FINANCIAL MARKETS

Treasury yields rise, stocks dip following Fed testimony

NEW YORK (AP) — Treasury yields rose today, and U.S. stock indexes fell after the head of the Federal Reserve said that he's feeling more optimistic about the economy.

The testimony by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell before Congress was highly anticipated, and investors dissected his every word for clues about how quickly the central bank will raise interest rates in the face of a growing economy and the threat of higher inflation.

At 12:51 p.m. Eastern Time, the S&P 500 was down 11 points, at 2,768.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 52 points to 25,656.

And the Nasdaq composite dropped 43 points, to 7,378.

FED-POWELL-CONGRESS

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testifies before the Joint Economic Committee

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will not say whether the Fed's projection for three rate increases will change when the central bank next month. But he says the central bank will take note of a number of positive developments.

Powell says since the Fed last projected the path for interest rates in December, the incoming economic data has shown the economy is strengthening and there is more confidence that inflation will move up to the Fed's 2 percent target.

Powell says that the government's tax and spending policies have also become more stimulative. He says that each member of the Fed will need to take these developments into account in making a new forecast on the path of interest rates. Many economists believe the Fed will end up boosting rates four times this year, not three, with the first hike occurring in March.

HOME PRICES

US home prices jump in 2017 at fastest pace in 3 ½ years

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices rose last year at the fastest 12-month pace in more than three years, as potential home buyers fought over a limited number of available properties.

Standard & Poor's says that its S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index jumped 6.3 percent in 2017, the most since June 2014. Home prices are rising much faster than wages and overall measure of inflation.

Steady hiring and broad economic growth are making it easier for more Americans to afford a house, spurring demand. Yet fewer Americans are listing their homes for sale, in some cases because they would face a higher mortgage rate if they bought a new home. The number of homes for sale in January was the lowest for that month on records dating back to 1999.

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE

US consumer confidence rises to highest level since February

WASHINGTON (AP) — American consumers are the most confident they've been since 2000.

The Conference Board says its consumer confidence index rose to 130.8 in February, highest since November 2000 and up from 124.3 in January.

The business research group's index measures consumers' assessment of current conditions and their outlook for the next six months. Both rose in February.

A strong job market is boosting confidence. The unemployment rate has stayed at a 17-year low 4.1 percent.

Consumers shrugged off volatility in the stock market.

"Overall, consumers remain quite confident that the economy will continue expanding at a strong pace in the months ahead," says Lynn Franco, the Conference Board's director of economic indicators.

Economists watch the Conference Board report closely because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic output.

DURABLE GOODS

US durable goods orders down 3.7 percent in January

WASHINGTON (AP) — New orders for long-lasting manufactured goods fell 3.7 percent in January, the biggest decline since July 2017, following two months of increases that reflected strength in the country's industry.

The Commerce Department says that orders were depressed by a 10 percent drop in demand for transportation equipment, a category that can bounce around from month to month. Excluding transportation, durable goods orders slipped only 0.3 percent. Orders for defense capital goods plunged 26.3 percent. Excluding defense, new durable goods orders fell 2.7 percent.

Overall orders in January for durable goods, which are meant to last at least three years, decreased 3.7 percent to $239.7 billion. Orders were up 5.8 percent for the full year 2017, the best showing in six years.

FORD-SELF-DRIVING CITY

Ford and Miami to form test bed for self-driving cars

DETROIT (AP) — Ford Motor Co. is making Miami-Dade County its biggest test bed yet for self-driving vehicles.

The automaker and its partners — including Domino's Pizza and ride-hailing company Lyft — are starting pilot programs now to see how consumers react to autonomous vehicles.

Ford is also setting up its first-ever autonomous vehicle terminal where it will learn how to manage its test fleet.

It's all part of Ford's effort to find viable business models for fully autonomous vehicles and get them on the road by 2021.

Ford isn't the first automaker to run autonomous test fleets. But the partnership with a specific metropolitan area is less common.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez says the area wants to be at the forefront of new technology.

NRA-REACTION-FEDEX

FedEx bucks corporate trend, sticks with NRA

NEW YORK (AP) — While more than a dozen major U.S. companies have ended business partnerships with the National Rifle Association following the Florida high school shooting, FedEx says it's sticking with the group and has not asked to be removed from the NRA website where members are offered corporate discounts.

FedEx says it differs with the NRA and believes assault-style rifles shouldn't be owned by civilians.

But FedEx says that as a common carrier it will not deny service based on political views or policy positions.

WALMART-CLOTHING BRANDS

Walmart launching new clothes brands, as Target, Amazon have

NEW YORK (AP) — Walmart is launching new private-label clothing brands, a move its rivals Target and Amazon have recently made as well.

The world's largest retailer is unveiling four new lines for women, men and children that will be available Thursday. It's the most ambitious clothing launch in years for the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company. Items will cost $5 to $30.

The launch is part of an overall move by Walmart to shed its image of just offering basics like toilet paper and T-shirts and become a destination for trendier, high quality products from food to home design.

Online leader Amazon and discount rival Target have also been building their own clothing brands, a move that helps boost profit margins because it eliminates the middleman and is exclusive to that retailer.

GERMANY-DIESEL BAN

German govt hopes diesel ruling won't mean bans

BERLIN (AP) — The German government is hoping to avoid bans on driving diesel cars in cities despite a court ruling that paves the way for such measures to improve air quality.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks says she hopes today's ruling will spur a shift toward cleaner, greener forms of transportation in Germany.

Hendricks told reporters that the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig had "confirmed the population's right to clean air in cities."

She also blamed automakers for causing the problem by selling diesel cars that emit more harmful substances than advertised.

Hendricks said car manufacturers have a responsibility to pay for the upgrade of diesel cars to reduce emissions.

GERMANY-DAMIER-GEELY

Merkel: No violations seen in Geely buy of Daimler stake

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says regulators are reviewing the acquisition of nearly 10 percent of Daimler's shares by Chinese businessman Li Shufu, chairman of Zhejiang Geely, but that there don't seem to have been any violations.

She told reporters in Berlin today that "we are open with our trade partners and at first glance don't see any kind of violations."

She noted that the government wasn't involved in the transaction, and said that Daimler has other foreign investors.

Merkel says her goal is ensuring that the German auto industry continues to be strong and provide jobs.

She says "overall it's about keeping a viable automotive industry in Germany."

Daimler announced the deal last week.

FILM-DIVERSITY STUDY

New study finds diverse audiences drive blockbusters

NEW YORK (AP) — Just as "Black Panther" is setting records at the box office, a new study finds that diverse audiences are driving most of the biggest blockbusters and many of the most-watched hits on television.

UCLA's Bunche Center released its fifth annual study on diversity in the entertainment industry today, unveiling an analysis of the top 200 theatrical film releases of 2016 and 1,251 broadcast, cable and digital platform TV shows from the 2015-2016 season.

It found that minorities accounted for the majority of ticket sales for five of the top 10 films at the global box office.

UCLA also found that films with casts that were 21 to 30 percent minority regularly performed better at the box office than films with the most racially and ethnically homogenous casts.

EARNS-MACY'S

Macy's tops 4Q expectations, optimistic outlook

CINCINNATI (AP) — Macy's is reporting very strong fourth-quarter earnings of $1.33 billion and issuing a strong outlook.

The Cincinnati company's profit was $4.31 per share. Earnings, adjusted for pretax gains, were $2.82 per share, easily beating Wall Street per-share expectations of $2.69, according to Zacks Investment Research.

Revenue of $8.67 billion was just short.

Macy's expects full-year earnings in the range of $3.55 to $3.75 per share.

Shares of Macy's Inc. soared 10 percent before the opening bell today.

SUPREME COURT-MICROSOFT-SEARCHES

Justices seem ready to rule against Microsoft in email case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is signaling it will allow the government to force American technology companies to hand over emails and other digital information sought in criminal probes but stored in the internet cloud outside the U.S.

The justices heard arguments today in a dispute between the Trump administration and Microsoft Corp. over a warrant for emails that were sought as part of a drug trafficking investigation. Microsoft refused to turn over the emails because they are stored on a company server in Dublin, Ireland, and the warrant does not apply abroad.

But several justices suggested they agreed with the government's argument that the focus should be on Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington. That's where a computer operator would retrieve the emails and hand them over to federal authorities.

SUPREME COURT-TRIBAL CASINO

Supreme Court: Congress properly ended Michigan casino suit

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court says Congress acted within its authority when it ended a lawsuit that began over a Native American tribe's Michigan casino.

The Supreme Court ruled today that Congress acted lawfully when it passed legislation that resulted in the lawsuit's dismissal.

The case was making its second appearance before the justices. Michigan resident David Patchak sued in 2008 after the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians got the go-ahead to build a casino on land near his property.

The first time the case was before the Supreme Court, Patchak got the nod to continue his lawsuit. But Congress soon passed a law that resulted in the lawsuit being dismissed. Patchak argued that Congress had improperly directed the result in his case.

DISNEYLAND PARIS

Marvel superheroes to feature in Disney's Paris expansion

PARIS (AP) — The Walt Disney Company has announced a two billion-euro ($2.5 billion) expansion plan for Disneyland Paris, which will feature Marvel superheroes.

Disney Group says the development, which includes a transformation of Walt Disney Studios Park, will include three new areas based on Marvel superheroes as well as Frozen and Star Wars movies, "along with new attractions and live entertainment experiences."

The new plans will be rolled roll out in phases beginning in 2021.

BRITAIN-COMCAST-SKY

Challenge to Murdoch: US giant Comcast also bids for Sky

LONDON (AP) — Comcast, the owner of NBC and Universal Pictures, has launched a bid for European pay TV broadcaster Sky that threatens to thwart a rival offer by media mogul Rupert Murdoch' 21st Century Fox.

The move appears not only opportunistic but aimed at disrupting the European expansion of arch-rival Disney, which is currently looking to take over Fox.

Comcast says it's offering 22.1 billion pounds ($29.50 billion) for London-based Sky. The proposed cash deal values each Sky share at 12.50 pounds, which represents a 16 percent premium to the bid made by Murdoch's 21st Century Fox.

Comcast's CEO, Brian Roberts, said his company would use Sky as a platform to grow in Europe.