Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Wall Street keeps rising on Democratic wins, stimulus hopes

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street is rallying toward record highs again on expectations that the Democratic sweep of Washington means more stimulus is likely on the way for the economy. The S&P 500 was 1.5% higher in the first trading after Congress confirmed Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election and Jon Ossoff was declared the winner of a Georgia runoff election, tipping control of the Senate to Democrats. Investors and analysts are anticipating Congress will try to deliver $2,000 checks to most Americans, increase spending on infrastructure and take other measures to nurse the economy amid the worsening pandemic.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

US unemployment claims slip to still-high 787,000

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell slightly to 787,000, evidence of a job market stumbling in the face of the viral pandemic and the damage it has inflicted on the economy for nearly 10 months. Thursday’s figure from the Labor Department, a slight decline from the previous week, showed that many employers are still cutting jobs as the pandemic tightens business restrictions and leads anxious consumers to stay home.

TRADE GAP

US trade deficit jumps to $68.1 billion in November

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. trade deficit jumped to $68.1 billion in November, the highest monthly deficit in 14 years, as a surge in imports overwhelmed a smaller increase in exports. The Commerce Department said Thursday that the November gap between what America buys from abroad compared to what it sells rose 8% from October. The increase reflects a 2.9% increase in imports of goods and services to $252.3 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis. That jump swamped a 1.2% rise in exports which totaled $184.2 billion in November. Through the first 11 months of 2020, the deficit stands at $604.8 billion, 13.9% higher than the same period in 2019. President Donald Trump has insisted that his get-tough trade policies with the rest of the world would shrink the deficit and bring back American jobs.

ECONOMY-SERVICES

US services sector grows for seventh consecutive month

SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — The U.S. services sector, where most Americans work, grew for the seventh straight month in December even as coronavirus cases surged through the holidays. The Institute for Supply Management reported Thursday that its index of services activity grew slightly to a reading of 57.2 last month, from a reading of 55.9 in November. Readings above 50 represent expansion in services industries such as restaurants and bars, retail stores and delivery companies. Respondents to the December ISM survey continued to express anxiety about the current business climate and the continued negative ramifications of COVID-19.

MORTGAGE RATES

US long-term mortgage rates hit new lows; 30-year at 2.65%

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. long-term mortgage rates declined this week to new record lows for the first week of 2021. The year opens against the continuing backdrop of damage from the coronavirus pandemic on the U.S. and global economies, which suppressed home loan rates through most of 2020. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on the benchmark 30-year fixed-rate home loan slipped to 2.65% from 2.67% from last week. The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate loans ticked down to 2.16% from 2.17%. Mortgage rates are set to rise modestly this year as economic factors shift, according to Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

TRUMP-SOCIAL-MEDIA

Social platforms flex their power, lock down Trump accounts

UNDATED (AP) — Facebook will bar President Donald Trump from posting on its system at least until the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. In a post Thursday morning, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the risk of allowing Trump to use the platform is too great, following his incitement of a mob that later touched off a deadly riot in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Zuckerberg says Trump’s account will be locked “for at least the next two weeks” but could remain locked indefinitely. Twitter and Instagram on Wednesday also temporarily locked President Donald Trump’s accounts after he repeatedly posted false accusations about the integrity of the election.

CAPITOL BREACH-CHAO

Transportation Secretary Chao resigns after riot

WASHINGTON (AP) — Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is resigning effective Monday, becoming the highest ranking member of President Donald Trump’s administration to resign in protest after the pro-Trump insurrection at Capitol. In a statement Thursday, Chao, who is married to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, said the violent attack on the Capitol “has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.” She said her department will continue to cooperate with President-elect Joe Biden’s designated nominee to head the department, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-IOWA TESTING

Iowa governor, aides appear in PR video for no-bid vendor

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and four top Iowa officials cooperated in making a marketing video for a company that has received no-bid contracts during the state’s coronavirus response. The arrangement between the state and Utah-based Domo Inc. has raised allegations of favoritism and improper use of public resources. Domo features interviews with the Republican governor, state medical director Caitlin Pedati, chief operations officer Paul Trombino and two others in the video. The officials paint their management of COVID-19 as a success story for Iowa and the company. Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett says Domo “wanted a testimonial on the success” of the Test Iowa program and the governor and others agreed to participate.

EARNS-WALGREENS

Walgreens tops fiscal 1Q forecasts as it fights pandemic hit

UNDATED (AP) — Walgreens Boots Alliance lost $308 million in its first fiscal quarter on a big charge tied to its ownership stake in the drug wholesaler AmerisourceBergen. The drugstore chain also saw COVID-19 continue to eat away at its business, particularly in the United Kingdom, but the company’s overall performance topped Wall Street expectations. Walgreens said Thursday that it booked a $1.5 billion charge in the quarter from its equity earnings in AmerisourceBergen. Walgreens has a roughly 30% stake in the company, and a spokeswoman said the charge accounted for Walgreens’ portion of a recent AmerisourceBergen quarterly loss.

FIAT CHRYSLER-DETROIT FACTORY

Revamped Detroit plant to start making new Jeep by March 31

DETROIT (AP) — A revamped version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV with three rows of seats will roll off the assembly line this spring at a restored Detroit factory complex.Fiat Chrysler unveiled the Grand Cherokee L on Thursday and said production would start by the end of March.The company invested $1.6 billion to revamp two old engine plants so they could build new versions of the popular SUV. It hired 3,850 people to work at the company’s first new auto plant in Detroit in nearly three decades. The factory also will build two-row and what likely will be plug-in hybrid electric versions of the Grand Cherokee starting later this year at the former Mack engine plants, now called the Detroit Assembly complex.

DAIMLER-ELECTRIC CAR

New Mercedes screen to stretch nearly full width of car

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The new electric sedan from Mercedes will replace the conventional dashboard with a screen that extends almost the width of the car. The MBUX Hyperscreen will use artificial intelligence to learn driver habits so it can make only what’s needed available without scrolling through menus. The CEO of parent company Daimler, Ola Kallenius, says the new EQS model coming later this year will show the company’s skills at digitalization and electrification, two trends shaking up the industry. The EQS is the electric counterpart to the Mercedes conventionally powered S-Class. It is one of four battery-powered models coming this year as German carmakers seek to challenge Tesla.

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