The daily business briefing: January 17, 2019

Harold Maass
Satya Nadella on stage
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Theresa May survives no-confidence vote after Brexit setback

British Prime Minister Theresa May narrowly survived a no-confidence vote called by opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday, a day after the House of Commons overwhelmingly rejected her plan for Britain's exit from the European Union. It was the second attempt to oust her as prime minister in five weeks. Tuesday's rejection of May's plans left Brexit in chaos with just over two months to go before Britain is scheduled to leave the European trading bloc. "We have a responsibility to identify a way forward that can secure the backing of the House," May told Parliament. "I have proposed a series of meetings between senior parliamentarians and representatives of the government over the coming days." [NBC News]


Microsoft pledges $500 million for affordable housing in Seattle

Microsoft announced Wednesday that it is pledging $500 million to build affordable housing in response to the housing crisis in Seattle, an area that is home to both Microsoft and Amazon. In many areas where tech giants have their headquarters, low- and middle-income homeowners are being priced out. During a meeting attended by New York Times reporters earlier this week, Microsoft president Brad Smith and CEO Satya Nadella said they were worried about their employees being able to afford housing as prices skyrocket. In December, the government published a report that found the Seattle region needs 156,000 more affordable housing units, and if the area continues to grow at its current rate, an additional 88,000 units are needed by 2040. [The New York Times]


Vanguard founder and index-fund pioneer John Bogle dies at 89

John Bogle, the index fund pioneer who founded the Vanguard Group, died Wednesday. He was 89. Although Bogle did not invent the index fund, he gave ordinary investors access to the low-cost investments in 1976 with Vanguard's first index fund offered to individual investors, rather than just institutional ones. Vanguard has led the way in popularizing the funds, which passively track market indexes such as the Standard & Poor's 500 and avoid the higher fees charged by professional fund managers who rarely beat the indexes over time. Bogle served as Vanguard's chairman and CEO from its founding in 1974 until 1996, then stepped down as senior chairman in 2000. [The Associated Press]


Stock futures edge down on renewed China concerns

U.S. stock-index futures and global markets were mostly lower Thursday on fresh concerns that China's economic slowdown could cause trouble globally. Eight Chinese provinces reportedly have lowered their growth targets for this year. Traders also worried that a U.S. investigation of possible trade-secret theft by China's Huawei, reported by The Wall Street Journal, could hamper talks on ending a trade war between the U.S. and China, the world's two biggest economies. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 were down by about 0.3 percent early Thursday, while those of the Nasdaq fell by about 0.4 percent. [The Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal]


Lampert reportedly wins Sears bankruptcy auction by upping bid to $5.2 billion

Sears chairman Eddie Lampert reportedly won a bankruptcy auction for the company on Wednesday after raising his takeover bid to $5.2 billion, according to people familiar with the matter cited by Reuters and other news outlets. Lampert's hedge fund, ESL Investments, reportedly helped push through by raising its final offer by $150 million, sealing a deal with Sears and saving the iconic retailer from liquidation. Lampert aims to keep about 400 stores open nationwide and save up to 45,000 jobs. The deal still could unravel. It must be approved by a U.S. bankruptcy judge, and some Sears creditors oppose it. [Reuters, CNBC]