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Update on the latest in business:

February 21, 2019

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks lower in afternoon trading

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are lower, putting the S&P 500 index on pace for just its fourth decline this month.

The losses were widespread, with health care stocks, banks and energy companies accounting for much of the decline. CVS Health dropped 2.4 percent, while Morgan Stanley lost 1.2 percent. Oil and natural gas explorer Concho Resources slid 5.8 percent.

A mixed batch of reports on the U.S. economy helped keep markets in check, and investors are also waiting to see what comes out of high-level talks in Washington between U.S. and Chinese officials on their trade dispute.

Treasury yields rose, as prices for government bonds fell. The price of gold declined.

The pause for stocks follows a torrid rise since late December, and the S&P 500 index is still up 10.6 percent for 2019 so far. That’s a better performance than the index has turned in for three of the last four full years.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

Applications for US jobless benefits fell to a low 216,000

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, a sign that layoffs declined and hiring is likely strong.

The Labor Department said weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 216,000, a very low level by historical standards. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to 235,750.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, since people cannot claim benefits unless they lose a job through no fault of their own. Businesses are hiring at healthy levels and posted the most open jobs in nearly two decades in December. With demand for workers strong, companies are holding onto their staffs.

Other economic reports have suggested growth may be slowing this year. Manufacturing output and retail sales have both fallen in the past two months.

DURABLE GOODS

US durable goods orders up 1.2 percent in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods posted a 1.2 percent advance in December, the best showing in four months, but much of the strength came from a surge in orders for commercial aircraft. In a worrisome development, a key category that tracks business investment fell for a second straight month.

The Commerce Department says the December advance in orders for durable goods followed a 1 percent rise in November which was revised up from an initial reading of 0.7 percent.

But orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, a closely watched category used as a proxy for business investment plans, fell 0.7 percent in December after a 1 percent drop in November. The strength in the overall number came from a 28.4 percent jump in commercial aircraft orders.

HOME SALES

US home sales tumbled 1.2 percent in January

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home sales fell 1.2 percent in January to their worst pace in more than three years, as persistent affordability problems have put a harsh chill in the real estate market.

The National Association of Realtors says that sales of existing homes declined 1.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.94 million last month, the slowest sales rate since November 2015.

During the past 12 months, sales have plunged 8.5 percent. Would-be homebuyers are increasingly priced out of the market as years of climbing prices and strained inventories have made ownership too costly. Buyers may find some relief as average mortgage rates have declined this year.

The median sales price in January was $247,500, a slight increase of 2.8 percent from last year.

MORTGAGE RATES

Average US mortgage rates fell this week

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. long-term mortgage rates dipped this week to the lowest average in more than a year, providing a possible boost to the start of the Spring homebuying season in March.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage declined to 4.35 percent from 4.37 percent last week. The key 30-year home borrowing rate averaged 4.40 percent a year ago. This week was the lowest average since the week of February 8, 2018.

The average rate this week for 15-year, fixed-rate loans declined to 3.78 percent from 3.81 percent.

Mortgage rates hew closely to changes in the interest charged on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes. Lower borrowing costs should help boost home sales, as rising mortgage rates in 2018 caused homebuying to tumble last year.

TRUMP-MILEAGE BATTLE

White House ends California talks on mileage standards

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration says it has broken off talks with California in a dispute over mileage standards, moving the two closer to a possible court battle that threatens to roil the auto industry.

The White House announced Thursday it was ending the talks.

The administration wants to block tougher Obama-era mileage standards for vehicles. It has threatened to revoke California’s unique authority to set its own mileage standards as part of that.

Lawmakers and automakers have urged the two sides to settle, warning that a split could divide the auto market, bring years of court battles and raise costs for automakers. California says the administration never offered any compromise.

The administration has also been feuding with Democrat-led California over President Donald Trump’s border wall and funding for high-speed rail.

NIKE-DUKE-WILLIAMSON

Nike probing Zion shoe malfunction that led to injury

NEW YORK (AP) — Nike says it’s investigating why Duke freshman Zion Williamson split a shoe open during a game against rival North Carolina. But the sportswear giant says it’s an “isolated occurrence.”

The Beaverton, Oregon-based company says it’s concerned and says quality and performance of its products are of “utmost importance.”

The shoe malfunction, which forced Williamson to leave the game with a knee sprain, happened in front of a crowd of celebrities, including former President Barack Obama and Spike Lee.

Williamson’s left shoe fell apart as he planted hard near the free throw line. The blue rubber sole ripped loose from the white shoe from the heel to the toes along the outside edge, with Williamson’s foot coming all the way through the large gap.

Nike quickly became the target of ridicule on social media, which presents challenges for the sportswear brand.

Nike’s shares are down 1 percent, or 84 cents, to $84 in early morning trading Thursday.

DOMINO’S PIZZA-RESULTS

Domino’s Q4 same-store sales up, but at a slower pace

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Domino’s Pizza notched its 31st consecutive quarter of U.S. same-store sales growth, but at a slower pace than investors hoped.

Ann Arbor-based Domino’s said sales at established U.S. stores grew 5.6 percent compared with the October-December period in 2017. Wall Street was forecasting growth of 6.8 percent, according to analysts polled by FactSet.

Same-store sales growth at international stores slowed slightly to 2.4 percent. Domino’s closed 2018 with 15,914 stores worldwide.

Domino’s also fell short of profit and revenue targets. Net income rose 20 percent to $112 million in the fourth quarter. Domino’s said gains from a lower tax rate were partially offset by investments in technology.

The earnings, of $2.62 per share, fell short of analysts’ forecast of $2.69.

Fourth-quarter revenue rose 21 percent to $1.08 billion, just shy of forecasts.