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Update on the latest in business:

December 28, 2018

FINANCIAL MARKETS

US stocks waver

UNDATED (AP) — U.S. stocks are wavering between small gains and losses in midday trading Friday as the market continues to churn amid the volatile trading that has gripped the market throughout December.

Gains in banks, retailers and health care companies are outweighing losses in energy stocks and elsewhere in the market. Wells Fargo gained 1.1 percent. Amazon added 1.4 percent.

Homebuilders slumped following a report indicating that fewer Americans signed contracts to buy homes last month. Beazer Homes USA dropped 1.1 percent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 54 points to 23,193, while the S&P 500 gained 4 points to 2,493. The Nasdaq added 12 points to 6,591.

Even with recent gains, the Dow and S&P 500 are down around 9 percent for the month.

PENDING HOME SALES

US pending home sales slipped 0.7 percent in November

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer Americans signed contracts to buy homes in November as higher mortgage rates and prices continued to squeeze would-be buyers out of the market.

The National Association of Realtors said Friday that its pending home sales index dipped 0.7 percent last month to 101.4. The index based on contract signings has dropped 7.7 percent over the past year and has recorded 11 straight year-over-year decreases.

The rate on benchmark 30-year, fixed rate mortgages was 4.55 percent this week, down from 4.62 percent last week but up from 3.99 percent a year ago.

All four U.S. regions have reported annual drops in pending home sales: The West is down 12.2 percent, the South 7.4 percent, the Midwest 7 percent and the Northeast 3.5 percent. From October to November, sales rose 2.8 percent in the West and 2.7 percent in the Northeast but fell 2.7 percent in the South and 2.3 percent in the Midwest.

Pending sales are a barometer of home purchases that are completed a month or two later. So the November index suggests that sales will possibly decline through January.

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN-THE LATEST

The Latest: Democrats refuse to fund Trump’s “immoral” wall

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are holding firm in the standoff over a border wall, saying they won’t seriously consider any White House offer to end the government shutdown until it has a public endorsement from President Donald Trump.

Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats will not fund Trump’s “immoral, ineffective and expensive wall.” Hammill said Democrats are waiting for Trump to publicly endorse a proposal to end the shutdown because he “has changed his position so many times.”

The White House is accusing Democrats of walking away from the negotiating table.

Trump raised the stakes on Friday, reissuing threats to shut the U.S.-Mexico border to pressure Congress to fund the wall and to shut off aid to three Central American countries from which many migrants have fled.

The president also signaled he was in no rush to seek a resolution, welcoming the fight as he heads toward his own bid for re-election in 2020. He tweeted Thursday evening that Democrats may be able to block him now, “but we have the issue, Border Security. 2020!”

The shutdown is forcing hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors to stay home or work without pay, and many are experiencing mounting stress from the impasse.

Democrats brushed off the White House’s attempt to cast blame.

Pelosi has vowed to pass legislation as soon as she takes the gavel, which is expected when the new Congress convenes, to reopen the nine shuttered departments and dozens of agencies now hit by the partial shutdown.

CLEAN AIR-MERCURY

EPA proposes easing regulation of mercury from coal plants

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency is considering backing off of its regulation of toxic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

In an announcement Friday, the EPA proposes what would be another Trump administration rollback of federal enforcement under the Clean Air Act. It’s the latest administration effort on behalf of the country’s coal industry.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of mercury pollution. Mercury harms the developing nervous systems of children and causes other severe health damage.

Environmental groups say federal and state limits have helped cut mercury emissions from power plants by 85 percent since 2006.

But the new EPA finding would conclude it’s not “appropriate” for the agency to regulate the toxic emissions.

Environmental groups fear the move is a step toward rolling back toxic-emissions standards for coal-fired plants.

TESLA-BOARD

Tesla names Oracle’s Ellison to board in SEC settlement

NEW YORK (AP) — Tesla named Oracle’s Larry Ellison and an executive from Walgreens to its board Friday as part of a settlement with U.S. regulators who demanded more oversight of CEO Elon Musk.

Ellison and Kathleen Wilson-Thompson, an executive vice president at Walgreens Boots Alliance, join the board as independent directors, effective immediately.

Musk got into trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission in early August when he said in a tweet that he had “funding secured” to take the electric car company private at $420 per share.

The SEC accused Musk of committing securities fraud, saying that the funding had not been secured and that he had duped investors who drove shares of Tesla up by 11 percent on the day of the tweet. Several weeks later, Musk said the go-private deal was off.

Regulators initially wanted to force Musk out of his job as CEO, but agreed to accept $20 million in penalties from both Musk and Tesla. Musk did agree to step down as chairman for at least three years, but acknowledged now wrong-doing.

Despite the agreement, Musk has continued to clash with regulators.

WAR ROBOTS

Army looks for a few good robots, sparks industry battle

CHELMSFORD, Mass. (AP) — The Army is looking for a few good robots. Not to fight — not yet, at least — but to help the men and women who do.

These robots aren’t taking up arms, but the companies making them have waged a different kind of battle. At stake is a contract worth almost half a billion dollars for 3,000 backpack-sized robots that can defuse bombs and scout enemy positions. Competition for the work has spilled over into Congress and federal court.

Paul Scharre, a military technology expert at the Center for a New American Security said the project and others like it could someday help troops “look around the corner, over the next hillside and let the robot be in harm’s way and let the robot get shot.”

The big fight over small robots opens a window into the intersection of technology and national defense and shows how fear that China could surpass the U.S. drives even small tech startups to play geopolitics to outmaneuver rivals. It also raises questions about whether defense technology should be sourced solely to American companies to avoid the risk of tampering by foreign adversaries.

Regardless of which companies prevail, the competition foreshadows a future in which robots, which are already familiar military tools, become even more common. The Army’s immediate plans alone envision a new fleet of 5,000 ground robots of varying sizes and levels of autonomy. The Marines, Navy and Air Force are making similar investments.

INTERNET OUTAGE

Nationwide internet outage affects CenturyLink customers

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Many CenturyLink customers across the U.S. were without internet Thursday amid a lengthy outage that even affected some Verizon customers.

The outage began early in the day but by late Thursday night, the company tweeted that its engineers had identified a “network element” that was affecting services and expected to fully restore services within hours.

Customers from New York to California reported outages and Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, said via Twitter it was a nationwide outage and her agency needed to investigate.

The outage knocked out 911 emergency call services in some areas.

Some ATM machines weren’t working in Idaho and Montana.

Verizon said it had service interruptions in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and parts of Montana as a result of issues with CenturyLink. Verizon said CenturyLink helps handle wireless network data traffic for Verizon and other wireless providers.

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