The stock market got off to a good start on Monday morning, continuing its upward momentum from the previous week and seeing several major benchmarks push further into record territory. As of 11:45 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was up 4 points to 26,548. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^SPX) added 3 points to 2,943, and the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^COMP) was higher by 11 points to 8,157.
This week will be an important one for legendary investor Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B), which will host its annual shareholder meeting this weekend. Yet Berkshire's making headlines for a move into one of the Persian Gulf's most lucrative markets. Meanwhile, news about Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) push to offer one-day shipping for Prime members could run into resistance from labor union officials who already claim that the e-commerce giant demands too much from workers.
Buffett sees value in Middle East real estate
Berkshire Hathaway shares picked up more than 1% following news that its real estate unit will make a major expansion into the Middle East. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices said over the weekend that it would add an office in Dubai in order to serve the Persian Gulf region.
HomeServices chair Gino Blefari announced the move to name Ihsan Husein Al Marzouqi as chair and Phil Sheridan CEO of the new Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Gulf Properties unit, saying that "Dubai has been a top priority for our network's global expansion as it represents innovation among world leaders and is a top global center for trade, logistics, tourism, and finance." Blefari sees a second United Arab Emirates office in neighboring Abu Dhabi within the next year.
The move comes as somewhat of a surprise to some, because Dubai has seen pressure in its real estate market recently. Even with prices having fallen significantly over the past five years, some experts project that residential property prices could see further declines this year before stabilizing in the near future. Given weak oil prices, overheated property markets seem to have accounted for more favorable economic conditions than the region has seen in recent years.
Even so, Buffett has a reputation for looking for underpriced values, and betting on the Persian Gulf now could be a smart move. With key events like Expo 2020 and the 2022 World Cup coming to the region, now could be the time for real estate to mount a rebound.
Will one-day shipping push workers to the brink?
Shares of Amazon.com were slightly lower on Monday morning as investors continued to digest the company's announcement last week that it would offer one-day shipping to its Amazon Prime members. Although many customers are excited at the news, one group that's not as pleased about the development is the labor union community.
As union reps describe it, the issue boils down to basic math. "Amazon fulfillment workers currently face speeds of 200-300 orders per hour in 12-hour shifts," said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. "They struggle already to maintain that pace. If Amazon plans to effectively double the speed, it must also address existing workforce needs and ensure its workers are safe." The union leader called for Amazon to hire more workers and allow for more sustainable throughput goals.
Amazon has argued that the union allegations have no merit. Yet the e-commerce giant has already been under fire for systems it uses to evaluate workers that allegedly recommend summary disciplinary action for those who regularly fail to meet certain performance standards. The big question for Amazon is how customers will react in assessing the trade-off between faster delivery speed and labor conditions -- and whether lawmakers and regulators will seek to step further into the fray.