Update on the latest business

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks little changed

NEW YORK (AP) — Stock indexes are moving between slight gains and losses in afternoon trading on Wall Street.

Banks fell after a series of disappointing quarter reports. Investment bank Morgan Stanley dropped after its revenue fell short of analyst expectations. Railroad operator CSX slipped after it forecast slower revenue growth in 2019.

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High-dividend stocks including utilities and real estate companies made small gains.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

Number of federal workers seeking US jobless aid doubles

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of furloughed federal employees seeking unemployment benefits jumped in the first two weeks of the shutdown, topping 10,000 during the week of Jan. 5.

The Labor Department says that is double the number of federal workers who sought aid in the previous week. Typically fewer than a thousand former federal employees apply for jobless benefits each week.

Federal employees who aren’t working during the shutdown are eligible to claim unemployment aid, while those working without pay are not, the Labor Department has said. Yet even those sent home will have to repay the unemployment aid if they receive back pay once the shutdown ends.

The number of Americans overall who sought unemployment benefits last week declined 3,000 to 213,000, the government said. That figure doesn’t include federal beneficiaries.

MORTGAGE RATES

US average mortgage rates steady; 30-year stays at 4.45 pct.

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. long-term mortgage rates held steady this week, after falling for six straight weeks to reach their lowest levels in nine months.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was unchanged from last week at 4.45 percent.

Rates remain far above last year’s levels, however. The key 30-year rate averaged 4.04 percent a year ago.

The average rate for 15-year fixed-rate loans edged down to 3.88 percent from 3.89 percent last week.

The decline in home borrowing rates in recent weeks has been a spur to prospective homebuyers.

SEARS-SURVIVAL

Sears confirms chairman’s hedge fund wins bid in auction

NEW YORK (AP) — Sears is confirming reports its chairman and largest shareholder Eddie Lampert’s hedge fund has won a bid to buy roughly 400 stores and other assets for $5.2 billion.

The move, announced Thursday, preserves 45,000 jobs and is subject to court approval on Feb. 1. Creditors will have the opportunity to object before then.

The deal will then close Feb. 8.

The agreement follows marathon negotiations that started early Monday as Lampert was fending off demands from creditors who were pushing for liquidation.

Lampert’s ESL Investments was the only one to put forth a proposal to rescue the floundering company in its entirety. He had sweetened his bid multiple times.

Still, many experts believe a smaller version of the retailer will not be viable as it faces increasing competition.

GYMBOREE-BANKRUPTCY

Gymboree begins winding down operations after 2nd bankruptcy

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Gymboree is filing for bankruptcy protection for a second time in as many years, but this time the children’s clothing retailer will begin winding down operations for good.

The San Francisco company said late Wednesday that it will close all of its Gymboree and Crazy 8 stores, and attempt sell its Janie and Jack business, intellectual property and online business.

Gymboree, which began offering classes for mothers and their children in 1976, runs 380 Gymboree stores in the U.S. and Canada. When it first sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in June 2017, it ran 1,300 stores.

The company has suffered in the post-recession years like almost all mall-based retail stores.

Gymboree was bought by the private equity firm Bain Capital for $1.8 billion in 2010 and taken private.

NISSAN-MISSISSIPPI-LAYOFFS

Nissan to cut up to 700 contract workers in Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Nissan Motor Co. says it’s cutting up to 700 contract workers at its Mississippi assembly plant, citing slow sales for Frontier pickup trucks and vans.

The company employs 6,400 employees and contractors in Canton, Mississippi.

The move follows Nissan’s December announcement that it’s cutting 1,000 jobs at two Mexican factories.

Reports in May indicated the Japanese automaker would cut production by up to 20 percent in North America, citing low profits.

Thursday’s move comes after the arrest in Japan of former chairman Carlos Ghosn, who led a production expansion in Nissan’s largest market. Spokeswoman Lloryn Love-Carter says the cuts are unrelated to Ghosn’s troubles.

Love-Carter says some jobs will be cut by attrition at Nissan’s engine factory in Decherd, Tennessee, but that Thursday’s announcement doesn’t affect its Smyrna, Tennessee, factory.

TRUMP LAWYER-INVESTIGATION

Cohen acknowledges rigging polls for Trump in 2014 and 2015

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump’s estranged former lawyer is acknowledging that he paid a technology company to rig Trump’s standing in two online polls.

Michael Cohen tweeted Thursday that “what I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of” Trump.

Technology company owner John Gauger told The Wall Street Journal that Cohen promised him $50,000 for work including using computers to enter fake votes for Trump in a 2014 CNBC poll asking people to identify top business leaders and a 2015 poll of potential presidential candidates. Gauger says Cohen paid him about a quarter of the money in cash, then stiffed him on the rest.

The Trump Organization later paid a $50,000 reimbursement to Cohen. It didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

FACEBOOK-RUSSIA-FAKE ACCOUNTS

Facebook shuts hundreds of Russia-linked pages, accounts

LONDON (AP) — Facebook says it has removed hundreds of Russia-linked pages, groups and accounts that it says were part of two big disinformation operations, in its latest effort to fight fake news.

The social media company said Thursday it took action after finding two networks “that engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior” on its Facebook and Instagram platforms.

Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, said in a blog post that one network operated in countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the other focused on Ukraine.

The people running the accounts represented themselves as independent news sources and posted on topics like anti-NATO sentiment and protest movements.

Gleicher says one network of 364 pages and accounts was linked to employees of Sputnik, a Russian state-run English-language news site.

Sputnik did not reply to emailed requests for comment.

CONGRESS-RUSSIAN SANCTIONS

House votes to maintain Russian sanctions.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House has voted overwhelmingly to maintain sanctions on three companies connected to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, protesting the Treasury Department’s decision to lift the financial penalties.

The 362-53 vote was symbolic, as the Senate has already defeated a resolution to overrule the Treasury Department and keep the sanctions in place. Democratic senators narrowly failed on Wednesday to get the 60 votes needed to move forward despite 11 Republicans voting with them.

In the House on Thursday, a majority of Republicans voted with Democrats, sending a strong message of disapproval to President Donald Trump’s administration.

At issue is a December announcement from the Treasury Department that the U.S. would lift sanctions on the companies linked to Deripaska. Critics say the deal doesn’t require Deripaska to relinquish enough control.

BREXIT

Prime minister to skip Davos amid Brexit uncertainty

LONDON (AP) — Theresa May’s office says the British prime minister will skip the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, next week to focus on resolving the Brexit crisis.

May had been expected to attend the gathering of world leaders and global power players in the Swiss ski resort. But her Downing Street office says she is “focused on matters here.”

Britain’s Brexit process is gridlocked, 10 weeks before the country is expected to leave the European Union on March 29.

May saw her Brexit deal rejected by Parliament and narrowly won a no-confidence vote this week. She was meeting Thursday with opposition leaders and other lawmakers in a bid to find agreement on a new Brexit plan.

May is due to publish a revised Brexit blueprint on Monday, before Parliament debates it on Jan. 29.

President Donald Trump also plans to skip the Davos forum because of the partial government shutdown. The White House is sending a scaled-back delegation instead.

GOOGLE-SOLAR PANELS

Google to invest in solar farms in Tennessee, Alabama

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Google plans to invest in Tennessee and Alabama solar farms under a deal with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Google announced Wednesday that it will buy 413 megawatts of output from 1.6 million solar panels at several new Tennessee and Alabama solar farms the combined size of 65,000 home rooftop systems.

The two largest will be able to produce about 150 megawatts each in Hollywood, Alabama, and Yum Yum, Tennessee.

Google is building data centers in Clarksville, Tennessee, and Jackson County, Alabama. The company plans to match 72 percent of the facilities’ hourly electricity use with carbon-free sources, supporting its goal of sourcing carbon-free electricity around the clock.

TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said the deal shows the federal utility’s renewable energy efforts help it attract and retain top-tier companies.

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