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Update on the latest in business:

December 19, 2018

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks gain

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are higher on Wall Street as energy companies benefit from a partial recovery in oil prices following a huge loss the day before.

GlaxoSmithKline jumped 3.1 percent Wednesday after agreeing to combine its consumer product business with Pfizer’s.

FedEx plunged 10 percent after the company said international shipping fell in the latest quarter.

Facebook fell 2.3 percent after the New York Times reported that it gave big technology companies far more access to users’ personal data than it has previously said.

Trading was quiet as the Federal Reserve wraps up its last meeting of the year.

HOME SALES

US home sales rose 1.9 percent in November

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home sales increased in November for the second straight month, but sales plummeted 7 percent from a year ago amid growing affordability pressures.

The National Association of Realtors says that sales of existing homes rose 1.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.32 million last month. But higher mortgage rates have caused sales over the past 12 months to plunge at the steepest pace since May 2011, when the real estate sector was still in the grips of the housing bust.

The declining stock market has created an additional drag for would-be buyers seeking to buy more expensive homes, as sales of properties worth more than $1 million declined from a year ago.

The median sales price in November was $257,700, up 4.2 percent from last year.

MEXICO-US-IMMIGRATION

Mexican president wants US to grant more work visas

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says he hopes to negotiate more U.S. work visas for Mexicans and Central Americans.

Lopez Obrador said relations with the U.S. government are good. In his words, “This new relationship with the U.S. government is on the right track.”

His comments came one day after the administration of President Donald Trump pledged $4.8 billion in development projects for southern Mexico and $5.8 for the Central American nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Lopez Obrador said Wednesday that his government wants “the United States to also give work visas for Mexico and to increase the number of visas, and that there also be work visas for Central Americans.”

The United States currently offers a limited number of H-2A agricultural work visas.

US-CHINA-TRADE

US, China face off again at World Trade Organization

GENEVA (AP) — China and the United States have traded barbs again at the World Trade Organization, with the U.S. ambassador accusing China of theft of technology and an envoy from Beijing retorting that the U.S. was “finger-pointing.”

The standoff comes as many countries lined up to criticize and question Trump administration policies in a WTO trade policy review of the United States, a regular process that WTO member states undergo.

Wednesday marked the second and final closed-door session on the U.S. after a first one on Monday.

U.S. Ambassador Dennis Shea sought to re-direct attention on China, saying it would subsidize its industries to squeeze foreign producers and dump products at cheap prices abroad, a transcript of his remarks showed.

BRITAIN-UBER

Uber says it will appeal British court ruling

LONDON (AP) — Taxi hailing app Uber says it will appeal a British Court of Appeal ruling that determined drivers should be classed as workers in a case with broad implications for the gig economy.

The company says in a statement Wednesday that the decision was not unanimous “and does not reflect the reasons why the vast majority of drivers choose to use the Uber app.”

The decision sets up a showdown in Britain’s Supreme Court over whether the drivers are workers, not independent contractors and therefore should receive the minimum wage and paid holidays.

Uber says that “if drivers were classified as workers they would inevitably lose some of the freedom and flexibility that comes with being their own boss.”

WILMINGTON TRUST-BANK FRAUD

Ex-bank credit officer sentenced to 4½ years for fraud

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — The former chief credit officer of the only financial institution criminally charged in connection with the federal bank bailout program has been sentenced to 4½ years in prison for helping conceal the bank’s troubled condition in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Fifty-nine-year-old William North was also ordered Wednesday to pay a $100,000 fine.

North’s sentencing comes two days after former Wilmington Trust president Robert Harra Jr. and former chief financial officer David Gibson were each sentenced to six years in prison. Former Wilmington Trust controller Kevyn Rakowski was to be sentenced later Wednesday.

Prosecutors said the defendants misled regulators and investors about Wilmington Trust’s massive amount of past-due commercial real estate loans before the bank was hastily sold in 2011 while teetering on the edge of collapse.

HOLIDAY RETURNS

This year, more returns expected before the gifts are opened

NEW YORK (AP) — ’Twas the week before Christmas and shoppers were already returning their holiday hauls.

Delivery company UPS expects its busiest return day to fall before Christmas for the first time. The company says there are many reasons for the pre-Christmas return boom, including more people buying stuff for themselves that they want to send back.

UPS expects to handle 1.5 million returns on Dec. 19, and predicts another spike on Jan. 3 when it expects to handle 1.3 million returned packages. UPS says it used historical data and information from retailers to come up with its figures.

FACEBOOK-DATA PRIVACY

Report: Facebook shared private messages with partners

UNDATED (AP) — A New York Times report says Facebook gave some companies more extensive access to users’ personal data than it has previously revealed, letting them read private messages or see the names of friends without consent.

The newspaper on Wednesday detailed special arrangements between Facebook and companies like Microsoft, Netflix and Spotify, in the latest revelations on how the social network shares user data.

It says Facebook shared data with more than 150 companies through apps on its platform even if users disabled sharing.

Facebook responded to the report in a blog post, which said the partnerships did allow features like “messaging integrations” but nearly all have been shut down over the past few months. None of the deals gave outside companies access to data without user consent, it said.

FACEBOOK-PRIVACY

Washington DC sues Facebook over privacy scandal

WASHINGTON (AP) — The attorney general in the nation’s capital has filed a lawsuit against Facebook for allowing data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica to improperly access data from as many as 87 million users.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by Karl Racine, the attorney general for the District of Columbia. It alleges that Facebook misled users about the security of their data and failed to properly monitor third-party apps.

After the revelations about Cambridge Analytica, congressional hearings were held and Facebook changed what sorts of data it lets outside developers access.

It was revealed this week that Facebook’s privacy controls had broken down yet again. In that case, a software flaw affected nearly 7 million users, leading to their photos being exposed to a much wider audience than they had intended.

CONSUMER WATCHDOG-NAME CHANGE

Consumer financial watchdog abandons name change plan

NEW YORK (AP) — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is abandoning a controversial renaming plan, in one of the first big decisions by its new permanent director.

The CFPB is dropping the switch to “Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection” that had been sought by President Trump’s acting director of the bureau, according to an email by Kathy Kraninger, who took over earlier this month.

Kraninger cited cost factors in renaming the bureau as well as years of branding and identification the CFPB had built up over the years. The banking industry has thousands of disclosures and paperwork that referred to the CFPB, and reprinting those documents could have been a significant cost.

Kraninger’s email was published by Allied Progress, a left-wing advocacy group.

GERMANY-VOLKSWAGEN

Volkswagen shakes up management pay after diesel scandal

BERLIN (AP) — Volkswagen says it is changing the pay system for its senior management, dropping personal performance bonuses and increasing the extent to which the company’s performance is reflected in variable pay.

The German automaker, still grappling with a diesel emissions scandal that erupted in 2015, said Wednesday the new system is based on one already used for the management board. Taking effect from 2019, it “allows the possibility of taking individual wrongdoing into account in reducing remuneration.”

Board member Gunnar Killian said it “takes into account the change in our corporate culture” and emphasizes “joint performance.”

The company said it will provide a stronger focus on “compliant, upright behavior.” It will be able to require the repayment of bonuses already received if serious wrongdoing is identified at a later date.

EUROPE-BUDGET

EU reaches deal with Italy on budget

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Commission says it has reached an agreement with Italy to avert legal action over the country’s budget plans, which the EU’s executive arm had warned could break euro currency rules.

European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said Wednesday that the “agreement is not ideal” but allows the Commission to avoid legal action against Italy — “provided that the measures are fully implemented.”

The threat of action is not rare in EU terms but it came amid growing tension between the Commission and Italy’s populist government, which had vowed to resist any pressure from Brussels.

Dombrovskis said “the Italian government has come a long way” from the heated rhetoric of a few weeks ago.

EUROPE-PLASTIC

European officials agree on ban of some single-use plastics

BERLIN (AP) — European Union officials have agreed to ban some single-use plastics, such as disposable cutlery, plates and straws, in an effort to cut marine pollution.

Representatives from the EU’s 28 member states and the European Parliament said Wednesday they’re following a recommendation made earlier this year by the bloc’s executive branch.

Once the ban is formally approved, countries will have two years to implement it.

The measure will also affect plastic cotton buds, drink stirrers, balloon sticks, and single-use plastic and polystyrene food and beverage containers.

The EU also wants to increase the use of recycled plastic and reduce the amount of tiny plastic particles released from wet wipes, cigarette stubs and other items.

There is growing concern about the accumulation of so-called microplastics in the oceans.

AIRBNB-ALARMS

Airbnb making new push for smoke, carbon monoxide alarms

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Airbnb wants more of its rental properties to have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

Starting Wednesday, the San Francisco-based company will alert guests before they book a property if the host hasn’t reported having a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm.

Airbnb stopped short of requiring the devices at its 5 million properties. They’re only required at higher-end Airbnb Plus rentals and where local laws demand them.

Airbnb won’t say how many of its properties have smoke or carbon monoxide alarms, but it has encouraged hosts to install them. The company has shipped them to hosts for free since 2014.

Almost all U.S. hotel rooms have had smoke detectors since 1990. But only 14 states require hotels to install carbon monoxide detectors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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