Update on the latest business

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks drift between small gains, losses

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NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks are drifting between small gains and losses in afternoon trading on Wall Street as losses for banks and big technology companies offset gains elsewhere in the market.

The drift came a day after the market failed to hold on to an early gain. Several retailers were moving higher, including Target and Kohl's, which reported results that were better than analysts were expecting.

Victoria's Secret maker L Brands jumped after an activist investor called on the company to split up. Barington Capital Group laid out a number of recommendations in a letter to L Brands CEO saying Victoria's Secret has become outdated and failed to adapt to "women's evolving attitudes towards beauty, diversity and inclusion.

NEW-HOME SALES

US new-home sales rose 3.7 per cent in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of new U.S. homes climbed in December to their highest pace in seven months, a sign that lower mortgage rates are helping the real estate market.

The Commerce Department says that new-home sales rose 3.7 per cent in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 621,000. November's sales were revised down to 599,000 from an annual rate of 657,000.

For all of 2018, new-home sales rose 1.5 per cent. Purchases began to dip in June as higher mortgage rates affected affordability, but mortgage rates have fallen since peaking in early November and that appears to be supporting a sales rebound.

Price growth has stalled as sales sipped last year. The median sales price of a new home in December was $318,600, a 7.2 per cent drop from a year ago.

ECONOMY-SERVICES

US service firms grew at fastest pace since fall 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. service companies grew in February at the fastest pace in three months, rebounding after a decline in January.

The Institute for Supply Management reports that its service index rose to 59.7 per cent last month, up from 56.7 per cent in January. The January reading was the lowest since July 2018, depressed by concern over the impact of the partial government shutdown on the economy which ended after 35 days.

The February gauge was the highest since November.

Any reading above 50 signals growth. The index shows that service industries, where most Americans work, have been expanding for 109 consecutive months. ISM says that executives of service companies are concerned about U.S. trade disputes, but they remain optimistic about overall business conditions.

EXXON MOBIL-PERMIAN BASIN

Exxon raises production forecast in Texas and New Mexico

DALLAS (AP) — Exxon Mobil is boosting its projected growth of oil and gas production in the Permian Basin and says the field can be profitable even at lower crude prices.

The company said it expects to produce the equivalent of more than 1 million barrels of oil per day as soon as 2024, up from a forecast of 600,000 barrels by 2025. Exxon has 48 drilling rigs in the basin and plans to raise that to 55 by year-end.

The oil giant estimates that it is sitting on about 10 billion barrels of oil in the basin which straddles western Texas and New Mexico.

Exxon is updating its forecast before executives hold their annual investor day with analysts tomorrow in New York.

US-TARIFFS-INDIA-TURKEY

Turkey criticizes end to US preferential trade status

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey and India have reacted with a mix of anger and resignation at the United States' decision to end a preferential trade program with the countries that will see some tariffs return on goods. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (LYT'-hy-zur) announced Monday that India and Turkey will no longer qualify for a zero-tariffs status that is given to some poor countries.

Turkey's trade minister says the U.S. decision is inconsistent with the two countries' aim to increase annual bilateral trade to $75 billion and would harm American small- and medium-sized businesses.

The program allows certain products from developing countries to enter the U.S. duty-free.

India said it would accept the decision without further negotiations. In the announcement, Lighthizer said India had not agreed to open up its markets more to U.S. companies.

The office said the decision came at President Donald Trump's direction.

TURKEY-F-35 SALES

U.S. General: No F-35 jet sale to Turkey if it buys Russia system

WASHINGTON (AP) — The top U.S. commander for Europe says he would recommend the United States not sell its high-tech F-35 fighter jet to Turkey, if Ankara moves ahead with plans to buy a Russian missile defence system.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, head of U.S. European Command, says Turkey should reconsider its plan to buy the S-400 from Russia this year or forfeit other future American military aircraft and systems. He says the S-400 surface-to-air missile defence system would be a threat to the F-35.

Scaparrotti says U.S. officials are currently in Turkey explaining the consequences of the S-400 purchase.

The State Department in December approved the sale of a $3.5 billion Patriot missile defence system to Turkey. The F-35 delivery to Turkey has been delayed as negotiations about the Russian S-400 continue.

PAPA JOHN'S-SCHNATTER

Papa John's, Schnatter reach settlement agreement

UNDATED (AP) — Papa John's has reached a settlement agreement with founder John Schnatter (SHNAH'-tur) that will see him step down from the pizza chain's board once an independent director he's approved replaces him.

If a new director isn't named prior to Papa John's 2019 annual shareholders meeting, Schnatter's term will expire at the meeting.

Schnatter will also withdraw a lawsuit in which he accused the company of not giving him information he wanted after he resigned as chairman.

Papa John's, which was founded in 1984, has been floundering after a series of missteps by Schnatter, who blamed disappointing sales on NFL player protests and used the N-word during a company conference call. Schnatter stepped down as CEO in late 2017 and resigned as chairman last July.

EUROPE-AUTO SAFETY CARTELS

EU regulator fines car safety equipment firms over cartels

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's anti-trust regulator says it's fining auto safety equipment suppliers Autoliv and TRW more than $417 million for stifling competition by running cartels.

The European Commission said that the two companies — along with a third, Takata — took part in cartels supplying car seatbelts, air bags and steering wheels to the Volkswagen and BMW groups.

It says Takata avoided fines for blowing the whistle. All three acknowledged involvement and agreed to settle.

The commission says the cartels hurt European consumers and impact the competitiveness of the European automotive sector, which employs around 13 million people, and that any person or company affected by the two cartels' actions can seek damages in court.

GENEVA AUTO SHOW

Geneva show has electrics, sports cars and a VW dune buggy

GENEVA (AP) — Carmakers at the Geneva International Motor Show are unveiling new electric vehicles they hope will transform the industry as well as the high-end sports cars that are a fixture at the show.

European automakers are rolling out more electric cars to meeting tougher limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Volvo Car Group's Polestar is showing off a battery-powered midsize hatchback while Volkswagen is touting the "ID. Buggy", a dune buggy with waterproof seats and holes to drain off the water after surfing. Honda is also showing a battery vehicle.

Lamborghini has the Huracan EVO Spyder convertible with a top speed of 202 mph. Pininfarina unveiled the Battista, a battery powered speedster that can hit 62 mph in less than two seconds.

AUDI RECALL

Audi recalls nearly 75,000 vehicles due to fire risk

DETROIT (AP) — Volkswagen's Audi luxury brand is recalling nearly 75,000 cars and SUVs in the U.S. because fuel leaks in the engine could cause fires.

The recall covers certain A6, A7, and Q7 SUVs from the 2016 through 2018 model years. Also included are A8 sedans from 2015 through 2018.

The company says in documents posted Tuesday by the U.S. government that parts of the fuel injection system can leak, and if the fuel hits an ignition source, it can catch fire. The documents didn't list any fires or injuries. A message was left Tuesday for an Audi spokesman.

Dealers will replace the left and right fuel injector rails at no cost to owners.

Audi says owners will be notified by mail in mid-March.

WALMART LAWSUIT

Jury awards nearly $17 million to woman injured at Walmart

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A jury in West Virginia has returned a nearly $17 million verdict against Walmart after a woman was injured when staffers tried to detain a shoplifter.

Jurors in Wood County, West Virginia, issued the verdict Monday.

A lawyer for 53-year-old Diane Ankrom says employees tried to detain the shoplifter when he ran into her shopping cart, sending her to the ground with the cart falling on top of her. The lawyers say she suffered internal injuries to her intestines that required surgeries.

Her attorney says the shoplifter had tried to steal gloves but had already returned them when staffers tried to catch him.

A Walmart spokesman says they are sympathetic to Ankrom's injuries but believe the shoplifter is responsible. He says they are evaluating post-trial options.

© Copyright Westman Journal

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