Update on the latest business


Stocks tumble at midday

NEW YORK (AP) — Stock indexes have turned sharply lower in midday trading on Wall Street, after earlier flipping between modest losses and gains.

Traders are dissecting Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s latest comments for clues about the future path of interest rates. Powell told a Senate committee today that the central bank continues to plan a gradual rise in interest rates.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.85 percent.


US mortgage rates up for 8th week; 30-year at 4.43 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Long-term U.S. mortgage rates crept higher this week, marking the eighth straight week that it cost more to borrow to buy a home.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages rose to 4.43 percent this week from 4.40 percent last week. The new average for the benchmark rate is the highest since January 2014. The 30-year rate stood at 4.10 percent a year ago.

The rate on 15-year, fixed-rate loans advanced to 3.90 percent from 3.85 percent last week.

Mortgage rates have risen steadily in January and February, as interest rates generally have increased in response to higher levels of government debt and expectations of rising inflation.


US consumer spending ticked up in January as incomes soared

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans lifted their spending just 0.2 percent in January, while their incomes jumped because of last year’s tax cuts.

The Commerce Department says the modest spending increase followed gains of 0.4 percent in December and 0.8 percent in November. Incomes rose 0.4 percent, boosted by $30 billion in tax cut-related bonuses the government estimates were paid out in January.

After-tax income jumped 0.9 percent, the most in a year, lifted by the Trump administration’s tax cuts. With consumers holding back on spending, the savings rate rose. Savings had fallen to a 12-year low in December.

There were some signs of inflation pressures. A key inflation gauge, excluding the volatile food and energy categories, rose 0.3 percent, the most in a year.


US construction spending flat as commercial building falls

WASHINGTON (AP) — Spending on U.S. construction projects was unchanged in January, held back by a sharp fall in commercial real estate building.

The Commerce Department says spending on the construction of single-family homes rose 0.6 percent, while apartment building fell. Construction of commercial projects, such as office towers and malls, fell 2.7 percent. Construction spending on new power plants plunged 6.2 percent.

Construction spending rose in 2017 at the slowest pace in six years, as homebuilders have struggled to find enough workers and enough cheap land to build on. Total private construction fell 0.5 percent in January.

States and the federal government have made up for some of the decline, increasing their construction spending 1.8 percent in January. Highway and road building, and construction of schools, rose at a healthy clip.


US factories expand at strongest rate in almost 14 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — American manufacturers say they expanded in February at the fastest pace in nearly 14 years.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, reports that its manufacturing index climbed to 60.8 in February from 59.1 in January. This was the strongest reading since May 2014. Any score above 50 signals growth.

The gains largely came from a surge in the employment and inventory components of the index. New orders and production expanded in February but at a slower rate than in January.

Among 18 manufacturing industries, 15 reported growth last month, including electronic products and transportation equipment.

U.S. manufacturing has expanded for the past 18 months. Solid economic growth around the world and a weaker dollar — which helps exports — have fueled the gains.


Trump plans tariffs on imported steel, aluminum

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has told steel and aluminum executives that he’ll impose import tariffs ‘next week’ in a bid to boost U.S. manufacturers.

His words to the executives: “You will have protection for the first time in a long while.”

The president spoke at a hastily called meeting White House after hours of confusion over what — if anything — he was going to announce.

Trump tells reporters the import tariffs will be 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum.

Trump ordered a Commerce Department review of imports of both metals last year. He has until April to formally decide whether to support the department’s recommendation to impose tariffs.

The move has raised concerns that it could launch a trade war with China.


Automakers reporting February sales

DETROIT (AP) — Most automakers are reporting their February sales numbers today.

General Motors and Ford say their sales were down about 7 percent. Nissan’s fell 4 percent and Fiat Chrysler’s 1 percent.

Toyota sales rose 4.5 percent. Volkswagen brand sales rose 6 percent.

Industry analysts predicted that February sales would tail off from a year ago as automakers ease up on cash discounts and other incentives that hit record highs last year.


Best Buy same-store sales surge, tops 4Q expectations

RICHFIELD, Minn. (AP) — Best Buy is reporting surging sales at stores and it’s topped Wall Street’s profit and revenue expectations for the fourth quarter.

Sales at comparable stores jumped 9 percent during the period that includes the critical holidays.

The consumer electronics retailer on Thursday posted net income of $364 million, or $1.23 per share. Earnings, adjusted for one-time gains and costs, were $2.42 per share, blowing past the per-share projections from analysts of $2.05, according to Zacks Investment Research.

Revenue for the Richfield, Minnesota, company was $15.36 billion, well above projections for $14.57 billion.


Equifax finds additional 2.4 million impacted by 2017 breach

NEW YORK (AP) — Equifax is saying that an additional 2.4 million Americans were impacted by last year’s data breach, however these newly disclosed consumers had much less personal information stolen.

The company says the 2.4 million additional consumers only had their names and a partial driver’s license number stolen by the attackers, unlike the original 145.5 million Americans who had their Social Security numbers impacted. Attackers were unable to get state where the license was issued, the date of issuance or its expiration date.

Equifax says it will reach out to all newly impacted consumers and will provide the same credit monitoring and identity theft protection services they have been offering to the original victims.


Kroger joins other big retailers, tightens gun restrictions

UNDATED (AP) — Kroger is raising the minimum age to buy guns at its Fred Meyer stores, the third major retailer to place restrictions on gun sales that exceed federal law.

Like Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods a day earlier, Kroger says it will immediately limit gun and ammunition sales to people 21 and older.

The nation’s largest grocery chain said Thursday that recent events show that gun retailers need to take action.

Students returned this week to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida for the first time since a troubled teenager killed 17 people there, mostly children.

Fred Meyer sells guns at 44 stores in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska. Assault-style guns sales were ended everywhere but Alaska several years ago. Special orders for those guns are now unavailable in Alaska.


Georgia Senate to vote on tax bill, Delta benefit dropped

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia lawmakers are expected to vote on a sweeping tax bill that no longer includes a proposed jet fuel tax break which had been in Republicans’ crosshairs ever since Delta Air Lines severed ties with the National Rifle Association.

The Georgia Senate is scheduled to vote on the newly amended measure Thursday.

The legislature has garnered national attention ever since Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle tweeted Monday that we would kill the proposed tax break on jet fuel as retribution for Atlanta-based Delta’s decision to stop offering NRA members discounted fares.

Republican Gov. Nathan Deal said Wednesday that he plans to sign the broader tax bill, even if it’s without the airline tax break he had pushed for. Deal says he’s pursuing the jet fuel tax exemption separately.


New York airports set passenger record for 6th straight year

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New York-area airports have set a record for passenger traffic for a sixth straight year.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark Liberty and Stewart airports, says more than 132 million passengers used those facilities in 2017.

That’s a 2.2 percent increase over the previous record in 2016.

JFK set a record with more than 59 million passengers, and Newark Liberty set a record with more than 43 million passengers.

Stewart saw a more than 60 percent increase in passenger volume with the expansion of Allegiant Air’s service and the launch of Norwegian Air service to five European destinations.

The Port Authority is investing more than $11 billion in aviation improvements over the next 10 years.


Gas service stops for thousands of Dallas homes due to leaks

DALLAS (AP) — Natural gas service will be shut down to thousands of Dallas homes following a series of leaks that has brought repeated evacuations in the wake of a house explosion that killed a 12-year-old girl.

Authorities said early Thursday that gas service will be discontinued for up to three weeks to about 2,800 homes northwest of downtown as gas lines are replaced and other work is done by more than 120 Atmos Energy crews.

Officials say recent heavy rains and “unique geological conditions” have contributed to a series of gas leaks in recent days. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins says one line alone had more than two-dozen leaks.

The house explosion Friday was followed by evacuations of hundreds of homes in addition to an apartment complex, elementary school and fire station.


Nationwide book distributor closing Indiana center

(Information in the following story is from: Indianapolis Business Journal, http://www.ibj.com)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A nationwide book distributor plans to close its Indianapolis distribution center this summer, costing nearly 150 workers their jobs.

Readerlink Distribution Services LLC notified Indiana officials on Wednesday that it expects to permanently close the distribution warehouse on Aug. 31, resulting in 147 job losses in several phases beginning in May.

The company provided no reason for the closure.

The Indianapolis Business Journal reports that the Illinois-based company is the nation’s largest distributor of books to mass merchandisers. Readerlink also is the largest distributor of hardcover, trade and paperback books to non-trade-channel booksellers in North America.

The company says it distributes 300 million books annually to more than 50,000 retail locations nationwide.

Readerlink also has major distribution centers in Romeoville, Illinois; Salem, Virginia; and Clearfield, Utah.


Uber starts offering rides to the doctor

UNDATED (AP) — Uber is driving deeper into health care by offering to take patients in every U.S. market where it operates to their next medical appointment.

The ride-hailing service said Thursday its Uber Health business will handle rides set up by doctor’s offices or other health care providers and then bill that business, not the patient, for the service. It says rides can be set up within a few hours or days in advance. Patients won’t need access to a smartphone to use the service.

Uber began testing the service last summer. Company leaders say they are expanding nationally due to need. They point to research that says millions of Americans miss appointments each year due to transportation problems.

Uber rival Lyft recently began a similar service called “Concierge.”

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