Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks close with modest gains

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stock indexes are closing modestly higher on Thursday after drifting through an abbreviated session.

The S&P 500 rose 0.4% before trading shut on Wall Street for the Christmas holiday, trimming its small loss for the week. Markets will reopen on Monday.

The majority of stocks in the S&P 500 rose, and gains for tech companies and others helped overshadow losses for oil producers. European stock movements were also muted.

BREXIT

Breakthrough: UK and EU reach post-Brexit trade agreement

BRUSSELS (AP) — Britain and the European Union have struck a free-trade agreement that should avert New Year’s chaos for cross-border commerce and bring a measure of certainty to businesses after years of Brexit turmoil.

The breakthrough on Thursday came after months of tense and often testy negotiations that whittled differences down to three key issues: fair-competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes and fishing rights.

Now comes the race to approve and ratify the deal before the U.K. leaves the EU’s economic structures on Jan. 1. The British and European parliaments both must hold votes to ratify the agreement. And key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain unresolved.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-BRITAIN

Truckers finally leave UK after days of virus gridlock

DOVER, England (AP) — Truckers and travelers stuck in a days-long gridlock at the English port of Dover have started heading to France after the country partially reopened its borders with Britain following international concern over a rapidly spreading coronavirus variant.

However, thousands of stranded truck drivers still awaited their turns to cross the English Channel, held up by the slow delivery of coronavirus tests that are now required. Trucks inched slowly forward to the ferries and trains that link Britain with France, as authorities checked that drivers had proof of negative test results.

Officials warned the backlog could take days to clear, and many truckers will likely spend Christmas waiting in their cabs.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-CONGRESS

House Republicans reject $2,000 direct payments

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans have shot down a Democratic bid to pass President Donald Trump’s longshot, end-of-session demand for $2,000 direct payments to most Americans.

The made-for-TV clash came as the Democratic-controlled chamber convened for a pro forma session Thursday scheduled in anticipation of a smooth Washington landing for the massive, year-end legislative package. That package folds together a $1.4 trillion governmentwide spending with the hard-fought COVID-19 package and dozens of unrelated but bipartisan bills.

If Trump were to follow through on his implied veto threat, the government would likely experience a brief, partial shutdown starting on Dec. 29.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-BLEAK CHRISTMAS

‘We are struggling’: A bleak Christmas for America’s jobless

NEW YORK (AP) — Millions of Americans have been jobless since the viral pandemic ripped through the U.S. economy in March, triggering a deep recession and causing widespread unemployment. Now, many months later, they face a holiday season they hardly could have foreseen a year ago: Too little money to buy gifts, cook large festive meals or pay all their bills.

Nearly 8 million people have sunk into poverty since June after having spent the $1,200 checks the government gave most Americans this spring and a $600-a-week supplemental jobless benefit that expired in July, according to research by Bruce Meyer at the University of Chicago and two other colleagues.

HOLIDAY-SURGING RETURNS

Retailers brace for flood of returns from online shopping

NEW YORK (AP) — A huge surge in online shopping during the pandemic has been a savior for retailers, but it comes at a price.

Shoppers are expected to return twice as many items as they did during last year’s holiday period, costing companies roughly $1.1 billion. That’s according to Narvar Inc., a software and technology company that manages online returns for hundreds of brands.

Retailers don’t want the returns, but they do want shoppers who may not feel safe going to stores to be comfortable buying things they haven’t seen or tried on in person.

MORTGAGE RATES

Benchmark U.S. 30-year mortgage drops to record low 2.66%

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. long-term mortgage rates dropped this week to a record low for the 16th time in 2020, reflecting an economy hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the benchmark 30-year fixed-rate home loan slipped to 2.66% from 2.67% last week. A year ago, it stood at 3.74%.

The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate loans, popular among homeowners seeking to refinance their mortgages, dipped to 2.19% from 2.21%. A year ago, it was 3.19%.

The 5-year adjustable rate mortgage was unchanged this week at 2.79%. A year ago, it was at 3.45%.

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