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Update on the latest in business:

February 20, 2018

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Technology companies rally, offsetting a plunge in Walmart

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stock indexes were mostly higher in midday trading today as investors sized up earnings from several big companies.

Disappointing results sent Walmart into a steep slide, pulling down shares in other major retailers and cutting into gains from a rally in technology stocks. The market, which reopened for business after a long holiday weekend, is coming off a six-day winning streak.

At 12:48 p.m. Eastern Time, the S&P 500 was up 2 points, to 2,734. The Dow was down 97 points, to 25,121. And the Nasdaq was up 50 points, to 7,289.

TRUMP-HEALTH OVERHAUL

Trump plan: Less-comprehensive health plans at lower cost

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is clearing the way for a lower-cost alternative to comprehensive medical insurance plans sold under former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Proposed regulations out today from the Health and Human Services department would allow health insurers to sell so-called “short-term” policies that would last up to 12 months. The plans wouldn’t have to meet the Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections, or offer a robust benefit package.

That means short-term policies would come with lower premiums. The administration is hoping that will help several million consumers who buy individual plans but aren’t eligible for subsidies under the Obama health care law.

Critics say short-term policies wouldl draw healthy people away from the health law’s insurance markets, potentially making them less stable and raising subsidy costs for taxpayers.

SEXUAL MISCONDUCT-GUESS

Guess co-founder steps aside amid misconduct investigation

NEW YORK (AP) — Guess Inc. says that co-founder Paul Marciano will give up his day-to-day responsibilities at the clothing company until a sexual misconduct investigation is completed.

Model and actress Kate Upton told Time magazine earlier this month that Marciano forcibly grabbed her breasts during a Guess photo shoot nearly eight years ago. She also says that he harassed her by showing up at hotels she was staying at and texting her inappropriate comments.

Marciano has denied the allegations.

Guess, based in Los Angeles, says that Marciano will not be paid while he steps aside. He is an executive chairman of the company’s board, and is its chief creative officer.

Marciano, who co-founded the brand with his brother in 1981, also owns a 17 percent stake in Guess.

QUALCOMM-NXP

Qualcomm raises bid for NXP to about $43.22B

UNDATED (AP) — Qualcomm is raising its takeover bid for NXP Semiconductors by nearly 16 percent to about $43.22 billion, citing in part NXP’s strong results since the companies first announced their merger in October 2016.

The move announced today comes as Qualcomm itself is in the crosshairs of Broadcom Ltd., which earlier this month raised its own cash and stock bid for Qualcomm to $121 billion.

Qualcomm, based in San Diego, had offered $110 per share cash for NXP, based in The Netherlands. It said Tuesday it’s now offering $127.50 per share. The chipmaker said holders of 28 percent of NXP stock have agreed to tender their shares at the higher price.

In premarket trading, NXP shares rose 6 percent to $125.89. Qualcomm slid 2.5 percent to $63.15.

ALBERTSONS-RITE AID DEAL

Grocery retailer Albertsons to buy drugstore chain Rite Aid

UNDATED (AP) — The privately held owner of Safeway, Vons and other grocery brands is plunging deeper into the pharmacy business with a deal to buy Rite Aid, the nation’s third-largest drugstore chain.

Albertsons Companies is offering either a share of its stock and $1.83 in cash or slightly more than a share for every 10 shares of Rite Aid. A deal value was not disclosed in a statement released Tuesday by the companies.

Shares of Rite Aid, which have shed more than half their value over the past year, surged 26 cents, or 12.2 percent, in premarket trading after the deal was announced.

Shareholders of Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons will own more than 70 percent of the combined company, which is expected to trade on the New York Stock Exchange. The companies say the deal should close in the second half of this year, but regulators and Rite Aid shareholders still have to approve it.

LIBERTY TAX-CEO FIRED

Liberty Tax fires second chief executive in 6 months

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — Liberty Tax has fired its chief executive officer and replaced him with a board member handpicked by the company’s founder, who was also fired less than six months ago.

The Virginia Beach-based Liberty Tax is the third-largest tax preparation chain in the country, behind H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt. The Virginian-Pilot reports that the company announced the firing of Ed Brunot Monday, with no explanation.

Brunot replaced founder John T. Hewitt when the board voted to fire Hewitt in September after an internal investigation found he’d likely had multiple romantic relationships with employees and franchisees and given those women preferential treatment.

Nicole Ossenfort was named as Brunot’s replacement. In an email obtained by The Pilot, Ossenfort notes that Hewitt will serve in an advisory role and remain chairman of the board.

MOROCCO-UBER

Uber pulls out of Morocco amid tensions

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Uber is pulling out of Morocco — a decision the San Francisco-headquartered company says is linked to the North African country’s failure to reform its strict transport rules.

For nearly three years, Uber has been operating illegally in Morocco — despite currently having 19,000 users in Morocco and more than 300 drivers.

In a statement Uber said “as long as there is no real reform ... we are forced to suspend our operations.”

Uber drivers have often been targets of intimidation.

Videos have captured Uber drivers in Casablanca surrounded by regular taxi drivers, awaiting the authorities, and in some instances the clashes have become violent.

Bouchaib Abdel Moughit of Casablanca’s Taxi Union voiced relief at Uber’s departure: “For three years, they stole our living. The competition was unfair.”

BRITAIN-KFC-NO CHICKEN

Hundreds of KFC outlets in UK closed amid chicken shortage

LONDON (AP) — No KFC in Britain, y’all.

Kentucky Fried Chicken says about 470 of the fried chicken chain’s 900 U.K. restaurants remained closed today because of a chicken shortage. The company says the disruption started last week, when it changed its delivery provider to DHL.

Stores that are open are on shortened hours or have limited menus.

The fried chicken chain says it expects problems to continue throughout the week.

EARNS-WAL-MART STORES

Walmart 4Q profit misses, e-commerce cools

NEW YORK (AP) — Walmart reported a lower-than-expected fourth-quarter profit and is wrestled with slower e-commerce sales during the busiest time of the year.

The news overshadowed the discounter’s better-than-expected sales at its established stores and higher customer counts as online services linked to its fleet attract more shoppers.

GAP-PERSONNEL

Gap’s CEO of its namesake brand stepping down

NEW YORK (AP) — Gap says the president and CEO of its namesake business is stepping down and it’s looking for a replacement.

Jeff Kirwan, who joined Gap in 2004, took the helm of the retailer’s brand four years ago.

Brent Hyder, Gap executive vice president of global talent and sustainability, will serve as interim brand president.

Gap, once the cool brand in the 1990s, has lost its way as it wrestles with stiffer competition from the likes of fast-fashion players like H&M.

The brand saw improving sales in its fiscal third quarter, but Gap Inc.’s CEO says it needs a new leader to take it to the next level. The San Francisco company also operates Old Navy and Banana Republic stores.

Gap’s shares fell nearly 4 percent to $31.96 in morning trading.

AMAZON-PITTSBURGH

Amazon to create another 125 tech jobs in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Amazon has announced plans to create another 125 technology jobs in Pittsburgh, more than doubling its current tech workforce in the city.

The company said the new jobs will be in fields such as machine translation and speech science, and it has secured an additional 22,000 square feet to expand its existing office.

Amazon announced opening of the Pittsburgh facility last year. It’s one of more than a dozen “tech hubs” around the country that invent and build new products and services.

The company says the Pittsburgh facility focuses on shopping and entertainment in multiple languages “and played a key role in the launch of Amazon.com in Spanish.”

OKLAHOMA-GOOGLE EXPANSION

Google plans to expand data center in Oklahoma

PRYOR, Okla. (AP) — Google is planning to open another four-story data center in Oklahoma, bringing the company’s total investment in the state to at least $2.5 billion.

The Tulsa World reports the company recently announced its plans for the $600 million data center. The plans call for expanding Google’s campus at the MidAmerica Industrial Park near Pryor, which is about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of Tulsa.

Officials declined to give a timeline for the project or how it would affect job totals. But leaders in Pryor say the expansion could add up to $200,000 to the local economy in tax revenues for the next couple of years.

The Mayes County campus currently employs more than 400 people.

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