Update on the latest in business:


Wall Street rallies again; S&P 500 pulls within 2% of record

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are rising again on Wall Street Wednesday, and the S&P 500 is ticking closer to its record high as it tries for a fourth straight gain. The index is back within 2% of its record for the first time since February.

Much of Wall Street’s focus this week has been on Washington, where Congress and White House officials are negotiating on more aid for the hobbling economy. Investors say such a package is crucial and needs to arrive quickly, with millions of Americans still out of work and $600 in weekly unemployment benefits from the U.S. government having recently expired.


Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (mih-NOO’-shin) said late Tuesday that the two sides set a goal of reaching an agreement by the end of the week to permit a vote next week, though negotiators said the two sides remain far apart on key issues.


Survey: US companies cut back sharply on hiring in July

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. businesses sharply reduced hiring last month, suggesting that resurgent COVID-19 infections slowed the economic recovery as many states closed parts of their economies again and consumers remained cautious about spending. Payroll processor ADP says U.S. firms added just 167,000 jobs in July, far below June’s gain of 4.3 million and May’s increase of 3.3 million. ADP says July’s limited hiring means the economy still has 13 million fewer jobs than it did in February, before the viral outbreak intensified. ADP’s figures suggest that the job market’s recovery is stalling and will likely fuel concerns that the government’s jobs report, to be released Friday,


Services sector index increases to 17-month high in July

WASHINGTON (AP) — Activity in the services sector, where most Americans work, increased in July but concerns remain about the recovery will continue after deep declines will persist with the recent rise in coronavirus cases. The Institute for Supply Management reports that its service sector index rose to a reading of 58.1, up from a June level of 57.1. Any reading above 50 means that the service sector is expanding. The June advance had been the largest percentage point gain in the history of the services index which goes back to 1997 and had followed an April plunge which had been the biggest point-drop on record. Before declines in April and May, the index had been in expansion territory for more than 10 years.


US trade deficit drops in June on record rise in exports

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. trade deficit fell in June for the first time since February as exports posted a record increase and rose twice as fast as imports. The Commerce Department says the gap between the value of what the United States buys and what it sells abroad fell 7.5% to $50.7 billion in June from $54.8 billion in May. Exports shot up 9.4% to $158.3 billion, and imports rose 4.7% to $208.9 billion.

The politically sensitive deficit in the trade of goods with China fell 4% to $26.7 billion in June.

Global commerce has been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic. Compared to June 2019, total U.S. trade — exports plus imports — plunged 21.9% in June to $367.2 billion. But two-way trade rebounded from May to June, rising 6.7% on a surge in both exports and imports of cars and auto parts.


Treasury ramps up auctions as borrowing, virus surges

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department says it will be increasing the size of the Treasury bonds and other securities it auctions across-the-board in an effort to cope with the unprecedented borrowing needs facing the government as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Treasury officials say the billions of dollars in auction increases include a $2 billion increase in the three-year note, a $9 billion increase in the 10-year note and a $7 billion increase in its 30-year bond. Those three securities will be auctioned next week as part of the government’s quarterly refunding where it raises a significant part of its borrowing needs each quarter.


Hotels criticized for taking virus money face investigation

DALLAS (AP) — Securities regulators are investigating three hotel companies that returned tens of millions in federal virus-relief money for transactions going back to 2018. The companies controlled by Dallas hotelier Monty Bennett came under scrutiny after taking tens of millions of dollars from a fund designed to help small businesses survive the pandemic. The companies disclosed in a filing this week that they have received subpoenas from the Securities and Exchange Commission for related-party transactions going back long before the pandemic hit.


Virginia first state to try pandemic app from Apple, Google

UNDATED (AP) — Virginia has rolled out a smartphone app to automatically notify people if they might have been exposed to the coronavirus. It’s the first U.S. state to use new pandemic technology created by Apple and Google. The Covidwise app was available on the tech giants’ app stores Wednesday ahead of an expected announcement from Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. It comes nearly four months after Apple and Google said they were partnering on creating app-building software for public health agencies trying to contain the spread of the pandemic. A number of European countries have already rolled out apps using the tech companies’ framework.


Buffett’s firm has bought $2.1B of Bank of America stock

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Warren Buffett’s company has bought $2.1 billion of Bank of America stock over the past three weeks after the latest purchases of $340 million of shares. The Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate has been steadily adding to its stake in the bank since July 20, and Berkshire now holds more than 1 billion shares of Bank of America stock, which represents 11.9% of the bank’s stock. Before these latest purchases, Berkshire reported buying 71.5 million shares of Bank of America stock worth nearly $1.8 billion. Investors follow what Berkshire buys and sells closely because of Buffett’s successful track record.


Facebook launches a new TikTok clone, Instagram Reels

NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook’s Instagram is launching its answer to the hit short video app TikTok — Instagram Reels. The new feature will let users record and edit 15-second videos with audio, and will let users add visual effects. Users will be able to share “Reels” with their followers in Instagram. There will also be a new section in the search field of Instagram called “Reels in Explore.” The Reels option will be available at the bottom of Instagram camera. Facebook has created clones of popular services that rival it before. Its Instagram “Story” feature is similar to Snapchat.


Samsung’s new phones test consumer demand for pricey gadgets

UNDATED (AP) — Samsung aims to lift sinking smartphone sales with two new models that will test consumers’ willingness to buy high-priced gadgets during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The company’s latest Galaxy phones, unveiled Wednesday during an online showcase, will cost $1,000 to $1,300. Those have become standard prices for top-of-the-line phones in recent years, but may cause sticker shock at a time of double-digit unemployment. Other phone makers, most notably Apple, have begun offering less expensive models for consumers who may be strapped for cash or fatigued by pricey phones that don’t offer big advances over their predecessors.

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