Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks rise as economy shows signs of improvement

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are mostly higher on Wall Street after investors received more signals that the economy is continuing to heal from the pandemic. Economic reports showed that unemployment is falling and the U.S. economy grew at a solid rate during the first quarter. Still, sales of durable goods dropped unexpectedly last month. Industrial stocks are leading the gains. General Electric rose 5.8% and Boeing gained 3%. Utilities and energy companies lagged the broader market. The 10-year Treasury note traded at a yield of 1.61%, up from 1.57% the day before. Investors will next turn their attention to Friday’s inflation data.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

US jobless claims fall to 406,000, a new pandemic low

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped last week to 406,000, a new pandemic low and more evidence that the job market is strengthening as the virus wanes and economy further reopens. Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that applications declined 38,000 from 444,000 a week earlier. The number of weekly applications for jobless aid — a rough measure of the pace of layoffs — has fallen by more than half since January.

ECONOMY-GDP

First quarter GDP unchanged at robust 6.4% annual rate

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy grew at a robust annual rate of 6.4% in the first three months of this year, unchanged from the government’s initial estimate. The recovery from last year’s deep recession gained steam has been helped by vaccines to combat the virus and trillions of dollars in government assistance. The rise in the gross domestic product, the economy’s total output of goods and services, reported Thursday was the same as the government’s first look one month ago. Upward revisions in spending by consumers, who account for two-thirds of economic activity, were offset by weaker growth in exports. Economist believe GDP growth could top 10% in the current April-June quarter.

DURABLE GOODS

U.S. durable goods orders drop 1.3% in April

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. orders for big-ticket manufactured goods dropped unexpectedly in April for the first time in 11 months, pulled down by plunging orders for transportation equipment. The Commerce Department reported Thursday that orders for factory goods meant to last at least three years fell 1.3% in April after rising 1.3% in March. Transportation orders skidded 6.7%. Excluding transportation, which can be volatile from month to month, durable goods orders were up 1% in April. Factories have been hamstrung by a shortage of supplies as the U.S. economy reopens from the COVID-19 pandemic.

PENDING HOME SALES

Fewer Americans sign contracts to buy homes in April

SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — Fewer Americans signed contracts to buy homes in April as a lack of supply continues to foil buyers. The National Association of Realtors’ index of pending home sales fell 4.4% to 106.2 in April, a third straight sluggish month after nearly a year-long rebound from the depths of the pandemic last spring. While many people are looking to upgrade, not as many people are willing to sell their current homes. That lack of inventory — along with sky-high costs for building materials like lumber — has pushed prices of new and existing homes to record highs.

MORTGAGE RATES

US average mortgage rates decline; 30-year loan at 2.95%

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mortgage rates have declined this week, pushing the benchmark 30-year home loan back down below the 3% mark. Signs continued of the economy’s recovery from the pandemic recession. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average for the 30-year rate fell to 2.95% from 3% last week. At this time last year, the average long-term rate was 3.15%. The rate for a 15-year loan, popular among those seeking to refinance, eased to 2.27% from 2.29% last week.

PIPELINE-CYBERSECURITY ATTACK

US pipelines ordered to increase cyber defenses after hack

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. pipeline operators will be required for the first time to conduct a cybersecurity assessment under a Biden administration directive. It’s in response to the ransomware hack that disrupted gas supplies in several states. The Transportation Security Administration directive released Thursday mandates that the owners and operators of the nation’s pipelines report any cyber incidents to the federal government. They’ll also be required to have a cybersecurity coordinator available at all times to work with authorities in the event of an attack like the one that shut down Colonial Pipeline. Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline says it paid a ransom of $4.4 million to retrieve access to its data from hackers.

BIDEN-ENVIRONMENT

EPA restoring state and tribal power to protect waterways

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency is restoring a rule that grants states and Native American tribes authority to block pipelines and other energy projects that can pollute rivers, streams and other waterways. It’s the latest reversal of a Trump-era policy. A section of the federal Clean Water Act gives states and tribes power to block federal projects over water-pollution concerns. But the Trump administration curbed that review power to advance President Donald Trump’s goal of fast-tracking energy projects such as oil and natural gas pipelines. EPA Administrator Michael Regan told The Associated Press that he “will not hesitate to correct decisions that weakened the authority of states and tribes to protect their waters.

CONGRESS-INFRASTRUCTURE

GOP offers $928B on infrastructure, funded with COVID aid

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican senators have outlined a $928 billion infrastructure proposal that’s a counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s more sweeping plan. The two sides are struggling to negotiate a bipartisan compromise and remain far apart on how to pay for the massive spending. As Biden headed out Thursday for an event in Cleveland, he said he wants to wrap it up “really soon.” The Republicans want to tap unused COVID-19 money to help pay for it. But the White House has panned that approach, saying states and small businesses still need those dollars. Biden prefers raising the corporate tax rate. He also says, “We have to finish this really soon.”

VIRUS OUTBREAK-UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE

States tap federal aid to shore up empty unemployment funds

UNDATED (AP) — Businesses could be spared billions of dollars of higher taxes in coming years as a result of federal coronavirus funds flowing to the states. An Associated Press review has found that governors and lawmakers in more than half the states are planning to use at least part of their federal pandemic relief aid to bail out unemployment insurance trust funds that have been drained by surging benefit claims. By tapping federal aid, states could avoid automatic tax hikes that otherwise would be imposed on businesses to repay federal loans that have kept state unemployment systems afloat.

VIRUS OUTBREAK

Summer travel forecast calls for longer waits, fewer choices

UNDATED (AP) — After a year of coronavirus lockdowns, the start of summer beckons with vacation plans made possible by relaxed COVID-19 restrictions. But a severe worker shortage brings a warning for travelers: Expect delays and pack a little patience. Lifeguards and hotel housekeepers are in short supply. So are rental cars. And don’t count on having a fruity cocktail at the hotel Tiki bar. The labor shortage is hitting the nation’s tourist destinations just as they try to rebound from a year lost to the pandemic. It threatens to derail the travel industry’s recovery even as many Americans are itching to get away again at last.

SHOPPERS-RETURN TO STORES

Shoppers go back to stores, but retailers face challenges

NEW YORK (AP) — Americans are going back to one of their favorite pastimes: store shopping. With vaccinations rolling out and shoppers freer to go out maskless, retailers from Walmart to Macy’s are seeing an eager return to their stores after months of watching their customers focus on online buying during the pandemic. The return offers a big relief to retailers for a variety of reasons. Making purchases at the store can be more profitable than online buying because of shipping costs. Shoppers return less than when buying online. And store customers tend to do more impulse buying than online. Still, retailers, particularly mall-based stores and other specialty stores, face plenty of challenges to keep shoppers coming back.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-BIDEN-VIRUS ORIGINS

Biden orders more intel investigation of COVID-19 origin

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is asking U.S. intelligence agencies to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the COVID-19 pandemic’s origins. After months of minimizing the possibility the coronavirus emerged from a lab accident, Biden’s administration is responding to U.S. and world pressure for China to be more open about the outbreak. Biden says there’s insufficient evidence to conclude “whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.” Biden directed U.S. national laboratories to assist with the investigation and called on China to cooperate. Biden said Thursday he aims to release the intelligence agencies’ results publicly. China accuses the U.S. of playing politics and not caring about “facts and truth.”

FACEBOOK-COVID POSTS

Facebook won’t remove posts claiming COVID-19 is manmade

UNDATED (AP) — Facebook says it will no longer remove claims that COVID-19 is manmade or manufactured from its apps. The company says the change comes “in light of ongoing investigations into the origin of the virus and in consultation with public health experts.” Facebook has long battled a tide of coronavirus-related misinformation. It said in December it would remove vaccine related misinformation, for example. President Joe Biden has ordered U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble” their efforts to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, including any possibility the trail might lead to a Chinese laboratory.

FAA-BOEING-PENALTY

Boeing to pay $17 million to settle plane production issues

WASHINGTON (AP) — Boeing is paying $17 million and promising to take steps to fix production problems with its popular 737 jets. The Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday that the settlement covers the installation of unapproved sensors and other parts on some Boeing 737 models including NGs and the Max. The problems were discovered on planes built between 2015 and 2019. Boeing could pay up to $10.1 million more if it doesn’t fix quality-control problems. The settlement isn’t large in dollar terms, but it’s another setback for Boeing’s reputation. The company is still struggling to recover from two deadly crashes that led to a long grounding of Max jets worldwide.

NCAA-COMPENSATING ATHLETES

Democrats push bill allowing college athletes to organize

UNDATED (AP) — College athletes would have the right to organize and collectively bargain with schools and conferences under a bill introduced Thursday by Democrats in the House and Senate. Senators Chris Murphy and Bernie Sanders announced the College Athletes Right to Organize Act. A companion bill was introduced in the House. The bill would amend the National Labor Relations Act to define college athletes who receive direct grant-in-aid from their schools as employees. A movement at Northwestern to unionize college football players was rejected by the National Labor Relations Board in 2015. The NCAA has turned to Congress for help as it tries to reform its rules to allow athletes to be paid for endorsements, personal appearances and autographs.

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