FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks waver

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are wavering between small gains and losses in midday trading on Wall Street.

The S&P 500 is on track to record its longest bull market Wednesday, beating the bull market of the 1990s.

Retailers were in focus again and several of them were moving after reporting their latest quarterly results. Target rose 4.8 percent and Lowe's jumped 7.5 percent.

Hartford Financial Services fell 4.2 percent after announcing an acquisition.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.83 percent.

HOME SALES

US home sales fell 0.7 percent, 4th straight monthly decline

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. sales of existing homes slipped for the fourth consecutive month, declining 0.7 percent in July to the slowest pace in more than two years as the real estate market shows signs of cooling.

The National Association of Realtors says homes sold last month at a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 5.34 million. Home sales have fallen 1.5 percent during the past 12 months.

The U.S. housing market is hurt by a widening wealth gap, as inventories of lower-priced homes remain tight. Sales of single-family houses worth more than $500,000 have jumped in the past year. But homes priced between $100,000 and $250,000 — a level the middle class can afford — have barely budged.

The median sales price in July increased 4.5 percent from a year ago to $269,600.

FEDERAL RESERVE-POWELL

Fed Chair Powell's take on economy is awaited as risks loom

WASHINGTON (AP) — Is financial turmoil in Turkey and other emerging economies at risk of spreading? Will America's trade war with China derail the U.S. economy? Does the Federal Reserve have the means to fight the next recession?

And: Is Chairman Jerome Powell troubled by President Donald Trump's public denunciation of the Fed's interest rate hikes?

When Powell gives the keynote address Friday at a conference of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the world will be seeking any clues to his stance on those questions — and how any of it might affect the Fed's rate policy.

If Powell sounds confident the economy won't be unduly hurt by the Trump administration's tariffs on imports or by a currency crisis in developing markets, investors may conclude that the Fed will keep raising rates.

RUSSIA-US

Putin says latest US sanctions senseless

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin has said that economic sanctions imposed against his country by the U.S. are senseless, voicing hope that Washington will eventually agree to a constructive dialogue.

Putin, speaking after Wednesday's talks with Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto, described last month's Helsinki summit with U.S. President Donald Trump as positive, but blamed Trump's administration for continuing to hit Russia with sanctions.

He said the restrictions are "counterproductive and senseless," adding that Moscow expects Washington to realize their uselessness and engage in constructive cooperation.

The Trump administration added to its growing list of sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, blacklisting two companies and two individuals suspected of trying to circumvent earlier U.S. sanctions imposed in June in response to cyberattacks, and sanctioning two Russian shipping companies for suspected trade with North Korea.

SAVING BIG OIL-TEXAS

Big oil asks government to protect it from climate change

PORT ARTHUR, Texas (AP) — The oil industry wants the federal government to help protect some of its facilities on the Texas Gulf Coast against the effects of global warming.

One ambitious proposal involves building a nearly 60-mile "spine" of flood barriers. Many Republicans argue that such projects should be a national priority. But critics question why taxpayers should foot the bill for protecting refineries in a state where top politicians still question whether climate change is real.

The plan is focused on a stretch of coastline from the Louisiana border to industrial enclaves south of Houston. That area is home to one of the world's largest concentrations of petrochemical facilities, including most of Texas' 30 refineries.

The state is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine.

Construction in Texas could begin in several months on the three sections of storm barrier. While plans are still being finalized, some dirt levees will be raised to about 17 feet high, and 6 miles of 19-foot-tall floodwalls would be built or strengthened around Port Arthur, a Texas-Louisiana border locale of pungent chemical smells and towering knots of steel pipes.

FORD-POWER CABLE RECALL

Ford recalls electric car power cables due to fire risk

DETROIT (AP) — Ford is recalling the charging cords for more than 50,000 plug-in hybrid and electric cars in North America because they could cause fires in electrical outlets.

The company says the 120-volt cords came with certain 2012 through 2015 Focus electrics and some 2013 through 2015 Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrids.

Ford says plugging the cords into outlets that aren't on a dedicated circuit or are on damaged, worn or corroded circuits could cause wall outlets to overheat.

The company says it has reports of four fires involving C-Max cords, but no injuries. In three of the fires, owners used extension cords, which Ford says it tells owners not to do. In the fourth fire, Ford says the cause was inconclusive but it does not believe the blaze was related to the cord.

Dealers will replace the cords with ones that can sense high temperatures and shut off charging if necessary. Owners will be notified by letters starting next week.

Ford says owners can keep using the original cords but should follow owners-manual instructions that spell out requirements for wall outlets.

EARNS-TARGET

Big investments in stores and in tech pay off at Target

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Heavy investments in stores and its online operations are paying off at Target, which reported strong numbers across the board in the second quarter.

Sales at stores opened at least a year, a key measure for a retailer's health, rose 6.5 percent, the strongest growth in 13 years. Traffic in stores and online rose 6.4 percent, the strongest showing since 2008 when it first started releasing that information.

Online sales soared 41 percent, surging past the 28 percent jump in the previous quarter.

Profit and revenue numbers were better than expected, and the Minneapolis retailer raised its annual earnings expectations.

DISNEY-TUITION

Disney offers tuition for hourly workers in tight job market

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Disney is offering to pay full tuition for hourly workers who want to earn a college degree or finish a high school diploma.

The Walt Disney Co. said Wednesday it will pay upfront tuition to workers who want to take classes starting in the fall.

Disney initially will invest $50 million into the "Disney Aspire" program and up to $25 million a year after that.

Other large corporations have begun paying tuition for workers in a job market with low unemployment.

In May, Walmart said it will offer workers the chance to get a college degree at three universities with online programs.

Disney is rolling out its program in phases, with the first limited to online classes. It is being administered by Guild Education, the same firm operating Walmart's program.

BRITAIN-RYANAIR

Ryanair apologizes after compensation checks bounce

LONDON (AP) — Ryanair has apologized after customers who received compensation for canceled flights complained that the checks bounced.

Europe's largest discount airline says "a tiny number" of checks were issued without a signature because of an administrative error. Ryanair says new checks have been sent to customers along with a letter of explanation.

Ryanair says the problem involved 190 compensation checks out of some 20,000 issued in July. The company says "we apologize sincerely for this inconvenience, which arose out of our desire to issue these compensation checks quickly to our customers."

Ryanair canceled hundreds of flights last year due to problems with pilot scheduling, and strikes have led to more cancellations this summer. European Union rules require compensation for canceled flights unless cancellations result from issues outside the airline's control.

OLIVE GARDEN-PASTA PASS

Lotsa Pasta: Olive Garden offers year of never ending pasta

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Olive Garden customers who can't get enough pasta have a chance to enjoy unlimited servings for a year.

The restaurant chain is offering its first annual pasta pass as part of its never ending pasta bowl promotion. The pass is available to 1,000 customers who pay $300.

The 52-week pass goes on sale along with 23,000 passes that offer eight weeks of unlimited access for $100 starting at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday at www.PastaPass.com . Olive Garden says 22,000 pasta passes were claimed instantaneously last year.

Olive Garden's executive vice president of marketing, Jennifer Arguello, says the annual pass was added after customers made it clear eight weeks was not enough.

The eight-week pass can be used from Sept. 24 through Nov. 18.

GROWING UP DIGITAL-TEENS AND SCREENS

Study: Many teens - and parents - feel tethered to phones

NEW YORK (AP) — Parents lament their teenagers' noses constantly in their phones, but they might benefit from taking stock of their own screen time habits.

A new report from the Pew Research Center says two-thirds of parents are concerned about the amount of time their teenage children spend in front of screens.

But more than half of teens said they often or sometimes find their parents or caregivers to be distracted by screens when trying to have a conversation with them. And more than a third expressed concern about their own screen time.

The study surveyed 743 U.S. teens and 1,058 U.S. parents of teens from March 7 to April 10. The margin of error is 4.5 percentage points.

ALEXA-KIDS-TEST

Is Santa real? A version of Alexa skirts some kid questions

NEW YORK (AP) — A version of Alexa won't tell kids where babies come from or spill the beans about Santa. It also won't explain some things kids might have heard on the news — like what Stormy Daniels does for a living.

Amazon updated its voice assistant with a feature that can make Alexa more kid-friendly. When the FreeTime feature is activated, Alexa answers certain questions differently. Asked where babies come from, for example, the kid version tells youngsters to ask a grown-up.

Amazon says it worked with child psychologists for some of Alexa's answers, and that the voice assistant is "always getting smarter" with updated answers.

Groups including the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have warned parents that the kid-friendly voice assistant puts children's privacy at risk and limits interactions with people.