Update on the latest in business:


Wall Street wild ride

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are down sharply, unable to build on the prior day’s strong performance.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped around 350 points in late morning trading Thursday after dropping as much as 528 points earlier.


Technology companies and health care stocks, big gainers on Wednesday when the market had its best day in 10 years, took some of the heaviest losses in the broad slide. Energy companies fell along with the price of oil.

The market remains on track for its worst December since 1931 and could finish 2018 with its steepest losses in a decade.

The S&P 500 index fell 39 points, or 1.6 percent, to 2,427. The Dow slid 359 points, or 1.5 percent, to 22,520. The tech-heavy Nasdaq lost 127 points, or 1.9 percent, to 6,427.


US consumer confidence tumbles in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumer confidence tumbled this month as Americans began to worry that economic growth will moderate next year. But consumer spirits are still high by historic standards.

The Conference Board, a business research group, said Thursday that its consumer confidence index fell to 128.1 in December, down from 136.4 in November and lowest since July.

The index measures consumers’ assessment of current economic conditions and their outlook for the next six months. Both fell in December. Consumers’ expectations for the future dropped to the lowest level since November 2016.

Lynn Franco, the Conference Board’s senior director of economic indicators said the December readings “still suggest that the economy will continue expanding at a solid pace in the short-term.”

For now, the U.S. economy is solid.

But the U.S. stock market has dropped sharply since early October. Investors have plenty to worry about. The Federal Reserve has gradually been raising interest rates. The economic boost from year-old tax cuts is expected to fade in 2019. Global growth is sputtering. And the U.S. and China — the world’s two biggest economies — are locked in a trade war that threatens to disrupt global commerce.


US long-term mortgage rates dropped to 4.55 pct. average

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. long-term mortgage rates fell this week, offering a slight degree of relief to would-be homebuyers after the stock market has tumbled.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage dipped to 4.55 percent from to 4.62 percent last week. Rates averaged 3.99 percent a year ago.

The average rate for 15-year fixed-rate loans dropped to 4.01 percent from 4.07 percent. Still, that average is above its 3.44 percent level a year ago.

Mortgage rates began to spike after President Donald Trump signed deficit-financed tax cuts into law last year, but rates have eased in recent weeks as stocks have sold-off and the interest charged on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note has tumbled.

The decline in mortgage rates could help boost home sales, which have stumbled this year as higher borrowing costs have worsened affordability.

“The negative headlines around the financial markets are concerning,” said Sam Khater, chief economist at Freddie Mac. “But the economy remains healthy, so the drop in mortgage rates should stem or even reverse the slide in home sales that occurred during the second half of 2018.”


China says plans made for US trade talks in January

BEIJING (AP) — China’s government said Thursday it has made plans with Washington for talks in January aimed at ending a tariff battle that threatens to depress global trade.

Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng said the two sides have “made specific arrangements for face-to-face meetings” and are talking by phone. Gao gave no details.

Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping agreed Dec. 1 to postpone more tariff hikes for 90 days while their governments negotiate over U.S. complaints Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology.

Trump agreed to postpone tariff hikes on $200 billion of Chinese imports planned for Jan. 1. Beijing responded by announcing a delay in a 25 percent duty on imported U.S. vehicles.

Preparations for talks have proceeded despite the Dec. 1 arrest in Canada of an executive of Chinese tech giant Huawei on U.S. charges related to possible violations of trade sanctions on Iran.

Companies and investors worry the dispute might depress global trade at a time of rising anxiety about signs economic growth might be slowing.


Lighter load: Laundry detergents shrink for Amazon

NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon’s rise is forcing laundry detergents to shrink.

Tide and Seventh Generation have introduced redesigned laundry detergents that are several pounds lighter by cutting down on plastic in their packaging and using less water in their formulas. They’re making the changes to please Amazon and other online stores: Lighter packaging means retailers pay less to ship the detergent to shopper’s doorsteps, making each sale more profitable.

For consumers, the new packaging has been designed to better survive shipping without leaking. The challenge, however, is getting online shoppers to buy detergent that looks nothing like the heavy bottles they are used to.

Tide is putting its detergent into a cardboard box, making it 4 pounds lighter than its 150-ounce plastic bottles, but still able to wash the same 96 loads. Seventh Generation went with a compact plastic bottle that’s less than 9 inches tall, rectangular in shape and has no measuring cup.

When Tide unveiled photos of its new packaging this fall, social media users joked that it looked like boxed wine. And when Seventh Generation tested an unlabeled version of its new bottle, some mistook it for shampoo.

The downsized detergents are a sign of Amazon’s growing influence.

For example, Amazon may drop products from their website that cost too much to ship and aren’t making it enough money.


Investment fraud case in US expands to 4 women from Israel

GREENBELT, Md. (AP) — A federal investigation of a multimillion-dollar investment fraud scheme has led to criminal charges in Maryland against four women who worked for an Israel-based company.

A trial for one of the women, Lee Elbaz, was scheduled to start on Jan. 8 but has been postponed indefinitely because her lawyers withdrew from the case on Dec. 18. Two other women who worked as sales representatives for Yukom Communications pleaded guilty earlier this month to conspiracy charges.

They followed a call script for reassuring investors: A broker boasted of winning up to 95 percent of his trades. Sales representatives promised a client she would be a millionaire within a year if she didn’t withdraw her five-figure investment.

Authorities say Yukom Communications employees pretended to be from other countries, lied about their professional qualifications and adopted “stage names.” They falsely guaranteed returns of up to 40 percent. And they didn’t tell investors that the company handling their “binary options” trades only made money if its customers lost money, according to the FBI.

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