NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks wobbled in afternoon trading on Wall Street as investors reviewed the latest earnings reports from retailers and an update on the employment market. The S&P 500 rose 0.2%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.3% and the Nasdaq composite rose 0.3%. Financial companies had some of the broadest losses. Bond yields edged lower. Solid earnings reports helped lift chipmaker Nvidia and several retailers, including Macy’s and Kohl’s. The Labor Department reported that the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell for the seventh straight week to a pandemic low of 268,000.
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U.S. jobless claims drop seventh straight week to 268,000
WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits has fallen for the seventh straight week to a pandemic low 268,000. The Labor Department says jobless claims dipped by 1,000 last week from the week before. Claims have been edging lower since topping 900,000 one week in early January, and are moving closer to their prepandemic level of around 220,000 a week. The four-week average of claims, which smooths week-to-week volatility, also fell last week to a pandemic low just below 273,000.
30-year mortgage rate back up over 3%
SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — The average long-term U.S. mortgage rate rose this week, with the main 30-year rate inching back up over 3%. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year benchmark home loan jumped to a still-low 3.1% from 2.98% last week. A year ago at this time the rate was 2.72%. The rate for a 15-year loan, popular with homeowners refinancing their mortgages, rose to 2.39% from 2.27% last week. It stood at 2.28% a year ago.
Pressure on Fed’s Powell is rising as inflation worsens
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell surely expected to have some breathing room after taking the first step this month to dial back the Fed’s emergency aid for the economy. Just a week later, though, the government reported that consumer prices grew over the previous 12 months by the most in three decades. The inflation spike has squeezed consumers, posed a threat to the Biden administration and intensified pressure on Powell to act. Some economists — and some Fed officials — want the Fed to move faster to rein in its ultra-low-rate policies. Other policymakers favor a more patient approach to interest rates. It all comes just as President Joe Biden is considering whether to offer Powell a second four-year term as Fed chair.
BIDEN-HOME HEATING BILLS
White House offering more aid for winter heat, utility bills
UNDATED (AP) — The Biden administration is helping to distribute several billion dollars in aid for winter heating and utility bills. The money comes largely from the administration’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. It provides an additional $4.5 billion for the government’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which typically has funding of $3 billion to $4 billion annually. Aid for renters can also cover utility costs. The White House is hosting a call Thursday for governors’ offices to help release the aid to vulnerable households. Speakers will include the Energy and Health and Human Services secretaries and the governors of Connecticut, Maine, Michigan and Minnesota.
Biden aims to limit turnover among federal contract workers
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is signing an executive order Thursday aimed at limiting turnover for federal service contract workers by offering them right of first refusal when a contract changes hands. Under the order, when a federal service contract is transferred from one contractor to another, employees from the previous contract who performed their jobs well must be offered the opportunity to keep their job working for the new contractor. The order covers more than 2 million federal contractors, who do everything from fulfill building maintenance roles to operate technical equipment. The White House said the order will reduce turnover among workers who fulfill critical roles supporting federal operations. It’s aimed at preventing disruptions and the expense of recruiting and training workers to fill jobs that existing contractors do well.
BIDEN-NORTH AMERICAN SUMMIT
Differences endure as Biden brings back North America summit
WASHINGTON (AP) — North America’s leaders are reviving three-way summitry after a Trump-era break. President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will resume the tradition of the North America Leaders Summit on Thursday in Washington. Such meetings were dropped during the Trump administration. The three North American allies find themselves facing deep differences on migration, climate and trade as they meet this time. The North American summit tradition started with George W. Bush hosting Mexico’s Vicente Fox and Canada’s Paul Martin in 2005 for talks at his Texas ranch.
BANK REGULATOR BATTLE-HEARING
GOP paints Biden’s choice for bank regulator as radical
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s choice to run one of the agencies charged with overseeing the banking industry faced sharp questioning Thursday from Republican senators, who tried to label Saule Omarova as someone who would nationalize the U.S. banking system. Omarova, 55, was nominated in September to be the nation’s next comptroller of the currency. If confirmed, she would be the first woman and person of color to run the 158-year-old agency. Many Republicans and the banking industry have taken issue with several papers published during her career where she’s proposed wholesale changes to the banking system.
PFIZER-POTENTIAL COVID-19 TREATMENT
Pfizer, US ink $5.29B deal for possible COVID-19 treatment
The U.S. government will pay drugmaker Pfizer $5.29 billion for 10 million treatment courses of its potential COVID-19 treatment if regulators authorize it. Pfizer asked U.S. regulators on Tuesday to authorize emergency use of its experimental pill, which has been shown to significantly cut the rate of hospitalizations and deaths among people with COVID-19. Pfizer reported earlier this month that its pill cut hospitalizations and deaths by 89% among high-risk adults who had early symptoms. The Food and Drug Administration is already reviewing a competing pill from Merck and will hold a public meeting on it later this month.
EU drug agency starts evaluating new COVID-19 treatment
AMSTERDAM (AP) — The European Union’s medicines authority says it has begun evaluating a new drug for treating COVID-19 patients who do not require extra oxygen but are at increased risk of developing severe symptoms of the disease. The drug developed by U.S. company Vir Biotechnology and Britain-based GlaxoSmithKline uses lab-made versions of virus-blocking antibodies that help fight off infections. Antibody treatments remain one of a handful of therapies that can blunt the worst effects of COVID-19. The European Medicines Agency said that it has begun evaluating a marketing authorization application for Xevudy and could issue an opinion within two months if the data is sufficiently robust.
German lawmakers back new COVID measures after dire warnings
BERLIN (AP) — German lawmakers have approved new measures to rein in record coronavirus infections after the head of Germany’s disease control agency warned the country could face a “really terrible Christmas.” The measures passed in the Bundestag on Thursday includes requirements for employees to prove they are vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 or have tested negative for the virus in order to access communal workplaces. They still need to be approved by Germany’s upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat. Germany’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 65,371 new daily cases, shattering the previous 24-hour record and continuing an upward trend that experts have warned about for weeks.
VIRUS OUTBREAK-CZECH REPUBLIC
Czechs, Slovaks target unvaccinated with new restrictions
PRAGUE (AP) — The Czech and Slovak governments have approved new coronavirus restrictions that specifically target unvaccinated people amid a record surge of infections. They come into effect Monday. The Czech health minister says most unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed to show coronavirus test results in order to attend public events, go to bars or restaurants, visit hairdressers, museums and similar facilities or use hotels. Only people who are vaccinated and those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 will remain eligible. In Slovakia, those who have not been vaccinated will be banned from all non-essential stores and shopping malls. They’ll not be allowed to attend any public events and gatherings.
VIRUS OUTBREAK-DISNEY CRUISES-VACCINE REQUIREMENT
Disney now requiring cruise guests 5 and older to be vaxxed
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Disney Cruise Line will require all guests ages 5 and up to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before setting sail starting early next year. The company posted a statement on its website Wednesday announcing the new rules will begin Jan. 13, 2022. The vaccine was recently approved for children ages 5 to 12. The cruise line currently requires anyone 12 and older who is vaccine-eligible to be vaccinated. Passengers not vaccine-eligible must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test result taken between 3 days and 24 hours before the ship sails. The vaccine requirement runs against a Florida law banning vaccine mandates.
CVS HEALTH-STORE CLOSURES
CVS Health to close hundreds of drugstores
UNDATED (AP) — CVS Health will close hundreds of drugstores over the next three years, as the retail giant adjusts to changing customer needs and converts to new store formats. The company says it will close about 300 stores a year for the next three years as it looks to reduce store count density in some locations. The total of around 900 amounts to nearly a tenth of the roughly 10,000 retail locations CVS Health operates. The company also sells insurance and runs prescription drug plans for big clients like insurers and employers.
Macy’s, Kohl’s post strong results heading into holidays
NEW YORK (AP) — Department store chains Macy’s and Kohl’s delivered strong results for the fiscal third quarter as shoppers go back to buying dresses and other goods that fell to the bottom of the shopping list when the pandemic struck. Macy’s and Kohl’s swung to a quarterly profit as sales surged. Both companies raised their annual financial outlooks. Macy’s and Kohl’s join a slew of other retailers posting strong sales as they overcome surging costs and snarled supply chains ahead of the holiday shopping season. They’re rerouting shipping to less congested ports to get goods onto shelves. Retailers like Macy’s are also paying higher wages and expanding benefits for workers amid a tight labor market.
With supply short, Ford dips toe into computer chip business
DETROIT (AP) — Ford Motor Co. is in talks with a computer chip maker GlobalFoundaries Inc. to shore up its semiconductor supplies as it tries to avoid factory shutdowns in the future. Few details of the nonbinding agreement were released, but the deal aims to boost supplies with joint development of automotive-grade chips. And it could result in joint manufacturing to support the auto industry, the companies said Thursday in a statement. Ford has been hit particularly hard by a global shortage of computer chips that has affected nearly all automakers. Like other companies, Ford at times has had to temporarily close factories and even build models without some computers and install them later.
CONSUMER REPORTS-AUTO RELIABILITY
Glitchy features dent electric SUV reliability, survey finds
DETROIT (AP) — Consumer Reports says electric SUVs generally are among the least reliable vehicles on the road, but it’s not because of the batteries or electric motors that power them. The magazine and website’s annual auto reliability survey found that it’s because of glitch-prone electronics including climate controls and power equipment. Electric SUVs were the least reliable category in the annual survey of subscribers who have more than 300,000 vehicles. Compact and plug-in gas-electric hybrids were the most reliable category.
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