Axios Closer

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February 29, 2024

⬆️ We hope this edition of Closer leaps off the page.

Today's newsletter is 695 words, a 2½-minute read.

🔔 The dashboard: The S&P 500 closed up 0.5%, notching its best two-month start to the year since 2019. The Nasdaq Composite closed today at a record high.

  • Biggest gainer? Hormel Foods (+14.6%), the food processing company, beat top- and bottom-line expectations for its fiscal Q1.
  • Biggest decliner? Xcel Energy (-8.6%), the regulated electric and gas utility, disclosed that lawyers for property insurers have said it may be liable for damages from Texas wildfires.

1 big thing: A matter of national security

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

The Biden administration is taking steps to make it even harder for Chinese automakers to sell vehicles in the U.S., Nathan writes.

Why it matters: China's domestic auto industry has made major strides in quality and cost — especially on electric vehicles — but it still hasn't sold any of its homegrown cars in the U.S.

Driving the news: Biden today ordered the Commerce Department to investigate "connected vehicles with technology from countries of concern and to take action to respond to the risks," specifically citing China.

  • The move puts a spotlight on the data security of high-tech vehicles — many of which will be EVs with autonomous driving elements.

What they're saying: "China's policies could flood our market with its vehicles, posing risks to our national security. I'm not going to let that happen on my watch," Biden said in a statement.

  • "Connected vehicles from China could collect sensitive data about our citizens and our infrastructure and send this data back to the People's Republic of China," the president added. "These vehicles could be remotely accessed or disabled."

The big picture: The upshot is another barrier for Chinese automakers in their quest to bring cars to the U.S., where political opposition to China's automotive ambitions is already rigid.

  • Chinese vehicle imports face a 27.5% tariff in the U.S., which has limited their ability to come here on a cost-effective basis despite being cheaper.
  • Chinese automakers, however, are reportedly taking steps to diversify their manufacturing footprints — moves that could sidestep the tax — including forming manufacturing partnerships or exploring Mexico as a production base.

The bottom line: American political and business leaders are growing increasingly concerned about the prospect of Chinese vehicles coming to the U.S.

Full story

2. Charted: The Oprah Effect

Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Axios Visuals

WeightWatchers' stock plunged 18% today on a decoupling with Oprah Winfrey.

  • The company's longtime celebrity booster said she's leaving the board in May and giving away her stock in the company, Nathan writes.

The intrigue: WW said Winfrey's decision is meant partly "to eliminate any perceived conflict of interest around her taking weight loss medications," the company said.

  • WW, which has been grappling with a decline in membership during the pandemic, is now marketing weight-loss drugs following its acquisition last year of telehealth platform Sequence.

The big picture: Winfrey's decision to join WeightWatchers and its board in 2015 improved investor confidence in its fortunes for a time.

Go deeper

3. What's happening

💻 Best Buy raised its sales forecast for 2024 in a sign that the consumer electronics slump might be easing. (Bloomberg)

ğŸŽ® Video game maker Electronic Arts plans to cut 5% of its workforce. (AP)

🛑 The architect of Donald Trump's Truth Social deal has sued to block the transaction. (Reuters)

4. A humanoid robot, Nvidia and ChatGPT

Figure 01, the first-generation humanoid robot from Sunnyvale, Calif., startup Figure. Photo: Courtesy of Figure

A humanoid robot startup has drawn a $675 million investment from Jeff Bezos, AI chipmaker Nvidia, ChatGPT-maker OpenAI and others.

Why it matters: Bipedal robots with dexterous hands are joining the labor force this year, a trend that's expected to gain steam, Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson writes.

Between the lines: The Series B funding for Figure, a Silicon Valley startup founded by "flying taxi" pioneer Brett Adcock, gives it a valuation of $2.6 billion.

  • The company will also collaborate with OpenAI to develop next-generation AI models for humanoid robots.

Go deeper

5. Nosebleed seats

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

If you're still looking for a cool vantage point for the total solar eclipse on April 8, the sky awaits, Axios Dallas' Naheed Rajwani-Dharsi writes.

The big picture: Delta Air Lines is offering two flights that will align with the timing and path of totality, when the Moon covers the entirety of the Sun except for the Sun's corona.

  • The first — from Austin to Detroit — sold out within 24 hours, so the company has added a second from Dallas to Detroit.

Yes, but: It won't be cheap. Main cabin seats are over $730.

💭 Nathan's thought bubble: I guess the only way to guarantee clouds won't block the eclipse is to rise above them.

6. What they're saying 🏀

"While this season is far from over and we have a lot more goals to achieve, it will be my last one at Iowa. I am excited to be entering the 2024 WNBA Draft."
— Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark on X this afternoon.

Today's newsletter was edited by Pete Gannon and copy edited by Sheryl Miller.

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