Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks rise broadly as indexes hover around record highs

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are rising broadly on Wall Street, putting major indexes on a path to edge past record highs. The S&P 500 was up 0.7% in midday trading and the Nasdaq rose 1.1%, both near all-time highs. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.4%. It’s a big day for company earnings reports. Ford jumped 8.2%, a day after reporting earnings that easily beat analysts’ forecasts and raising its full-year outlook. Heavy equipment maker Caterpillar rose 3.4% after turning in strong results. Apple and Amazon report after the closing bell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 1.56%.

ECONOMY-GDP

US economy slowed to a 2% rate last quarter in face of COVID

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. economic growth slowed to a 2% annual rate in the July-September period, hampered by rising COVID-19 cases and persistent supply shortages. That’s the weakest quarterly growth since the pandemic recession erupted early last year. Thursday’s report from the Commerce Department estimates that the nation’s gross domestic product — its total output of goods and services — declined sharply from the 6%-plus annual growth rates of each of the previous two quarters. But now, with confirmed COVID cases declining, vaccination rates rising and more Americans venturing out to spend money, many economists think GDP is bouncing back to a rate of 6% or even better in the current fourth quarter.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

US jobless claims drop to pandemic low of 281,000

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell to a pandemic low last week, another sign that the job market and economy continue to recover from last year’s coronavirus recession. Jobless claims dropped by 10,000 to 281,000, lowest since mid-March 2020, the Labor Department said Thursday. Since topping 900,000 in early January, weekly applications have steadily dropped, moving ever closer to pre-pandemic levels just above 200,000. In all, 2.2 million people were collecting unemployment checks the week of Oct. 16, down from 7.7 million a year earlier.

EUROPE-ECONOMY

European Central Bank keeps pandemic support going

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The European Central Bank has decided to keep its pandemic stimulus efforts unchanged even as consumer prices spike and central banks in other parts of the world look to dial back support as their economies bounce back from the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak. The decision Thursday affects the 19 European Union countries that use the euro currency and sets up a debate in December about whether and how to end the 1.85 trillion euro stimulus program. The bond purchase program drove down longer-term borrowing costs for businesses as they weathered shutdowns and for governments as they spent more for pandemic support. It is slated to run at least through March 2022.

ENERGY PRICES

Energy prices lift oil and gas stocks, weigh on the economy

UNDATED (AP) — Energy prices have been soaring and oil and gas stocks are the clear winners, but the losers might turn out to be businesses and consumers. The energy sector has far outpaced the broader market in 2021. While energy stocks are reaping the benefits from high demand and lagging supplies, other areas of the economy are having a tougher time coping. Surging oil and gas prices are adding to broader inflation pressures that are squeezing businesses and driving up costs. A wide range of manufacturers are finding it more costly to ramp up operations as energy costs rise. Airlines are getting hurt by higher jet fuel costs as they try to rebuild profits. Consumers in the U.S. and around the world are facing a tighter squeeze on their wallets from rising energy costs.

CONGRESS-BUDGET

Biden announces ‘historic’ deal, asks Democrats for votes

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said he reached a “historic” framework with Democrats in Congress on his sweeping, though scaled-back domestic policy plan. Biden’s remarks at the White House come after he traveled early Thursday to Capitol Hill to pitch House Democrats on the package. The proposal is now $1.75 trillion and without a paid family leave program and other priorities. But it’s still a sweeping plan with new health care, free-prekindergarten and climate change programs. He told lawmakers in the plainest language: “I need your votes.” He wanted a deal before departing for global summits. Progressive House Democrats want to see the fine print.

CONGRESS-OIL-INDUSTRY

Exxon CEO denies spreading disinformation on climate change

WASHINGTON (AP) — ExxonMobil’s chief executive says his company “does not spread disinformation regarding climate change″ as he counters congressional allegations the industry concealed evidence about the dangers of it. Exxon CEO Darren Woods is among top officials at four major oil companies set to testify Thursday as congressional Democrats investigate what they describe as a decades-long, industry-wide campaign to push disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming. In prepared testimony, Woods said ExxonMobil’s public statements on climate have been fact-based and consistent with mainstream climate science. Democrats say the oil industry spread doubt about the harm of its products, undermining science and blocking meaningful action.

CLIMATE-UN-GREENHOUSE GASES

Study: 10 UNESCO forests emit more C02 than they soak up

GENEVA (AP) — A U.N.-backed report says sites containing some of the world’s most treasured forests, including the Yosemite National Park in the U.S., have been emitting more heat-trapping carbon dioxide than they have absorbed in recent years. According to the report released Thursday, factors like logging, wildfires and clearance of land for agriculture are to blame. The excess carbon turns up from just 10 of 257 forests classified among UNESCO World Heritage sites. The study adds to growing signs that human activities and the fallout from climate change have transformed some natural carbon sinks that suck up CO2 from the air into net sources of it. Scientists say climate change has made weather extremes like drought and wildfires more likely.

BRITAIN-SOCIAL MEDIA

Facebook grilled by UK lawmakers making online safety rules

LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers are grilling Facebook and other tech giants over how they handle online safety as European efforts to regulate social media companies gain momentum. The tech giant’s head of safety said Thursday that the company supports regulation and has no business interest in providing people with an “unsafe experience.” Representatives from Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter and TikTok also will be questioned by members of a parliamentary committee scrutinizing the British government’s draft online safety legislation. Governments on both sides of the Atlantic want tougher rules aimed at protecting social media users, but the United Kingdom’s efforts are much further along. A U.S. Senate panel also questioned YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat this week.

VIRUS-OUTBREAK-RECALLS

Pandemic restrictions fuel recall efforts on fall ballots

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Dozens of recall campaigns are underway across the U.S. ahead of next week’s election. Many of the efforts are led by people who oppose any COVID-19-related rules. The races illustrate the contentiousness that has upended usually sleepy school board and city council meetings. The tension is almost certain to last into 2022, when more recall efforts are expected in the spring. Brian Steele is the mayor of Nixa, Missouri, whose future will be on the ballot. He was targeted for recall for enacting a mask mandate, even though it had already expired. Nationally, more than 500 attempts to recall elected officials have happened this year.

MERCK-EARNINGS

Merck envisions billions from COVID-19 treatment sales

UNDATED (AP) — Merck fell out of the race to develop COVID-19 vaccines earlier this year but could vault to head of the pack for treatments in 2022. Company executives told analysts on Thursday that the drugmaker’s potential antiviral, molnupiravir, may generate $5 billion to $7 billion in sales through next year. That could include as much as $1 billion this year. The company has asked for authorization in both the U.S. and Europe for what would be the first pill to treat COVID-19. All other treatments backed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration require an IV or injection.

CATERPILLAR-EARNINGS

Resurgent demand drives Caterpillar sales in third quarter

UNDATED (AP) — Construction demand drove third quarter sales higher at Caterpillar as did rising demand from miners and other heavy industry as the global economy emerges from the pandemic. Revenue climbed 25% to $12.4 billion. Despite falling just shy of Wall Street projections on revenue, shares of Caterpillar are up 2% in early trading on Thursday. The construction industry was hit by the spread of COVID-19 like all others, but the pandemic did drive housing, and construction, demand as people sought larger or new places to live. Mining and construction have taken off this year as well as industries begin to elevate production.

GENETICALLY MODIFIED STRAWBERRIES

US companies announce plans for gene-edited strawberries

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho company that successfully brought genetically modified potatoes to the market has announced an agreement to help a California-based plant breeding company grow strawberries they say will stay fresh longer and have a longer growing season. J.R. Simplot Company and Plant Sciences Inc. said Thursday they expect to launch the first commercially available, gene-edited strawberries within a few years. U.S. growers produced $2.2 billion in strawberries in 2020, but consumers discarded an estimated 35% of the crop due to spoilage. The two privately held companies say genetically modified strawberries will help reduce waste and make them available to consumers much of the year.

GE APPLIANCES-KENTUCKY

GE Appliances announces $450 million investment in Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — GE Appliances has announced plans to add more than 1,000 jobs at its sprawling Kentucky operations. The company said Thursday the job growth is part of a $450 million investment to boost capacity and launch new products. The Kentucky-based home appliances business didn’t offer specifics about new product plans. But it signaled that part of the investment will be pumped into laundry, dishwasher and refrigeration lines at its Louisville production complex — known as Appliance Park. The company says the jobs are expected to be added by the end of 2023. Appliance Park has a current workforce of about 7,100.

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