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Update on the latest business

August 24, 2018

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Technology and energy stocks rise

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are broadly higher in midday trading on Wall Street, led by solid gains in technology, materials and energy companies.

Software maker Autodesk surged 14.3 percent after issuing a better-than-expected quarterly report and strong forecasts.

U.S. crude oil rose again and is up 5.9 percent this week.

Investors are weighing new remarks from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who says he expects the Fed to gradually raise interest rates if the U.S. economic expansion remains strong.

FEDERAL RESERVE-POWELL

Powell signals more rate hikes ahead

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is signaling that he expects the Fed to continue gradually raising interest rates if the U.S. economic expansion remains strong.

Powell adds that while annual inflation has risen to near the Fed’s 2 percent target rate, it doesn’t seem likely to accelerate above that point. That suggests that he doesn’t foresee a need for the Fed to step up its rate hikes. Late next month, the Fed is widely expected to resume raising rates.

Speaking to an annual conference of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Powell says the Fed recognizes that it needs to strike a careful balance between its mandates of maximizing employment and keeping price increases stable. He said a gradual approach is the best way for the Fed to navigate between the risks of raising rates too fast and “needlessly shortening the expansion” and moving too slowly and risking an overheated economy.

DURABLE GOODS

US durable goods orders fell 1.7 percent in July

WASHINGTON (AP) — Orders for long-lasting U.S. factory goods fell 1.7 percent in July, the third decrease in the past four months.

The Commerce Department says that durable goods orders — items meant to last at least three years such as autos and appliances — totaled $246.9 billion last month. Much of that decline came from a steep 35.4 percent drop in orders for nondefense aircraft, a volatile category on a monthly basis.

For most of 2018, manufacturing has been a source of strength with durable goods orders increasing 8.6 percent year-to-date. Excluding aircraft and non-military goods, orders rose 1.4 percent in July, a positive sign for the economy.

Still, U.S. trade showdowns with China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico have left many manufacturers feeling uncertain about their futures.

AP POLL-TRUMP-TRADE

AP-NORC Poll: Americans harbor doubts about Trump’s tariffs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer than half of Americans expect President Donald Trump’s tariffs to do much to help the U.S. economy.

That’s according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Majorities of Americans also doubt the recently announced taxes on imports will increase jobs or wages at home.

The survey found that 35 percent of Americans think the tariffs will leave them worse off financially, while only 19 percent expect improvement. Moreover, 72 percent of Americans say the import levies will lead prices for everyday goods to climb.

Yet despite the concerns, the economy is a source of strength for Trump. While only 38 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the presidency, 51 percent approve of his stewardship of the U.S. economy.

TRUMP LAWYER-INVESTIGATION

Reports: Trump Organization finance chief gets immunity

NEW YORK (AP) — Media outlets are reporting that President Donald Trump’s bookkeeper for his personal and business affairs for decades has been granted immunity in the federal probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

The Wall Street Journal and NBC News were first to report on anonymous sources that longtime Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg got immunity to talk to federal prosecutors in the investigation of hush money Cohen paid to two women who claimed affairs with Trump. Cohen pleaded guilty to tax and campaign finance violations on Tuesday.

Though not named in the Cohen case, Weisselberg is believed to be one of two Trump executives mentioned in the suit who reimbursed Cohen and covered up the payments by saying they were legal expenses.

Weisselberg has been a Trump confidant who started working for his family in the early 1970s.

TAX OVERHAUL-HIGH-TAX STATES

New IRS rule on deductions hits some high-tax states hard

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has laid down rules aimed at preventing residents in high-tax states from avoiding a new cap on widely popular state and local tax deductions. The action under the new Republican tax law pits the government against high-tax, heavily Democratic states in an election-year showdown.

The Treasury Department’s rules released Thursday target moves by states like New York, New Jersey and California — where residents could see substantial increases in their federal tax bills next spring because of the $10,000 cap on state and local deductions. The cap was put in as a compromise to eliminating the deductions completely, as part of the massive GOP tax package pushed by President Donald Trump and enacted late last year.

But the new rules’ “dollar-for-dollar” limit also applies to many other states that already have charitable funds offering tax breaks — and those programs too could be hurt by the rules. Those states include solidly Republican ones and others with relatively low taxes.

Experts say the issue likely will have to be resolved by the federal courts.

CIGNA-DEAL-SHAREHOLDER APPROVAL

Cigna, Express Scripts shareholders vote for planned combo

UNDATED (AP) — Cigna shareholders are backing the insurer’s planned takeover of pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts, a deal that activist investor Carl Icahn had urged them to reject earlier this month.

Cigna says about 90 percent of votes cast on Friday were in favor of the roughly $52-billion deal, which also received broad approval from Express Scripts shareholders.

Icahn had warned shareholders in an open letter that Cigna Corp. was paying too much for St. Louis-based Express Scripts Holding Co. But other shareholders and the proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services backed the acquisition plan, which was announced earlier this year.

The deal still needs regulatory approval. Bloomfield, Connecticut-based Cigna expects to close it by the end of the year.

Shares of both companies advanced slightly with broader markets in midday trading.

GROWING GRID COSTS

Utilities pivot from power plants to grid work for profits

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Electric utilities are pouring billions of dollars into a race to prevent terrorists or enemy governments from shutting down the power grid and everything that depends on electricity in America’s hyper-connected society.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security detailed last month how Russian hackers have targeted the nation’s energy grid. Officials said they could have caused major blackouts, but instead, the hackers appeared more focused on reconnaissance.

The concern over cyber-threats comes as power companies shift focus to pursue extensive upgrades in software, switches and wires to enable a much more flexible distribution of electricity.

That means the likelihood of rate increases for consumers. Utilities have long based their business on building power plants and selling the juice to customers, adding a regulator-approved profit margin to pay for it all. But the need for big generation projects has fallen after decades of energy conservation, fewer factories and the swapping of coal-fired power plants for cheaper and cleaner-burning natural gas.

So electricity companies are shifting their business plans. Now they’re having customers pay to replace aging equipment, block malicious hackers, minimize outages, accommodate the upsurge of wind and solar power and allow consumers more control over when and how much power they use.

OIL PIPELINE-ETP LAWSUIT

Judge rules Dakota Access developer can’t sue Earth First

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed a second defendant in a $1 billion racketeering lawsuit that the developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline filed against environmental groups.

Judge Billy Roy Wilson ruled Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners failed to make a case that Earth First is an entity that can be sued.

The Center for Constitutional Rights had argued Earth First is a philosophy or movement similar to Black Lives Matter, and can’t be sued.

ETP sued Earth First, BankTrack and Greenpeace last August, alleging they worked to undermine the $3.8 billion pipeline that’s now moving North Dakota oil to Illinois.

Wilson in July ruled the company had no claim against BankTrack. The Dutch environmental group urged banks not to finance the pipeline. Wilson said that didn’t amount to radical ecoterrorism.

FISHING MAGNATE ARREST-CAPTAIN

Fishing captain admits hindering Coast Guard net inspection

BOSTON (AP) — A former Massachusetts fishing boat captain has pleaded guilty to interfering with a U.S. Coast Guard inspection involving a vessel owned by a fishing magnate nicknamed The Codfather.

Thomas Simpson pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to destruction or removal of property subject to inspection.

Prosecutors say the South Portland, Maine, resident was the captain of a New Bedford commercial fishing boat in 2014 when he dumped a fishing net into the ocean in defiance of Coast Guard commands to haul it in.

A salvage company retrieved the net and found it was in violation of commercial fishing regulations.

The vessel was among several owned by The Codfather, Carlos Rafael, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion and false labeling and fish identification and was sentenced to prison.

The 57-year-old Simpson faces up to five years in prison at sentencing.

PAPA JOHN’S-TRAINING

Papa John’s begins diversity training after founder departs

Papa John’s will initiate diversity training for employees, three months after the company founder used a racial slur during a conference call.

John Schnatter, who resigned as CEO after blaming poor sales on the NFL player protests, resigned as chairman after the incident was reported by Forbes in July.

Clashes between Schnatter, who is still Papa John’s largest shareholder, and executives at the pizza chain are ongoing. He is suing the company, alleging that his treatment was unfair.

CEO Steve Ritchie said in a letter posted on the Papa John’s website Friday that the company’s leadership team recently completed diversity training, which will now be rolled out companywide for its 120,000 workers.

LL BEAN-PARK FOUNDATION

L.L. Bean donating $3 million to National Parks Foundation

FREEPORT, Maine (AP) — L.L. Bean is providing $3 million to the National Park Foundation’s effort to encourage people to get outside and explore some of the more than 400 national parks.

It’s called the “Find Your Park” initiative. L.L. Bean’s great-grandson, Chairman Shawn Gorman, said the partnership makes perfect sense because both organizations are committed to getting people outdoors.

Bean last year launched its “Be an Outsider” campaign that focuses on getting back to the company’s outdoor roots. Executives said at the time that involved a re-examination of all facets of operations, including corporate giving.

Spokesman Mac McKeever said the donation will be made in annual installments over three years. It’s on top of a $1 million donation to the park foundation in 2012.

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