I hope your Valentine’s Day was especially good this year. Americans were forecast to break records with their gifting on Friday, spending an average of $196.31 on their loved ones — a 21 percent increase from last year’s average of $161.96, according to the National Retail Federation. Thanks, and you’re welcome, economy! Here’s the rest of the week’s top news in business and tech.
What’s Up? (Feb. 9-15)
Amazon vs. the White House
Amazon won a victory in its legal battle with President Trump over a $10 billion cloud-computing contract with the Pentagon. The fight began last fall when Amazon, considered a shoo-in for the project, lost out to Microsoft, the market’s No. 2 provider, at the last minute. Amazon claims that Mr. Trump meddled in the decision because of his feud with Jeff Bezos, the company’s chief executive and owner of The Washington Post. Now, a judge has ordered Microsoft to halt the project until Amazon’s legal challenge is resolved. Taking things up a notch, Amazon has asked to depose Mr. Trump in the case, arguing that it’s essential to determine if he exerted “improper pressure” on the bidding process.
As the disease spread to thousands more people in China and got a new, “official” name (world, meet Covid-19), its dampening economic effects continued to spread far beyond quarantined areas. While only a few cases have turned up in Europe so far, the virus has created such a logjam in trade that economists fear it could push the slowing European economy into a full-blown downturn. Also plagued by the outbreak: the $45 billion cruise business, as would-be vacationers are scared off by horror stories about infected passenger ships stranded at sea. The art market is being squeezed, too, from the lack of Chinese patrons. The Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, told Congress that he was monitoring the fallout from the outbreak “closely.”
Bloomberg’s Meme Blowout
Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman and former New York mayor, was all over Instagram this past week after he hired dozens of the internet’s biggest influencers to produce tongue-in-cheek memes to promote his bid for the presidency. He’s also poured money into Facebook ads, outspending Mr. Trump — whose campaign relies heavily on social media — by about five to one. And he’s paying his staff handsomely, in some cases nearly double what other candidates are offering. But will his digital-heavy, no-expense-spared strategy work? Hey, maybe! He’s currently polling just as high as some of the top candidates, and may qualify for the next Democratic primary debate — his first — on Wednesday.
What’s Next? (Feb. 16-22)
What Happens in Vegas
How will Democrats avoid repeating Iowa’s caucus chaos when the pack of presidential hopefuls — or what’s left of them — head to Nevada for the next round of caucuses next Saturday? For starters, the party scrapped its plans to use a smartphone app similar to the one that played a role in Iowa’s results-counting debacle. Instead, officials will use an iPad, calculators and Google forms to tally the totals. (So, less software, but still plenty of room for human error.)
Delegate-wise, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg remain neck and neck, which has some business leaders biting their nails. Mr. Sanders is a staunch critic of Wall Street, while Mr. Buttigieg has taken punches for being too cozy with wealthy elites.
And Then There Were Three
If you’re a Sprint customer, you’ll soon be under T-Mobile’s network umbrella. It’s been a tough road for the yearslong merger campaign, but now it’s really happening. The $26 billion deal has survived attacks by state attorneys general, who said it would lead to higher costs for consumers because of less competition — the United States will be down to just three major carriers. But thanks to backing from the Trump administration and the Justice Department, T-Mobile was able to elbow past antitrust regulations and proceed. It’s unclear whether customers will see a difference in service or pricing — or notice any change at all, at least for now.
Barclays Entangled in Epstein Fray
Regulators are investigating ties between the chief executive of Barclays, James E. Staley, and Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who killed himself in August after being charged with sex trafficking of underage girls. Associations with Mr. Epstein have not gone well for other public figures and business leaders — namely, the owner of Victoria’s Secret, Leslie Wexner, who is now in talks to step down, and Prince Andrew, who relinquished his royal duties after giving a disastrous interview about his relationship with the disgraced money manager. In a statement, Barclays said it believed that “Mr. Staley has been sufficiently transparent with the company as regards the nature and extent of his relationship with Mr. Epstein.”
Rihanna’s lingerie line has been accused of deceptive marketing by a consumer watchdog, which says the company “ensnares consumers into unwanted monthly charges.” A new lawsuit in Massachusetts claims that Juul, the e-cigarette brand, targeted teenagers by purchasing ad space for its vaping products on websites like those of Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network and Seventeen magazine and educational sites for middle school and high school students. Meanwhile, Delta pledged to become the first American airline to go carbon neutral. The company will spend at least $1 billion over the next decade on emission offsets, more efficient planes, new fuel sources and carbon-capture technology.