Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks wobble as oil falls back

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are wobbling in afternoon trading on Wall Street as a slide by technology companies is offset by banks amid stabilizing bond yields. The churn within Wall Street also involves energy stocks slipping as the price of oil falls back, while investors digest a round of encouraging reports on the economy. Treasury yields continued to stabilize while a report showed the fewest number of workers filing for unemployment benefits since before the pandemic. Another report showed surprisingly good economic growth in late 2020.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

US jobless claims fall to 684,000, fewest since pandemic

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to 684,000, the fewest since the pandemic erupted a year ago and a sign the economy is improving. Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that jobless claims fell from 781,000 the week before. It is the first time that weekly applications for jobless aid have fallen below 700,000 since mid-March of 2020. Before the pandemic tore through the economy, applications had never topped that level.

ECONOMY-GDP

Government revises 4th quarter GDP up slightly to 4.3%

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 4.3% in the final three months of 2020, slightly faster than previously estimated, as recovery expectations for 2021 rise along with vaccinations and the provision of another nearly $2 trillion in government support. GDP in the October-December quarter rose from an estimate last month of a 4.1% rate, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The upward revision reflected stronger inventory restocking by businesses. For the whole year, the GDP shrank by 3.5%, the largest annual decline since a plunge of 11.6% in 1946 when the U.S. demobilized after World War II. The 3.5% drop was unchanged from the previous report.

MORTGAGE RATES

US 30-year mortgage rates jump to 3.17%, highest since June

McLEAN, Va. (AP) — U.S. long-term mortgage rates jumped to their highest level since June, though still remain near historic lows.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year fixed-rate home loan rose to 3.17% from 3.09% the previous week. One year ago, the benchmark rate stood at 3.5%.

The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate loans, popular among those seeking to refinance their mortgages, increased to 2.45% from 2.40% last week. It was 2.92% a year ago.

BIDEN-VACCINES

Biden pledging 200 million doses in 1st 100 days

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has opened his first formal news conference with a nod toward the improving picture on battling the coronavirus. He is doubling his original goal by pledging that the nation will administer 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of his first 100 days in office. The administration had met Biden’s initial goal of 100 million doses earlier this month — before even his 60th day in office — as the president pushes to defeat a pandemic that has killed more than 545,000 Americans and devastated the nation’s economy.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-ASTRAZENECA

AstraZeneca confirms strong vaccine protection after US rift

UNDATED (AP) — AstraZeneca says that its COVID-19 vaccine is strongly effective even after counting additional illnesses in its U.S. study. The announcement late Wednesday was the latest in an extraordinary public dispute with American officials. The drugmaker said it had analyzed more data from that study and concluded the vaccine is 76% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19, instead of the 79% it had reported earlier in the week. Just a day earlier, an independent panel that oversees the study had accused AstraZeneca of cherry-picking data to tout the protection offered by its vaccine. The panel said the company had left out some COVID-19 cases that occurred in the study, a move that could erode trust in the science.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-COVAX

UN-backed vaccine program expects supply delays

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines worldwide has announced supply delays for up to 90 million doses from an Indian manufacturer. It’s a major setback for the ambitious rollout aimed to help low- and middle-income countries fight the pandemic. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, says the delays come as India is facing a surge of coronavirus infections that will increase domestic demands on the Serum Institute of India, a pivotal vaccine maker behind the COVAX program. The move will affect up to 40 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines being manufactured by the Serum Institute that were to be delivered for COVAX this month, as well as 50 million expected next month.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-BROADWAY

New York City launches push to vaccinate theater workers

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City is taking steps toward the reopening of the city’s theaters, creating vaccination and testing sites for stage workers in a bid to restore a key part of New York’s draw. “It’s time to raise the curtain and bring Broadway back,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a virtual press conference Thursday. The mayor says the city will set up dedicated vaccination sites specifically for the theater community and the theater industry. A statement from The Broadway League said “vaccination and testing sites for theatre workers are a great step towards recovery.” De Blasio says the city needs state guidance on issues like whether audiences need to bring proof of vaccination.

UNITED-MORE FLIGHTS

As freeze in air travel begins to thaw, United adds flights

UNDATED (AP) — With confidence rising that the end of the pandemic is growing closer, airlines are starting to revive flights that vanished last year as people cancelled vacations and business trips. United Airlines will add 26 new nonstop routes from Midwest cities to vacation spots like Hilton Head and Portland, Maine. The airline said Thursday that it is also restarting more than 20 domestic routes. Scheduled flights to Latin America will exceed levels before the pandemic, compared with the same stretch in 2019. While that means United will be operating only 52% of its overall schedule compared with May 2019, it’s significantly better than in May 2020, when flights were being operated at levels of about 14% of the same period the year before.

DARDEN-WORKERS

Free breadsticks and reasons for hope at Olive Garden

UNDATED (AP) — The company that runs the Olive Garden chain is raising pay for its workers and handing out one-time bonuses, a sign of optimism from the kind of casual sit-down restaurant that has been devastated by the pandemic. Darden Restaurants said every hourly restaurant worker will earn at least $10 per hour including tips as of Monday. That will rise to $11 per hour in 2022 and $12 per hour in 2023. The company on Thursday reported a surprisingly strong quarter and the pay hikes signal both confidence about an economic recovery and potentially increased competition for workers as the U.S. emerges from the pandemic.

EGYPT-SUEZ CANAL

Shipping losses mount from cargo vessel stuck in Suez Canal

ISMAILIA, Egypt (AP) — Dredgers, tugboats and even a backhoe have failed to free a giant cargo ship wedged in Egypt’s Suez Canal as the number of stacked-up vessels unable to pass through the vital waterway climbed to 150 and losses to global shipping mounted. Even with the aid of high tides, authorities have been unable to push the Panama-flagged container vessel aside, and they are looking for new ideas to free it. The Japanese owner of the skyscraper-sized cargo ship has apologized for the incident. Canal service provider Leth Agencies says the backup affected ships needing to travel into the Mediterranean and the Red seas.

US-CYBER COMMAND

US cyber experts conducted operations to safeguard election

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Cyber Command says it conducted more than two dozen operations aimed at preventing interference in last November’s presidential election. That’s word comes from congressional testimony Thursday by the general who leads that Pentagon command. In his prepared remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Paul Nakasone isn’t describing the operations. But he says they were designed “to get ahead of foreign threats before they interfered with or influenced our elections in 2020.” Nakasone’s appearance before the committee comes as the U.S. is grappling with major cyber intrusions, including a breach by Russian hackers that exploited supply chain vulnerabilities to access federal government agencies and private companies.

CONGRESS-SOCIAL MEDIA-CEOS

Tech CEOs pressed about misinformation, violence

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers are lambasting three Big Tech CEOs for allowing hate speech and disinformation to thrive on their social media platforms, signaling congressional interest in stepping up heavy scrutiny of the powerful tech industry and contemplating new legislation. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Sundar Pichai, CEO of YouTube parent Google, however, are having trouble giving simple answers to lawmakers’ questions. Asked for yes-or-no answers as to their platforms’ responsibility for spreading election-related misinformation and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Zuckerberg and Pichai were cut off when they tried to qualify their answers. Dorsey, however, managed a “yes, but” response that his questioner allowed.

SUPREME COURT-FORD

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has ruled the Ford Motor Co. can be sued in the state courts of people who were killed or seriously injured in accidents involving Ford vehicles. The justices on Thursday unanimously rejected the Michigan-based company’s argument that its ties to Minnesota and Montana were too tenuous to allow it to be sued in those states by accident victims. The ruling could make it easier to bring state court lawsuits against other car makers and companies that do business nationwide. Justice Elena Kagan wrote the court’s majority opinion holding “the connection between the plaintiffs’ claims and Ford’s activities in those States … is close enough” to allow the lawsuits to proceed.

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