The daily business briefing: January 15, 2019

Harold Maass
A PG&E truck
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Trump contraception-coverage rules now blocked nationwide

A federal judge on Monday blocked the Trump administration's new rules allowing more employers to opt out of offering workers no-cost birth control from going into effect in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. As part of the Affordable Care Act, employer insurance plans have to include free contraceptives; religious groups are exempt, but the new rules would give more employers, including schools and nonprofits, the chance to opt out. On Sunday, a judge ruled there are "serious questions" about whether this violates the ACA, and he temporarily blocked the rules in 13 states and D.C. Pennsylvania sued the administration. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone in Philadelphia wrote that enforcing the rules could cause "irreversible" harm, and issued a nationwide injunction. [Reuters]


PG&E files for bankruptcy protection as wildfire liabilities loom

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., the nation's largest utility, said Monday that it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as it faced $30 billion in potential damages from liability lawsuits over its role in devastating wildfires over the last two years. Bankruptcy protection will let PG&E keep operating without interrupting electricity and natural gas service to its 16 million customers in California while it struggles to deal with the financial pressure. State officials are investigating whether PG&E equipment started last year's Camp Fire, which killed at least 86 people and destroyed 15,000 homes, making it the deadliest and costliest blaze in state history. [The Associated Press]


Stocks struggle to rebound from two days of losses as banks report earnings

U.S. stock-index futures edged higher early Tuesday after two days of losses. The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly turned negative after J.P. Morgan Chase shares fell by more than 2 percent in pre-market trading when the big bank reported quarterly profits below expectations. Dow futures then edged up again. S&P 500 futures also were up by a small fraction of a percent. Nasdaq futures rose by 0.3 percent. All three of the main U.S. indexes fell on Monday. China's state planner gave global markets a boost by saying it aimed for "a good start" for the world's No. 2 economy in the first quarter, raising hopes of further economic stimulus as China faces a slowdown threatening global growth. [MarketWatch, CNBC]


Supreme Court rejects challenge to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a Texas bank's challenge of the constitutionality of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bank questioned whether the power given to the CFPB's sole director violates the authority of presidents under the Constitution to appoint and remove certain federal officials. If the justices had ruled in favor of the bank, a president would have been able to fire the CFPB's director for any reason. The agency was set up under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. It has faced frequent criticism from conservatives, and the Trump administration has ditched rules in an attempt to limit its enforcement actions. The CFPB was passed by Democrats under former President Barack Obama after the 2007-2009 financial crisis to discourage predatory financial practices. [Reuters]


May's Brexit plan faces expected defeat in key vote

British Prime Minister Theresa May faced likely defeat in a key Parliament vote on her Brexit plan on Tuesday, with at least 70 members of her Conservative Party publicly committed to joining opposition lawmakers against her proposed deal with the European Union. May made a last-minute appeal for support on Monday, after postponing a vote before Christmas in hopes she could win over lawmakers. Many Brexit supporters say May's deal gives too much control to the EU to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland, part of the U.K., and Ireland, an EU member. The fate of May's plan is believed to hinge on the magnitude of her expected defeat. A narrow loss would let her seek more concessions from Brussels; a humiliating loss could force her to delay Britain's scheduled March 29 departure from the EU. [Bloomberg, Reuters]