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February 15, 2018

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks climb

NEW YORK (AP) — Technology companies are leading stocks higher at midday, putting the market on track for its fifth gain in a row. The recent gains have erased some of the steep losses the market suffered earlier in the month.

Apple and Cisco were among the big winners in tech. Industrial companies including Boeing also rose. Energy companies continued to struggle.

U.S. crude oil turned higher in afternoon trading after a slump in the morning.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note remained around four-year highs as it declined to 2.89 percent from 2.91 percent.

PRODUCER PRICES

Energy drives US wholesale price up 0.4 percent in January

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. wholesale prices rose 0.4 percent in January, the biggest increase since November, as a big jump in energy prices offset a small decline in the cost of food.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the January rise in wholesale prices, which measure the cost of goods before they reach the consumer, followed no increase at all in December and matched a 0.4 percent rise in November. The big gains last month and in November were both driven by sharp increases in the cost of gasoline and other energy products.

Over the past 12 months, wholesale prices have risen 2.7 percent. On Wednesday, the government reported that consumer prices rose 0.5 percent in January, another sign that inflation may be set to rise after years of near flat readings.

INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION

US factory output flat for 2nd straight month

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. factory output was unchanged in January for the second straight month after three months of healthy gains.

The Federal Reserve says production fell in wood products, aircraft and a category including concrete and glass. Yet factories also cranked out more cars and computers.

Manufacturers posted a solid year in 2017, expanding production and adding nearly 200,000 jobs. A cheaper dollar and healthy economies overseas boosted exports, while stepped up consumer spending in the U.S. lifted domestic sales. The past two months’ readings suggest, however, that factory production has slowed in the new year.

Overall industrial production, which includes mines and utilities, slipped 0.1 percent. Mining production fell 1 percent, while utility output climbed 0.6 percent.

MORTGAGE RATES

US mortgage rates climb to a nearly 4-year peak

WASHINGTON (AP) — Long-term U.S. mortgage rates jumped this week to their highest level in nearly four years, a sign that the prospect of higher inflation is steadily increasing the cost of borrowing to buy a home.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages rose to 4.38 percent this week, up from 4.32 percent last week and the highest since April 2014.

The rate on 15-year, fixed-rate loans rose to 3.84 percent from 3.77 percent last week.

Recent wage gains and rising prices are stoking concerns about inflation picking up, which has caused investors to seek higher interest rates. Mortgage rates are closely aligned with the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes, which has climbed above 2.90 percent from 2.78 percent just two weeks ago.

BUILDER SENTIMENT

US homebuilders remains optimistic

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. builders are maintaining an optimistic view on sales as the economy improves and demand for homes remains strong.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Thursday remained at 72 this month. That’s still just 2 points shy of December’s reading, which marked an 18-year high for optimism among the nation’s builders.

Readings above 50 indicate more builders see sales conditions as good rather than poor. The index has remained above 60 since September 2016.

The current score of 72 was anticipated by analysts surveyed by FactSet.

Builders’ view of current sales conditions fell slightly, though the outlook for sales over the next six months rose two points to 80. A measure of buyer traffic held steady at 54.

US BANK-MONEY LAUNDERING

US Bank pays $613 million over money laundering charges

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. Bancorp is paying $613 million to settle allegations the bank had poor anti-money laundering controls, which put the bank repeatedly at risk of being used as a conduit for criminals.

U.S. Bank will pay $453 million to the U.S. Treasury through the Southern District of New York; $70 million to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a government agency tasked with handling money laundering cases; $15 million to the Federal Reserve; and $75 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Regulators say the Minneapolis-based bank “willfully” violated the Bank Secrecy Act, failing to report suspicious activity. Bank employees failed to fill out reports appropriately, impeding the ability for law enforcement to do their jobs.

In a statement, U.S. Bank said it has restructured its anti-money laundering program.

CHICKEN SALAD-SALMONELLA

Fareway chicken salad public health alert issued in 5 states

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Chicken salad sold at Fareway grocery stores in five Midwest states has been pulled from stores and consumers are advised to throw it away after it made people sick in Iowa.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service on Wednesday issued a public health alert about the Fareway Chicken Salad sold in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.

It was produced between Dec. 15 and Feb. 13 and was sold in plastic deli containers with a Fareway store deli label.

The Iowa Department of Public Health contacted federal officials on Feb. 9 after an illness was reported. A spokeswoman declined to release the number of people sickened.

Salmonella, a bacterial illness, can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Some people develop severe symptoms that require hospitalization.

MCDONALD’S-HAPPY MEAL-CHANGES

McDonald’s slims down Happy Meal by banishing cheeseburgers

NEW YORK (AP) — McDonald’s is banishing cheeseburgers and chocolate milk from its Happy Meal menu in an effort to cut down on the calories, sodium, saturated fat and sugar kids consume at its restaurants.

Diners can still ask specifically for cheeseburgers or chocolate milk with the kid’s meal, but the fast-food company says not listing them will reduce how often they’re ordered. It says after it removed soda from the Happy Meal menu four years ago orders for it fell 14 percent.

The Happy Meal has long been a target of health advocates who link it to childhood obesity. McDonald’s has made many tweaks, including cutting the size of its fries, adding fruit and changing to a lower-sugar apple juice.

The latest changes will occur in the United States by June.

BRITAIN-CYBERATTACK

UK blames Russian military for ‘malicious’ cyberattack

LONDON (AP) — Britain says the Russian government was behind a cyberattack that hit businesses across Europe last year.

Foreign Minister Tariq Ahmad says “the U.K. government judges that the Russian government, specifically the Russian military, was responsible for the destructive NotPetya cyberattack of June 2017.”

The fast-spreading outbreak of data-scrambling software centered on Ukraine, which is embroiled in a conflict with Moscow-backed separatists in the country’s east. It spread to companies that do business with Ukraine, including U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck, Danish shipping firm A.P. Moller-Maersk and FedEx subsidiary TNT.

Ahmad said Thursday that the “reckless” attack cost organizations hundreds of millions of dollars.

British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson accused Russia of “undermining democracy, wrecking livelihoods by targeting critical infrastructure, and weaponizing information” with malicious cyberattacks.

Russia has denied responsibility.

EUROPE-SOCIAL MEDIA

EU not happy with Facebook, Twitter consumer rule remedies

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Commission says social media giants Facebook and Twitter have only partially responded to its demands to bring their practices into line with EU consumer law.

The Commission asked the two companies a year ago to change their terms of service following complaints from people targeted by fraud or scams on social media websites.

The EU’s executive arm said Thursday that the firms only partly addressed “issues about their liability and about how users are informed of possible content removal or contract termination.”

It said changes proposed by Google+ appear to be in line with demands.

Europe’s consumer affairs commissioner, Vera Jourova, said “it is unacceptable that this is still not complete and it is taking so much time.” She called for those flouting consumer rules to face sanctions.

FAO SCHWARZ-REVIVAL

FAO Schwarz sets its sights on China

NEW YORK (AP) — FAO Schwarz, whose famous New York store was closed two years ago, is setting its sights on China as it continues its revival begun late last year.

The toy retailer said Thursday it will open locations in Beijing and Shanghai this year through a collaboration with China’s largest toy distributor, Kidsland. Kidsland will also open 30 smaller FAO Schwarz stores and shops in 200 department stores across China over the next five years.

FAO Schwarz also signed an agreement with Hudson Group, one of the largest travel retailers in North America, to open a chain of FAO Schwarz-branded airport shops in the U.S. and Canada. The first will open later this year.

Late last year, it opened shops in more than 5,000 retailers in the U.S.

FISHING VS OFFSHORE WIND

Underwater video shows marine life growing at wind farm

BOSTON (AP) — Offshore wind proponents are touting new undersea footage suggesting a vibrant marine habitat is growing around the nation’s first offshore wind farm.

The American Wind Energy Association posted a short video on YouTube this week from Deepwater Wind’s five-turbine operation off Rhode Island.

The video shows mussels and fish clustered around the turbine bases, as well as positive testimonials from local recreational fishermen and charter boat owners.

Nancy Sopko, the association’s director of offshore wind, says the video shows the potential for the fishing industry as wind projects are planned all along the East Coast.

But Seth Rolbein, of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance in Massachusetts, cautions the footage does little to assuage commercial fishermen’s concerns of encountering problems like getting trawling gear damaged on undersea power cables.

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