Stocks fall as yields continue to climb; GameStop surges
NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are sliding in afternoon trading on Wall Street as the recent theme of the market — rising bond yields and falling prices of technology companies — continue to weigh on trading. The S&P 500 fell 2% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq was down 2.8%. Investors turned their focus to another wild surge in GameStop and a handful of other stocks favored by online investors. The money-losing video game retailer soared another 88.1% after more than doubling in the last hour of trading Wednesday. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.49%.
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US jobless claims at 730K, still high but fewest in 3 months
WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week in a sign that layoffs may have eased, though claims remain at a historically high level. The Labor Department says applications for jobless aid declined 111,000 from the previous week to a seasonally adjusted 730,000. That is the lowest figure since late November and the biggest one-week decline since August. Still, before the virus erupted in the United States last March, weekly applications for unemployment benefits had never topped 700,000.
Anticipating 2021 boom, Q4 GDP revised up slightly to 4.1%
WASHINGTON (AP) — The economy grew at a slightly faster pace in the final three months of 2020 than first thought, ending a year that saw the overall economy shrink by the largest amount in more than seven decades. The Commerce Department says the gross domestic product — the broadest measure of economic health — grew at an annual rate of 4.1% in the fourth quarter, up from an initial estimate of 4% growth. That upward revision did not change the performance for the year with GDP for all of 2020 shrinking 3.5%, the biggest annual decline since 1946. However, economists believe 2021 will see a significant rebound, helped by further government stimulus, more widespread distribution of vaccines and continued low-interest rate policies from the Federal Reserve.
Orders for U.S. durable goods climb 3.4% in January
WASHINGTON (AP) — Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket goods shot up 3.4% in January, pulled up by surge in orders for civilian aircraft. The Commerce Department said a category that tracks business investment posted a more modest gain. Orders for goods meant to last at least three years have now risen nine straight months, another sign that manufacturing has proven resilient in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The January gain followed upticks of 1.2% in December and 1.3% in November and was triple what economists had expected. Orders for civilian aircraft and parts jumped 389.9%. Excluding transportation equipment, which can bounce wildly from month to month, durable goods orders were up 1.4%.
PENDING HOME SALES
US contracts to buy homes decline, still a January record
SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes has declined again as inventory struggles to keep up with demand. The National Association of Realtors’ index of pending home sales fell 2.8% in January to 122.8, which was still a record high for the month. December’s index, which was also a record high, was revised upward. Despite the recent declines, contract signings are still 13% ahead of where they were last year at this point, a sign that the housing market remains strong despite the widespread economic damage caused by the ongoing virus pandemic. Contract signings are considered a barometer of purchases that will take place the next one to two months.
GOP rallies solidly against Democrats’ virus relief package
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans are closing ranks against Democrats’ proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. And even as they do, the White House is seeming to rule out a procedural power play in the Senate to protect one of the measure’s provisions most treasured by progressives: a minimum wage hike. Democrats plan to push the sweeping package through the House on Friday. They were hoping the Senate would follow quickly enough to have legislation on President Joe Biden’s desk by mid-March. But the big suspense is over whether the nonpartisan parliamentarian will decide if the minimum wage plan can stay in the bill and enjoy its protection against a GOP filibuster.
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Biden’s trade pick vows to work more closely with allies
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s pick to be the top U.S. trade envoy promised to work with America’s allies to combat China’s aggressive trade policies, indicating a break from the Trump administration’s go-it-alone approach. In a Senate confirmation hearing hearing Thursday, Katherine Tai, Biden’s choice for U.S. trade representative, promised to “prioritize rebuilding our international alliances and partnerships, and re-engaging with international institutions.″ Tai dodged questions on two politically sensitive questions — whether the Biden administration would drop President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum and whether it would revive an Asia-Pacific trade deal negotiated under President Barack Obama and jettisoned by Trump.
Former Michigan Gov. Granholm confirmed as energy secretary
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has won Senate confirmation to be President Joe Biden’s energy secretary. Granholm served two terms as governor in a state dominated by the auto industry. In the Cabinet, she will be a key player in Biden’s vision for a green economy as the United States fights to slow climate change. Michigan was devastated by the 2008 recession, and Granholm has promoted emerging clean energy technologies, such as electric vehicles and battery manufacturing, as an answer for jobs that will be lost as the U.S. transitions from oil, coal and other fossil fuels.
GAS DRILLING-DELAWARE BASIN
Agency permanently bans fracking near Delaware River
UNDATED (AP) — A regulatory agency that’s responsible for the water supply of more than 13 million people in four states has voted to permanently ban natural gas drilling and fracking in the watershed. The Delaware River Basin Commission first imposed a moratorium on gas development more than a decade ago. The agency says fracking poses too great of a risk to the water supply. Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania as well as a landowners group have filed lawsuits challenging the commission’s right to regulate gas development. The Delaware and its tributaries supply drinking water to Philadelphia and half the population of New York City.
Manhattan prosecutor gets Trump tax records after long fight
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York prosecutor has obtained copies of Donald Trump’s tax records after the Supreme Court this week rejected the former president’s last-ditch effort to prevent them from being handed over. A spokesperson for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said Thursday that prosecutors enforced a subpoena on Trump’s accounting firm within hours of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday and now has the documents in hand. District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. had been fighting for a year and a half for access to Trump’s tax records for a criminal grand jury investigation into his business dealings. The documents are protected by grand jury secrecy rules and are not expected to be made public.
FOREIGN SURVEILLANCE-WATCHDOG REVIEW
Watchdog reviews complaint about FBI surveillance warrant
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department’s internal watchdog is reviewing a former Boeing engineer’s allegations that he was unfairly pursued by FBI agents who investigated him on suspicions that he was spying for China. That’s according to correspondence and court filings reviewed by The Associated Press. The review by the inspector general’s office is unfolding amid broader scrutiny of the FBI’s process for applying for court-authorized surveillance in national security investigations. The former Boeing engineer, Keith Gartenlaub, has alleged that the FBI had inadequate basis to obtain a warrant in 2014 to search his computers as part of an investigation into whether he had leaked to the Chinese design plans for a C-17 military transport plane.
EU leaders seek to inject energy into slow vaccine rollout
BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders are seeking to inject new energy into the bloc’s lagging coronavirus vaccination effort as concern mounts that new variants might spread faster than authorities can adapt. During a videoconference summit Thursday, they assessed ways to speed the roll out of vaccines and the severity of restrictions needed to halt the spread of the virus. COVID-19 has killed more than 531,000 people across the 27-nation EU. The leaders also weighed whether and when to introduce vaccine certificates. Europe’s tourism and travel industries are suffering, and the vacation destinations of southern Europe are desperate to avoid another disastrous summer. Meanwhile, EU lawmakers grilled the heads of the big pharmaceutical companies.
Bahrain becomes 1st nation to grant J&J shot emergency use
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahrain has become the first nation to authorize Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine for emergency use. The announcement Thursday comes just a day after U.S regulators concluded the shot offers strong protection against severe COVID-19. The island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia said it would dole out J&J’s shot to the most vulnerable people, including older adults and those with chronic conditions. U.S. Food and Drug Administration scientists confirmed that overall, the vaccine is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19. The company has applied for emergency authorization in several countries, including the U.S. and the European Union, as well as the World Health Organization.
China approves two more COVID-19 vaccines for wider use
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — China has approved two more COVID-19 vaccines for wider use, adding to its growing arsenal of shots. It gave conditional approval to a vaccine from CanSino Biologics and a second one from state-owned Sinopharm. Both are already being used among select groups of people under an emergency use authorization. China now has four vaccines to immunize its population. CanSino’s COVID-19 vaccine is the first developed by a Chinese company that requires only one shot. Both vaccines can be stored between 2 degrees and 8 degrees Celsius. Neither company has publicly released final testing data showing safety and efficacy.
VIRUS OUTBREAK-VACCINE-APPOINTMENT BOTS
Vaccine appointment bots have fans and foes
UNDATED (AP) — Having trouble booking a COVID-19 vaccine appointment online? You’re not alone. To cope, some people have turned to bots that scan websites and send alerts when slots open up. Bots provide relief to people struggling to score appointments. But not all public health officials are fans. Some say they give even more of an advantage to tech-savvy people. One Massachusetts clinic canceled appointments after learning that out-of-towners used a bot to scoop them up. Health officials are putting in measures to prevent the use of bots, and say phone scheduling is available if people can’t navigate the websites.
BEST BUY-JOB CUTS
Best Buy cut 5,000 jobs even as sales soared during pandemic
NEW YORK (AP) — Best Buy says it laid off 5,000 full-time store workers earlier this month, even as the company’s sales soared during the pandemic as homebound people bought laptops, TVs and other gadgets. The company said it cut the jobs because more shoppers are choosing to buy online instead of shopping at its stores. Best Buy said it will replace the 5,000 full-time employees with 2,000 part-time workers. Best Buy’s workforce has shrunk in the last year after having to furlough workers when it closed stores during the pandemic. It currently has more than 100,000 workers, down by 21,000, or 17%, from the year before.
U.S. pizza sales, booming in pandemic, start to slow
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — After a pandemic-fueled boom, U.S. pizza sales appear to be headed back to earth. Domino’s and Papa John’s pizza chains both said Thursday that their same-store sales lost steam in the fourth quarter compared to the huge increases they saw earlier in 2020. That slowdown is expected to continue well into this year. Pizza delivery remains popular, but diners’ choices are expanding, with more restaurants now offering delivery. Pizza could also be pressured as the pandemic eases and dining rooms reopen.
Debate amid pandemic: Should foundations have to give more?
NEW YORK (AP) — The viral pandemic wiped out jobs and businesses and left many U.S. families unable to afford food. And it’s sparking debate over a divisive question: Should philanthropic groups donate more to charities? Should they be forced to? Chuck Collins, a director of a progressive think tank, thinks the government should compel foundations and donor-advised funds to step up contributions. Collins and others have put their weight behind a proposal for Congress to require these groups to contribute at least 10% of their investment assets each year for three years. It’s far from clear, though, that his proposal can gain enough support to make it through Congress. Even some leading philanthropists favor more modest steps.
Digital exchange Coinbase takes a step toward going public
UNDATED (AP) — Digital currency exchange Coinbase is looking to become a publicly traded company, a move being hailed by some as a start to helping cryptocurrency gain more mainstream acceptance. Coinbase Global Inc., in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, is seeking a direct listing, which would allow company workers and investors to convert their stakes into stock.
MR. POTATO HEAD-REBRANDING
A mister no more: Mr. Potato Head goes gender neutral
NEW YORK (AP) — Mr. Potato Head is no longer a mister. Hasbro, the company that makes the potato-shaped plastic toy, is giving the spud a gender-neutral new name: Potato Head. The change will appear on boxes this year. Toy makers have been updating their classic brands to appeal to kids today. Barbie has shed its blonde image and now comes in multiple skin tones and body shapes. Thomas the Tank Engine added more girl characters. And American Girl is now selling a boy doll. Hasbro said Mr. Potato Head, which has been around for about 70 years, needed a modern makeover.
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