Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks hover near records as Wall Street’s big rally slows

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are inching further into record heights as Wall Street continues to coast following its rocket ride on hopes for coming COVID-19 vaccines. The S&P 500 was up 0.2% in midday trading, a day after inching up to set another all-time high. A couple reports that were better than expected on the economy helped support stocks. One showed that growth in the U.S. services sector, including health care and retail, was stronger last month than economists expected. A separate report said fewer U.S. workers filed for unemployment benefits last week than forecast.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

US jobless claims remain high at 712,000 as virus escalates

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to a still-high 712,000, the latest sign that the U.S. economy and job market remain under stress from the intensified viral outbreak. Thursday’s report from the Labor Department said that initial claims for jobless aid dropped from 787,000 the week before. Before the virus paralyzed the economy in March, the number of people applying for unemployment benefits each week had typically amounted to roughly 225,000. The chronically high pace of applications shows that nearly nine months after the pandemic struck, many employers are still slashing jobs.

ECONOMY-SERVICES

US service sector expansion slows in November

SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — The U.S. services sector, where most Americans work, registered its sixth consecutive month of expansion in November.The Institute for Supply Management reported Thursday that its index of services activity declined slightly to a reading of 55.9 last month, from a reading of 56.6 in October. Readings above 50 represents expansion in services industries such as restaurants and bars, retail stores and delivery companies. Business activity declined slightly as did new orders, but both remained in expansion territory. The index measuring employment increased to 51.5 from 50.1, which was very close to contraction last month. The gauge for prices also increased from October.

MORTGAGE RATES

US long-term mortgage rates edge lower; 30-year at 2.71%

WASHINGTON (AP) — Long-term mortgage rates edged lower this week, reaching record lows for the 14th time this year against the backdrop of the pandemic-ravaged economy. Mortgage finance giant Freddie Mac says the average rate on the 30-year fixed-rate home loan slipped to 2.71% from 2.72% last week. The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate loans declined to 2.26% from 2.28%. Home loan rates have trended downward through most of this year, bolstering demand from would-be homebuyers or people looking to refinance existing mortgages. But as Freddie Mac noted, home sales have stalled as the lack of available homes for purchase continues to stifle house hunters.

FEDERAL RESERVE-WALLER NOMINATION

Senate confirms Christopher Waller to serve on Fed’s board

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Thursday narrowly confirmed the nomination of Christopher Waller for the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, placing another of President Donald Trump’s picks on the Fed’s influential board after a string of high-profile rejections. The vote in favor of Waller’s appointment was 48-47. Waller, research director for the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, has built a career of solid economic credentials and has endured far less scrutiny than Judy Shelton, the controversial nominee he was paired with and who was voted down in the Senate last month.

BIDEN-ECONOMY

Biden picks Deese for National Economic Council

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden has tapped former Obama administration senior economic adviser Brian Deese to be director of the National Economic Council. Deese is the managing director and global head of sustainable investing at BlackRock. He worked on the auto bailout and environmental issues in the Obama White House, where he held the title of deputy director of the NEC and the Office of Management and Budget. Biden said Thursday in a video announcing the appointment that Deese is “someone who looks at hard problems and finds solutions that help make life better for American families.” Biden highlighted Deese’s expertise on climate policy, as he looks to make the issue a centerpiece of his White House agenda.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-CONGRESS

House Democrats promise some COVID relief before holidays

WASHINGTON (AP) — The No. 2 House Democrat is telling colleagues the chamber won’t adjourn for the year without delivering at least some measure of COVID-19 relief. The pledge from Majority Leader Steny Hoyer comes as Democrats controlling the chamber are showing greater flexibility after absorbing losses in last month’s elections. But Hoyer also said leaders are shooting to adjourn for the holidays a week from now. It’s an optimistic timetable given the welter of unresolved issues dogging the relief effort. Momentum for finally passing a second major relief bill is building, especially after President-elect Joe Biden and Capitol Hill’s top Democrats endorsed a $908 billion bipartisan framework. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, continues to take a hard line.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-US SURGE

US virus deaths top 3,100 in a single day for the first time

UNDATED (AP) — The U.S. has reached daily coronavirus records with more than 3,100 deaths and 100,000 hospitalizations. New cases have topped 200,000 a day, according to figures released Thursday. The three benchmarks show a country slipping deeper into crisis, with perhaps the worst yet to come.

The U.S. recorded 3,157 deaths on Wednesday, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. That’s more than the number of people killed on 9/11. It shattered the old mark of 2,603, set on April 15, when the New York metropolitan area was the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak.

The number of people hospitalized doubled in the past month and confirmed daily cases climbed over 200,000 for the second time in less than a week. The U.S. leads the world with nearly 14 million confirmed cases and more than 273,000 deaths.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-VACCINE

Vaccine rollout barrels on with health disparity in backseat

UNDATED (AP) — Getting a COVID-19 vaccine to the right people could change the course of the pandemic in the United States. But who are the right people? As the decision looms for President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration, a new analysis argues for targeting the first vaccines to the same low-income Black, Hispanic and Native American households that have disproportionately suffered from the coronavirus. But no one has committed to the idea. It would be a significant shift from the current population-based method adopted by Operation Warp Speed.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-RUSSIA-VACCINE

Russia’s vaccine available at Moscow facilities

UNDATED (AP) — Russia’s coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V will be available for people in high-risk groups at 70 medical facilities in Moscow starting on Saturday. According to Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, those working in education and medical facilities, along with municipal workers, can get the shots. The vaccine will be offered to people ages 18 to 60 who don’t suffer from chronic illnesses and to women who aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding. President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered the government to start “large-scale” vaccination in Russia by the end of next week. The statement came hours after Britain became the first country in the West to authorize the use of a vaccine against the coronavirus developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-VACCINE-PHISHING

Phishing ploy targets COVID-19 vaccine distribution effort

BOSTON (AP) — IBM security researchers say they have detected a cyberespionage effort that used targeted phishing emails to try to collect vital information associated with a U.N. initiative for distributing coronavirus vaccine to developing countries. IBM says it can’t be sure who is behind the campaign. But it says that the precise and careful targeting — of companies in countries including Germany, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan — suggest a nation-state is behind the campaign. Targets that included solar panel and petrochemical companies got phishing emails from someone posing as an executive with a key Chinese supplier.

FACEBOOK-VACCINE MISINFORMATION

Facebook to remove COVID-19 vaccine-related misinformation

LONDON (AP) — Facebook says it will start removing false claims about COVID-19 vaccines, in its latest move to counter a tide of coronavirus-related online misinformation. The social network said Thursday that it will take down any Facebook or Instagram posts with false information about the vaccines that have been debunked by publich health experts. The U.S. tech giant is taking action as the first COVID vaccines are set to be rolled out. Facebook said it’s applying a policy to remove virus misinformation that could lead to “imminent physical harm.” Posts that fall afoul of the policy could include phony claims about vaccine safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects.

GIVING TUESDAY

Giving Tuesday donations up 25% from last year

NEW YORK (AP) — Donations on Giving Tuesday, an 8-year-old campaign to get people to give money to charities, rose 25% from last year, organizers said. Nearly $2.5 billion was donated in the U.S. on Tuesday, according to estimates by GivingTuesday, the nonprofit behind the campaign. That’s up from last year’s total of about $2 billion. Giving Tuesday was launched in 2012 as a way to get people to donate on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, when people are already opening their wallets for the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. Charities and businesses use the hashtag #GivingTuesday on social media to spread awareness and seek donations.

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