Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks off to slow start on final day of a tumultuous year

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are wavering between small gains and losses on the last day of 2020, a year that saw a breathtaking nosedive in markets in the spring as the coronavirus took hold, followed by steady gains in the months that followed. The benchmark S&P 500 index was mostly unchanged in afternoon trading. It’s still on track for a gain of more than 15% for the year, or 17% including dividends. Several overseas markets were closed for holidays, and U.S. markets will be closed Friday for New Year’s Day.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

Jobless claims down 19,000, still 4 times pre-pandemic level

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell by 19,000 but remain elevated at 787,000 as a resurgent coronavirus grips the U.S. economy. While at the lowest level in four weeks, the new figures released Thursday by the Labor Department are nearly four times higher than a year ago before the coronavirus struck. Employers continue to cut jobs as rising coronavirus infections keep many people at home while state and local governments re-impose restrictions. Jobless claims were running around 225,000 a week before the pandemic struck with force last March causing weekly jobless claims to surge to a high of 6.9 million in late March as efforts to contain the virus sent the economy into a deep recession.

MORTGAGE RATES

Benchmark U.S. 30-year mortgage rises slightly to 2.67%

MCLEAN, Va. (AP) — U.S. long-term mortgage rates ticked up slightly this week but remain near record lows as the coronavirus pandemic continues wreak havoc on the U.S. and global economies. Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the benchmark 30-year fixed-rate home loan rose to 2.67% from a record-low 2.66% last week. A year ago, it stood at 3.72% The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate loans, popular among homeowners seeking to refinance their mortgages, dipped to 2.17% from 2.19% last week. A year ago it averaged 3.16%. The 5-year adjustable rate mortgage averaged 2.71%, down from last week’s 2.79%.

FARMING-GOVERNMENT PAYMENTS

Federal checks salvage otherwise dreadful 2020 for US farms

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — U.S. farmers are expected to end the year with higher profits than last year and the best net farm income in seven years thanks to the government paying nearly 40% of their income. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest farm income forecast. Farmer challenges in 2020 included the impact of trade disputes, drought and wind damage, and low prices for corn, cotton, wheat, chicken, cattle and hogs. Farm cash receipts are forecast to be the lowest in more than a decade. But farmers are expected to receive $46.5 billion from the U.S. government. That’s the largest direct-to-farm payment ever. It lifts net farm income to $119.6 billion. And that’s the highest profitability since 2013.

VIRUS OUTBREAK

Race to vaccinate millions in US off to slow, messy start

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The race to vaccinate millions of Americans is off to a slower, messier start than public health officials and leaders of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed had expected. Overworked, underfunded state public health departments are scrambling to patch together plans for administering vaccines. Differences in how counties and hospitals administer the vaccine are leading to long lines, confusion and jammed phone lines. Delayed shipments may prevent at least one state, Tennessee, from meeting its vaccination goal for the year. Experts say the federal government hasn’t done enough to help states meet their goals for getting doses injected into arms.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-COLORADO

Colorado to ease some coronavirus restrictions

DENVER (AP) — Colorado plans to ease public health restrictions for places like restaurants and gyms in the much of the state starting next week. Gov. Jared Polis announced the change on social media late Wednesday, citing sustained improvement in the state’s COVID-19 data, including intensive care units operating below capacity. He says he is asking the state health department to move counties with level red restrictions, including Denver and the rest of the populated Front Range region, to level orange starting on Monday. The announcement came a day after Colorado said it had confirmed the first case of a new and apparently more contagious variant of the coronavirus in the U.S.

EU-US-TRADE DISPUTE

French traders, EU sound alarm over US tit-for-tat tariffs

PARIS (AP) — French wine exporters are warning that they’ll take a billion-euro hit in 2021 from the latest ratcheting-up of punitive tariffs between the United States and Europe in a trade row over aircraft subsidies. The U.S. government announced Wednesday the imposition of additional tariffs on French and German wines and brandies, as well as aircraft manufacturing parts. They are the latest round of tit-for-tat tariffs in a years-long conflict over subsidies to plane makers Boeing and Airbus. The French Federation of Wine and Spirits Exporters decries the U.S. measures as “a sledgehammer blow.” In Brussels, European Union officials expressed regret and pledged to seek a solution.

DAIMLER-RECALL-FINE

Daimler fines for slow recalls could reach $30 million

WASHINGTON (AP) — Failing to recall vehicles quickly enough could cost Daimler Trucks up to $30 million in fines and other costs. In penalties announced Thursday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Daimler also failed to comply with other reporting requirements. They include an upfront fine of $10 million, another $5 million the automaker must spend on safety enhancements and a deferred $15 million penalty, which may or may not have to be paid. The order stems from several recalls between 2017 and 2018. Daimler said there have been no known accidents or injuries related to what it called “voluntary recalls.” Daimler sad it appreciates the opportunity to resolve this matter.

TRIBUNE-ALDEN

Hedge fund Alden offers to buy Tribune, valuing it at $521M

UNDATED (AP) — Hedge fund Alden, Tribune’s largest shareholder, has offered to buy the rest of the newspaper publisher at a price that values it at $520.6 million. Tribune did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Tribune publishes nine major daily papers, including the New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun. Alden controls a major U.S. publisher whose papers include the Denver Post, Orange County Register and Boston Herald. It has a reputation for layoffs and intense cost-cutting even beyond the newspaper industry’s overall turn in that direction, and the unions at Tribune papers have pushed for alternative buyers for the company’s papers.

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