Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS-MARKETS RIGHT NOW

Stocks trading higher on Wall Street

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks continued to rise Wednesday led by retailers and technology companies

The S&P 500 is up 41 points or 1.7 percent to 2,391 at midday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 346 points or 1.6 percent to 22,131. The Nasdaq Composite is up 2.5 percent at 6,349. The indexes are rebounding from steep losses before the Christmas holiday.

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Among retailers, Macy’s gained 4.3 percent and Amazon.com rose 4.3 percent. Kohl’s jumped 5.6 percent.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury is up to 2.76 percent.

Benchmark U.S. crude climbed 4 percent to go above $44 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 2.9 percent and is above $52 a barrel in London.

The dollar strengthened against the yen and weakened against the euro.

HOLIDAY SALES

A strong economy translates into big sales this holiday

NEW YORK (AP) — Americans buoyed by a strong economy pushed holiday sales growth to a six-year high.

Retail sales rose 5.1 percent between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 from a year ago, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracked spending online and in stores across all payment types, including those who paid by cash or check. Total sales topped $850 billion this year, Mastercard said.

Online sales continued to grow, up more than 19 percent from a year ago. Last week, Mastercard said online sales made up 13 percent of total retail sales.

Clothing sold well this year — up nearly 8 percent from last year, the biggest growth for apparel sales since 2010, Mastercard said. Home furniture sales rose 2.3 percent, while electronics and appliances slipped 0.7 percent.

Shoppers spent less at department stores, which Mastercard said was partly due to store closings. But shoppers did head to the websites of department stores, where sales rose 10.2 percent, Mastercard said. Traditional retailers have been updating their websites and smartphone apps, as well as making it easier for shoppers to buy online and then pick up their items in store.

HOME PRICES

US home price growth slowed in October

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home price growth slowed in October, a likely consequence of higher mortgage rates having worsened affordability and causing sales to fall.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 5 percent from a year earlier, down from an annual gain of 5.2 percent in September, according to a Wednesday report.

Home prices have dropped as would-be buyers are struggling to afford homes. Prices have consistently climbed faster than wa0ges, a challenge that was overcome until last year by historically low mortgage rates. But borrowing costs began to rise last year after President Donald Trump cut taxes by increasing the budget deficit and the Federal Reserve hiked interest rates.

The Las Vegas metro area reported the strongest price growth of 12.8 percent. San Francisco saw a 7.9 percent price increase, while home prices rose 7.7 percent in Phoenix.

The report reveals a stunning comeback for Las Vegas, which was one of the epicenters of the housing bust that caused the U.S. economy to collapse into a recession at the end of 2007. The Nevada tourist destination has found new ways to grow as the market began to recover.

But nationally, sales have generally stagnated or fallen.

MONEY MULES

FBI concerned by money mules roped into fraud schemes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is grappling with a seemingly endless cycle of money laundering schemes that law enforcement officials say they’re scrambling to slow through a combination of prosecution and public awareness.

Beyond the run-of-the-mill plots, officials say, is a particularly concerning trend involving “money mules.” These are people who, unwittingly or not, use their own bank accounts to move money for criminals for purposes they think are legitimate or even noble.

The FBI and international law enforcement agencies have stepped up efforts against the fraud and say they’re building bigger cases than before. Europol said this month it had identified 1,504 money mules, arresting 168, in a continent-wide bust. The FBI in June announced the arrests of 74 people, including 29 in Nigeria, for schemes targeting businesses and the elderly, and this month launched a publicity campaign called “Don’t Be a Mule.”

Money mules are persuaded, sometimes with the incentive of keeping a cut of the funds, into allowing money transfers to their own bank accounts at the direction of a fraudster they may mistake for an online friend or romantic partner, a military officer overseas or an employer. They’re then instructed to transfer those funds elsewhere, into accounts controlled by criminals.

In some cases, fraudsters assume identities of company executives and scam employees into wiring cash.

US-SMALLBIZ-SMALL TALK-STOCK MARKET FALLOUT

In volatile market, companies can plan for possible slowdown

NEW YORK (AP) — Although the economy and consumer spending have been strong, some business owners, particularly those who sell big-ticket items and services, are feeling the effects of volatility in stocks that has persisted for much of this year.

And some companies seeking investors are finding some resistance, even from people who a few months ago were eager to put their money down. Some owners are even rethinking hiring and other plans for 2019 in case customers cut back.

Kathy Barnes, who helps small business owners manage their projects, says her clients are worried that the bull market that gave customers the confidence to do major work on their homes is at an end. Builders are investing in fewer properties and contractors are handling smaller-scale renovations.

Government reports on retail sales and consumer spending show few signs that consumers are anxious, and while the Conference Board’s monthly Consumer Confidence Index fell a little over 2 points to 135.7 in November, it was still near its highest point in 18 years. But many business owners remember the devastating losses stocks suffered in 2008 and their impact on consumer spending.

JAPAN-WHALING

Japan to resume commercial whaling, but not in Antarctic

TOKYO (AP) — Japan announced Wednesday that it is leaving the International Whaling Commission to resume commercial hunts for the animals for the first time in 30 years, but said it would no longer go to the Antarctic for its much-criticized annual killings.

Japan switched to what it calls research whaling after the IWC imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in the 1980s, and now says stocks have recovered enough to resume commercial hunts.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan would resume commercial whaling in July “in line with Japan’s basic policy of promoting sustainable use of aquatic living resources based on scientific evidence.”

He added that Japan is disappointed that the IWC — which he said is dominated by conservationists — focuses on the protection of whale stocks even though the commission has a treaty mandate for both whale conservation and the development of the whaling industry.

Suga said the commercial hunts would be limited to Japan’s territorial waters and its 200-mile (323-kilometer) exclusive economic zone along its coasts. He said Japan would stop its annual whaling expeditions to the Antarctic and northwest Pacific oceans. Non-signatory states are not allowed to do so, according to Japanese Fisheries Agency officials.

The IWC imposed the moratorium on commercial whaling three decades ago due to a dwindling whale population. In 1987, Japan switched to what is calls research whaling, but the program has been criticized as a cover for commercial hunting since the meat is sold on the market at home.

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