Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks edge lower, pulling S&P 500 below record high

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks edged lower in afternoon trading on Wall Street as investors pored over the latest batch of company earnings.

The S&P 500 fell less than 0.1% Tuesday, a day after hitting its latest all-time high. UPS soared after reporting another surge in delivery volumes as well as profits that came in well ahead of estimates. Tesla, whose stock has been soaring over the past year, fell despite reporting strong earnings.

Investors are waiting for news out of the Federal Reserve on Wednesday after its two-day meeting, as well as President Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress.

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE

US consumer confidence returns to pre-pandemic levels

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumer confidence rose sharply for a second straight month in April, hitting the highest level in more than a year as consumer sentiment was boosted by a more rapid rollout of the vaccines and another round of support payments.

The Conference Board reports that its consumer confidence index advanced to a better-than-expected 121.7 in April, up from 109.0 in March. It was the strongest reading since February 2020, right before the pandemic struck the US.

HOME PRICES

US home prices rose 11.9% in February, fastest since 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices rose in February at the fastest pace in nearly seven years as strong demand for housing collided with tight supplies of homes on the market.

The February S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 11.9% from a year earlier, the biggest gain since March 2014. The index had also surged — 11.1% — in January. The February gain was about what economists had expected.

Prices rose in all 20 cities, led by year-over-year gains of 17.4% in Phoenix, 17% in San Diego and 15.4% in Seattle. Chicago (up 8,6%) and Las Vegas (up 9.1%) registered the smallest gains.

BIDEN-MINIMUM WAGE

Biden to sign $15 minimum wage for federal contract workers

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is preparing to sign an executive order to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour for federal contractors.

Administration officials say the order will provide a pay bump to hundreds of thousands of those workers, including nursing assistants and laborers. They say workers will become more productive as a result, so the increase should not be costly to taxpayers.

The increase to be approved under Tuesday’s executive order could be dramatic for workers who earn the current minimum of $10.95 an hour. Those workers would receive a 37% pay hike, though the increase would be rolled out gradually.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-NO MASKS

CDC says many Americans can now go outside without a mask

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. health officials say fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks outdoors anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers. And unvaccinated people can drop face coverings in some cases, too.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the updated guidance Tuesday. Previously the CDC had been advising that people should wear masks outdoors if they are within 6 feet of each other.

The change comes as more than half of U.S. adults have gotten at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, and more than a third have been fully vaccinated.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-EUROPE-RECOVERY FUND

France, Germany plan billions in pandemic recovery spending

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Europe is ramping up its recovery plan. And finance officials in Germany and France say there’s no time to lose as the continent lags behind the U.S. and China in recovering from the pandemic recession.

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and French couterpart Bruno Le Maire laid out plans Tuesday for spending on digitalization and fighting climate change. France should get about 40 billion euros from the EU’s 750 billion euro recovery fund. And Germany should get around 30 billion euros.

Countries are also being asked to fix longstanding problems in their economy in turn for the money, which leaders hope will start flowing as early as July.

BUSINESSES-EQUALITY ACT

More than 400 businesses back LGBTQ rights act

UNDATED (AP) — More than 400 companies __ including Tesla, Pfizer, Delta Air Lines and Amazon __ have signed on to support civil rights legislation for LGBTQ people that is moving through Congress. The Human Rights Campaign, which is coordinating the effort, says Apple, PepsiCo, General Motors, CVS, Facebook, Marriott, Capital One and Home Depot are among those on the list.

The Equality Act would amend existing civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identification as protected characteristics.

The bill passed the U.S. House in February with mostly Democratic support. Its fate in the Senate is less certain.

DOORDASH-FEES

DoorDash offers lower-priced delivery plans amid criticism

UNDATED (AP) — DoorDash is launching lower-priced delivery options for U.S. restaurants, responding to criticism that the commissions it charges are too high for the beleaguered industry.

The San Francisco-based delivery company says it will offer a new basic plan which will charge restaurants 15% per order for delivery, or around half the cost of previous plans. Restaurants can pay commissions of 25% or 30% for other plans if they want more visibility in DoorDash’s app or lower customer delivery fees.

DoorDash says it developed the plan over the last year after restaurants asked for more options.

UPS-RESULTS

Small business demand lifts UPS Q1 profit, revenue up 27%

NEW YORK (AP) — Small businesses in the U.S. fueled demand for delivery, helping UPS post better-than-expected earnings and revenue for the first quarter of the year. That sent the company’s stock to an all-time high this morning.

UPS is one of the few companies that benefited from the pandemic as demand for delivery rose as more people stayed home and shopped online. But even with more people getting vaccinated and heading out, the company said it expects delivery demand to continue this year as more businesses open up and need to ship goods. Plus, consumers have more money in their pocket to spend from government stimulus checks.

UPS said daily volume jumped more than 14% in the first three months of the year from the same period a year ago.

ELI LILLY-FORECAST

Slipping COVID-19 treatment demand hits Eli Lilly forecast

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Eli Lilly fell well short of Wall Street’s first-quarter expectations, and the drugmaker chopped the top end of its earnings forecast due to lower demand for COVID-19 treatments.

Lilly pulled in $810 million in the quarter from sales of COVID-19 treatments and expects as much as $1.5 billion in revenue from the drugs this year. But vaccines are being widely delivered in the U.S., and the changing virus has limited the effectiveness of Lilly’s bamlanivimab.

Lilly said earlier this month that treatment combinations work better fighting some virus variants. It recommends using bamlanivimab with another one of its drugs, etesevimab.

AUTOS-DRIVER MONITORING

Auto group backs guidelines for partially automated vehicles

DETROIT (AP) — The trade association representing most major automakers is offering guidelines for manufacturers to advertise partially automated driving systems and make sure drivers are paying attention while using them.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation says its members support the voluntary principles. They come as two federal agencies ramp up scrutiny of Tesla’s Autopilot diver-assist system after two men were killed in a fiery crash earlier this month near Houston.

The principles say that any vehicle with such a system should have driver monitoring as standard equipment. Cameras should be considered to make sure drivers have eyes on the road.

The alliance represents companies that account for 99% of U.S. new vehicle sales. But Tesla is not a member.

FORD-BATTERY-LAB

Ford plans to develop and produce electric vehicle batteries

DETROIT (AP) — Ford wants to control the key technology for electric vehicles, so it plans to build a battery development center near Detroit by the end of next year.

The company said the 200,000-square-foot facility will have equipment to design, test and even do small-scale manufacturing of battery cells and packs. The lab also will develop electronic controls and other items as Ford moves more of the process in-house. Eventually the company wants to do large-scale manufacturing of its own batteries globally, a task now performed by supply companies.

The company wouldn’t say the exact site of the center, nor would it say where it might build battery factories.

ELECTRIC TRUCK STARTUP

Late taxes another troubling sign for electric truck startup

CLEVELAND (AP) — An Ohio-based electric truck startup has failed to pay real estate taxes in what appears to be another troubling sign for the fledgling company.

The Tribune Chronicle reports Lordstown Motors Corp. outside Youngstown owes $570,000 for first half taxes and a 10% penalty for failing to make payment in early March.

The company which plans to build electric vehicles in a massive former GM plant has been barraged by bad news in recent months. That includes a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry and potential class-action lawsuits. The company didn’t respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

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