GameStop’s (GME) shares hit the brakes on their steep fall after online broker Robinhood removed all buying restrictions. The stock ended over 19% higher on Friday, weeks after following a battle between Wall Street hedge funds and retail investors over the stock. Kicking off the week on Feb. 1 at $225 apiece, its shares dropped to as low as $53.5 before recovering to close at $63.77 on Friday.

Snap Summary
GameStop and AMC Entertainment (AMC) were caught in the middle of an intense battle between major financial institutions and retail investors triggered by Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum that popularized the stock and buyers rushed to accumulate it through fee-free brokers such as Robinhood.  But, as the frenzy cooled, their shares fell sharply, helping hedge funds with bearish positions on GameStop earn $3.6 billion in profits, against losses of $12.5 billion in January. 

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos checks out

Amazon.com (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos will step down from the CEO’s role to become executive chairman this summer. The company named the head of its cloud computing division, Andy Jassy, as his successor. The company also reported its results during the week, reporting quarterly sales of more than $100 billion for the first time.

Snap Summary 
The announcement brings an end to questions about Bezos’s successorwhen Jassy takes over in summer. Bezos also departs at a time when the company he founded 27 years ago is one of the world’s most valuable firms and made him one of the richest people in the world. The company has also placed itself on a steady path of growth, reporting consecutive quarters of growth after reporting losses for decades.

Ford to cut shifts at two plants that make F-150 pickup trucks

Ford Motor Co (F) is cutting shifts at two plants that make its highly-profitable flagship F-150 pickup trucks due to a global shortage of semiconductor chips, forewarning that the issue could lead to a loss of 10% to 20% of planned first-quarter production.

Snap Summary
 Ford joins a growing list of global automakers, including General Motors (GM), that have been hurt by the shortage of crucial semiconductors. These are used for everything from computer management of engines to driver-assistance features such as emergency braking. Ford’s announcement is significant as, until now, companies were largely slashing outputs at less-profitable vehicles.

Microsoft says it supports proposed media laws in Australia

Microsoft (MSFT) backed the proposed new laws in Australia that would push internet giants like Google (GOOG) and Facebook Inc (FB) to pay domestic media outlets for their content. Australian PM Scott Morrison said Microsoft was ready to expand its search engine Bing in Australia if Google pulled its search engine.

Snap Summary
 Australian media laws have been in focus for some time as Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook have called the laws unworkable and threatened to withdraw some key services from Australia if the regulations go through. The escalation paves the way for Microsoft to eat into Google’s search market share of 94% in Australia.

Major U.S. firms report quarterly results as earnings season wraps up

Google parent Alphabet (GOOG) reported 2020 sales growth at 13% and it boosted its cash hoard by $17 billion in 2020 to $137 billion. Its fourth-quarter profit rose 43% to $15.2 billion, or $22.30 per share. But Google Cloud posted a $5.6 billion loss for 2020.

Exxon Mobil (XOM) posted a historic annual loss as plummeting oil prices and writing-down of its shale gas properties by more than $20 billion weighed on its financials. The company’s net annual loss stood at $22.4 billion for 2020, compared with a full-year profit of $14.34 billion in 2019.

Qualcomm (QCOM), the world’s biggest supplier of chips, has said semiconductor supply constraints were hindering its sales growth. The company, which reported sales and adjusted profit of $8.27 billion and $2.17 per share for the December quarter, said supplies will remain tight through the first half of 2021.

Snap Summary
 The quarterly and annual results by U.S. companies are key to gauge the recovery of the corporate sector from a coronavirus-driven slump. The country tops the list of total caseloads and is rushing to vaccinate its population amid supply and inoculation-pace issues. But investors may take away from observations that U.S. companies are on track to report earnings growth for the fourth quarter. Data from Refinitiv shows that this would be the first quarter of profit growth for S&P 500 companies since the end of 2019, recording a growth of 0.9% for the fourth quarter. 

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