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June 14, 2018

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks make modest gains

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are trading modestly higher in midday trading on Wall Street as investors cheer strong retail sales growth in May.

U.S. retail sales rose last month by the largest amount since November, a signal to investors that consumers are very confident about the U.S. economy.

Comcast is up 3 percent and Walt Disney is up 1.9 percent as the two companies battle for control of businesses being sold by Twenty-First Century Fox. Fox shares gained 1.7 percent.

RETAIL SALES

US retail sales climb in May by the most in 6 months

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. retail sales rose by the most in six months in May, as consumers spent more at home and garden stores, gas stations and restaurants.

The Commerce Department says retail sales rose 0.8 percent last month, the largest increase since November. Excluding the volatile gas and auto categories, sales also rose 0.8 percent.

Consumers are very confident in the economic outlook, buoyed by steady job gains, an unemployment rate at an 18-year low of 3.8 percent, and the Trump administration’s tax cuts. The solid job gains have meant more Americans earning paychecks to spend.

Healthier consumer spending is accelerating growth after a sluggish first quarter. Analysts forecast growth is likely to reach 4 percent in the April-June quarter, up from 2.2 percent in the first three months of the year.

MORTGAGE RATES

US long-term mortgage rates jump; 30-year at 4.62 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Long-term U.S. mortgage rates jumped this week after two straight weeks of declines, reaching their second-highest level this year.

Long-term loan rates have been running at their highest levels in seven years. And the Federal Reserve on Wednesday raised its benchmark interest rate for the second time this year and signaled that it may step up its pace of rate increases.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages was 4.62 percent, up from 4.54 percent last week. By contrast, the 30-year rate averaged 3.91 percent a year ago.

The average rate on 15-year, fixed-rate loans increased to 4.07 percent from 4.01 percent last week.

IMF-US ECONOMY

IMF: Tax cuts boosting US now but will hurt growth later

WASHINGTON (AP) — The International Monetary Fund believes the U.S. economy will post solid growth this year and next, helped by a sizable boost from tax cuts. But then it says growth will slide as huge budget deficits drag growth far below the Trump administration’s goals.

In its annual assessment of the U.S. economy, the IMF says growth will hit 2.9 percent this year and 2.7 percent next year. Both are significant increases from last year’s 2.3 percent expansion. However, after an initial boost from the $1.5 trillion tax cut package, the IMF forecasts growth will slow steadily in future years, dropping to 1.4 percent in 2023.

This forecast is far below the Trump administration, which is predicting its economic program will deliver growth of 3 percent or better in coming years.

TRUMP-FOUNDATION-INVESTIGATION

New York sues President Trump’s charitable foundation

NEW YORK (AP) — The Trump Foundation says a lawsuit filed against it by New York’s attorney general is “politics at its very worst.”

The suit filed Thursday says President Donald Trump illegally used the charity to pay legal settlements related to his golf clubs, buy a painting of himself and bolster his political image with donations directed by his campaign staff.

The foundation is defending its record, saying it had donated over $19 million to worthy charitable causes. It said in a statement that it had been planning to shut down for more than a year, but had been stopped from doing so because of the state’s investigation.

It also said it had $1.7 million remaining to give out to charity “that the NYAG has been holding hostage for political gain.”

SPORTS BETTING

New Jersey launches sports betting

OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey has launched sports betting.

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy kicked off a new era of gambling in the state, making the first official bets on Thursday morning at Monmouth Park, a racetrack near the Jersey shore.

He placed two $20 bets — one on Germany to win soccer’s World Cup and another on the New Jersey Devils to win next year’s Stanley Cup.

New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case last month that cleared the way for all 50 states to offer sports betting should they choose.

The Borgata casino planned to start taking bets 30 minutes after Murphy made his.

Other casinos and tracks eventually plan to offer sports betting, but none has announced plans to do so in the next few days.

CHICAGO-O’HARE EXPRESS

Musk company to build Chicago-to-O’Hare express transport

CHICAGO (AP) — A company founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been selected to build a high-speed underground transportation system that will whisk passengers from downtown Chicago to O’Hare International Airport in minutes.

Adam Collins, a spokesman for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, confirmed in a tweet the selection of The Boring Company Wednesday night. Collins says the journey in electric vehicles will take roughly 12 minutes. The Boring Company will fund the project in its entirety.

The company says on its website that each vehicle will carry eight to 16 people and travel at speeds of 125 to 150 mph (200 to 240 kph).

Emanuel says the system will strengthen “our great city for future generations.”

The Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line trains currently provide transportation from the city to O’Hare.

MICROSOFT-AUTOMATED CHECKOUT

Microsoft follows Amazon in pursuit of cashier-less stores

UNDATED (AP) — Microsoft is working on automated checkout technology that could help retailers compete with Amazon’s new cashier-less stores.

One firm building automated checkout systems, AVA Retail, said Thursday it is working with Microsoft on the technology for physical stores. Both companies have headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

AVA Retail CEO Atul Hirpara says Microsoft’s cloud computing technology will power the retail system.

Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Amazon opened its first cashier-less Amazon Go store in Seattle this year and plans more locations in Chicago and San Francisco. Overhead cameras and other technology help keep track of customers and what they’re buying.

Microsoft’s interest in working with retailers on similar technology was reported earlier by Reuters.

RIDE-HAILING INSURANCE

Startup launches insurance for Uber, Lyft passengers

UNDATED (AP) — Grabbing a ride from Uber or Lyft? Now you can get an insurance policy from your phone for the ride too.

Startup SURE says it has partnered with underwriter Chubb to launch a new service that allows passengers to buy accidental medical, death and dismemberment insurance coverage for the ride.

While ride-hailing companies typically provide liability insurance coverage for U.S. drivers that would cover passengers in an accident, this product aims to fill in any potential gaps.

The program, called RideSafe, works by connecting a customer’s Uber or Lyft account to their SURE Insurance app, and once coverage is initially authorized, the passenger’s ride is automatically insured.

The company said Thursday that future versions of its RideSafe product will include coverage for passengers riding in autonomous vehicles used for ride-sharing.

BRITAIN-ROLLS-ROYCE

Rolls-Royce to axe 4,600 jobs in major restructuring

LONDON (AP) — Rolls-Royce plans to cut 4,600 jobs over the next 2 years as part of a major restructuring effort by the British plane engine manufacturer.

The company says Thursday it wants to save 400 million pounds ($537 million) over the next two years to sustain an increase in profits.

Rolls-Royce outperformed expectations in 2017, when pre-tax profits rose to 1.1 billion pounds ($1.5 billion dollars) from 813 million pounds ($1.1 billion dollars) a year earlier.

CEO Warren East says “These changes will help us deliver over the mid- and longer-term a level of free cash flow well beyond our near-term ambition of around 1 billion pounds by around 2020.”

GERMANY-VOLKSWAGEN

Prosecutor: VW responsible as a whole for diesel scandal

BERLIN (AP) — German prosecutors say that automaker Volkswagen as a whole is responsible for the 2015 diesel emissions cheating scandal, a day after the company said it would accept a one-billion euro fine (1.18 billion dollars).

Braunschweig senior prosecutor Klaus Ziehe said Thursday his investigation concluded the company failed to properly oversee its engine development department, but that the scandal cannot be attributed to a single department alone.

More than 10 million diesel vehicles were sold internationally with illegal emissions-controlling software.

Ziehe said the fine was “painful,” adding it’s the highest amount of money to be ever fined against a German company.

Prosecutors say the fine has to be paid within six weeks.

The scandal has already cost Volkswagen $20 billion in fines and civil settlements in the U.S.

GREECE-BAILOUT

Greek parliament approves final bailout reforms

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek lawmakers have approved the final batch of creditor-mandated economic reforms as the end of their country’s international bailout approaches.

The lawmakers voted 154-144 in parliament Thursday to approve the bill which includes a raft of reforms on issues ranging from pension cuts to health care and tax reforms. During the parliamentary debate ahead of the vote, around 3,000 demonstrators marched through central Athens in protest.

The bill was the last step Greece’s government was required to make ahead of a meeting next week of finance ministers of the 19-nation eurozone, where Greece and its creditors are to reach a final deal on its bailout exit.

Greece is to emerge from its third and final bailout on Aug. 20, after eight years of relying on emergency loans from international creditors.

KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE-SOUTH DAKOTA

South Dakota high court dismisses appeal against Keystone XL

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota’s Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal from opponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying a lower court lacked jurisdiction to hear their cases.

Groups fighting TransCanada Corp.‘s pipeline appealed a judge’s decision last year upholding regulators’ approval for the pipeline to cross the state.

But the high court ruled Wednesday that justices didn’t “reach the merits of the case” because the lower court lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal of the Public Utilities Commission’s decision.

Attorneys for appealing groups haven’t returned telephone messages requesting comment. TransCanada hasn’t responded to an email seeking comment.

The project would move crude oil from Canada across Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines feeding refineries along the Gulf Coast.

ETHANOL RALLY-PRUITT

Farmer, ethanol producers rally during EPA chief’s visit

(Information in the following story is from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt got a rough reception in South Dakota from farmers and ethanol producers who accused of him of undermining the industry.

About 200 people rallied in Sioux Falls Wednesday, urging Pruitt to support federal ethanol mandates. They criticized him for granting waivers to oil producers allowing them to ignore ethanol-blending rules.

Pruitt said EPA works with other government agencies to determine who receives waivers.

Pruitt also heard from farmers during a two-hour visit to a Reliance farm that wasn’t publicized and was closed to the public. A Daily Republic reporter was turned away but later allowed access.

Pruitt joked about the reception, saying signs greeting him “didn’t say ‘I hope you’re having fun.’” He said messages instead implored him to support ethanol over big oil.

ETSY-FEES

Esty raises fees and revenue outlook, shares soar

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (AP) — Etsy’s stock is soaring at the opening bell after the online crafts company announced an increase in fees and boosted its revenue outlook for the year.

The Brooklyn company said Thursday that the transaction fee charged when a person or business makes a sale will rise from 3.5 percent, to 5 percent. It will also apply to the shipping cost. The fee will be increased starting on July 16.

Etsy Inc. has 2 million active sellers and nearly 35 million active buyers.

The company now sees 2018 revenue growth of between 32 percent and 34 percent. Its prior forecast was for 22 percent to 24 percent growth.

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