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The daily business briefing: March 20, 2019

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Harold Maass
The Disney logo is displayed outside the Disney Store in Times Square, December 14, 2017 in New York City.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
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1.

Disney completes $71.3 billion 21st Century Fox deal

The Walt Disney Company formally closed its $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox assets early Wednesday, dramatically expanding what was already an entertainment giant. Disney now owns the core of Rupert Murdoch's former empire, including the 20th Century Fox movie and television studio, home of the X-Men, Avatar, and Simpsons franchises; Ice Age animation studio Blue Sky; Fox Searchlight Pictures; the FX and National Geographic channels; and Fox's interest in Hulu. "This is an extraordinary and historic moment for us — one that will create significant long-term value for our company and our shareholders," Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. Disney bought Pixar in 2006 for $7.4 billion, Marvel Entertainment in 2010 for $4 billion, and Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4 billion. [The New York Times, Variety]

2.

Transportation secretary asks for audit of FAA approval of Boeing jets

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Tuesday called for her department's inspector general to audit the Federal Aviation Administration's certification of Boeing's 737 Max 8 plane, the new model involved in two deadly crashes in less than five months. "Safety is the top priority of the department, and all of us are saddened by the fatalities resulting from the recent accidents involving two Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in Indonesia and Ethiopia," she wrote to Calvin L. Scovel III, her agency's internal watchdog. The FAA was slow to ground 737 Max jets, even after other countries barred the planes from their skies pending an investigation. The agency is also being questioned by Congress over its role in approving the jets as safe to fly. [The New York Times]

3.

Paul Ryan joins the board of Fox News' new parent company

Fox Corp., the new parent company of Fox News, on Tuesday named former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to its board. The company was spun off from 21st Century Fox, which Rupert Murdoch sold to the Walt Disney Company. Ryan announced his retirement from Congress last year, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. Fox praised him for leading "efforts to revise the federal tax code, rebuild the national defense, expand domestic energy production, combat the opioid epidemic, and reform the criminal justice system." Ryan's appointment fueled criticism of growing coziness between President Trump's GOP and Fox News. "The GOP/Fox merger is becoming increasingly formalized. Trump watches and promotes it incessantly, Fox appoints Paul Ryan to its board," University of Michigan professor Brendan Nyhan tweeted. [The Washington Post, CNN]

4.

Stocks fluctuate ahead of Fed decision

A Tuesday stock rally fizzled after Bloomberg reported U.S. and Chinese negotiators are still clashing over some sticky issues in their latest trade talks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down for the first time in five days, led by Apple losses. The S&P 500 closed little changed after briefly topping 2,850 for the first time since October. "The markets have priced in the trade-war resolution, so if there's any chance this gets extended, delayed, or changed, this causes markets to be jittery," said Gene Goldman, chief investment officer at Cetera Investment Management. U.S. stock index futures were mixed early Wednesday as investors focused on the Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting, which is expected to end Wednesday with no change to interest rates. [Bloomberg, CNBC]

5.

EU hits Google with $1.69 billion fine for blocking online ad rivals

European Union regulators on Wednesday fined Google $1.69 billion for stifling online advertising competition. The European Union's commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager, said Google hampered rivals' ability to "compete and innovate fairly" by placing exclusivity contracts on publishers that prevented them from including search results from Google's competitors. "Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules," Vestager said. Google Senior Vice President of Global Affairs Kent Walker said the company believes "healthy, thriving markets are in everyone's interest," and that Google had "already made a wide range of changes to our products to address the commission's concerns." [The Associated Press, CNBC]