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Update on the latest in business:

March 21, 2019


Tech leads US stocks broadly higher

NEW YORK (AP) — The stock market is shaking off two days of sluggish trading and moving broadly higher in midday trading on Wall Street, led by gains in Apple and other big technology companies.

Apple has made several product announcements this week and has an event scheduled next Monday where presumably more announcements will be made.

Chipmakers were also rising.

Levi Strauss soared as the storied jeans maker went public for the second time.

Biogen plunged after the drugmaker halted a trial of an Alzheimer’s treatment.


US average mortgage rates fall; 30-year at 4.28 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. long-term mortgage rates fell this week, giving an incentive to potential buyers as the spring home-buying season opens.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage declined to 4.28 percent from 4.31 percent the previous week.

Mortgage rates have fallen substantially since the beginning of the year, after climbing for much of 2018 and peaking at nearly 5 percent in early November. The average rate on the benchmark 30-year loan stood at 4.45 percent a year ago.

The average rate this week for 15-year, fixed-rate loans slipped to 3.71 percent from 3.76 percent a week earlier.


Facebook stored millions of passwords in plain text

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Facebook confirms that it stored millions of user passwords in plain text for years.

The confirmation Thursday came after a security researcher posted about the issue online.

Facebook says there is no evidence that employees had abused access to this data.

The company says the passwords were stored on internal company servers, no outsiders could access them. But the incident reveals a huge oversight for the company amid a slew of bruises and stumbles in the last couple of years.

The security blog KrebsOnSecurity says some 600 million Facebook users may have had their passwords stored in plain text.

Facebook said in a blog post Thursday it will likely notify “hundreds of millions” of Facebook Lite users, millions of Facebook users and tens of thousands of Instagram users


Trump, corporate leaders discuss economic, business issues

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump discussed economic and business issues Thursday with some of America’s top corporate titans.

The closed-door meeting was held at the headquarters of the Business Roundtable near the Capitol. The association, representing leading companies aimed at promoting the economy, is holding its quarterly meeting with an estimated 100 chief executive officers from businesses across the United States.

Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase, is head of the Business Roundtable.


Levi Strauss public again, stock surges

NEW YORK (AP) — Levi Strauss stock is rallying as the jean company is once again publicly traded for the first time since 1985.

Shares of the company opened at $22.22, up from the IPO price of $17.

The New York Stock Exchange community, including more than 300 traders, suspended its “no jeans allowed” policy to celebrate Levi Strauss returning to the public markets.

More than 120 employees from Levi’s global offices including its CEO Chip Bergh are taking part in the event and are wearing jeans and donning white T-shirts with the company’s red bat wing logo.


Rite Aid gets OK for plan to boost flagging stock price

UNDATED (AP) — Rite Aid shareholders are backing a plan to lift the struggling drugstore chain’s stock price and keep it from being kicked off the New York Stock Exchange.

Shareholders have approved a reverse split of the company’s stock that will cut down the number of shares traded and boost the price. Rite Aid said its board still has to decide the ratio of the split, which could involve exchanging one share for 10, 15, or 20.

Camp Hill, Pennsylvania-based Rite Aid Corp. said earlier this year it would try the reverse split after the Big Board warned that its shares could be removed if their closing price doesn’t consistently hit at least a dollar.

Rite Aid shares have largely slid since early 2017 and fell below that mark in December.


EU leaders open to Brexit delay but demand UK passes deal

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders say they are likely to grant Britain a short delay in its departure from the bloc if the U.K. government can win parliamentary support next week for its EU divorce deal.

Some warned that both Britain and the EU are heading toward a disruptive no-deal Brexit if lawmakers spurn the agreement again.

French President Emmanuel Macron cautioned that it was the British Parliament’s responsibility to make sure Britain does not crash out of the bloc without a Brexit deal.

Businesses and economists say a no-deal Brexit would cause huge disruptions to the economies of both Britain and the EU.

But there was little sign that May’s unpopular Brexit deal was gaining in popularity among British lawmakers. May angered many with a televised speech late Wednesday blaming a divided Parliament for an impasse that has left Britain eight days away from crashing out of the bloc with no divorce deal. One lawmaker slammed her remarks as “toxic.”

May hunkered down, calling on lawmakers to back her agreement and refusing to rule out a no-deal exit if they did not back her.


CFPB’s Kraninger reverses Mulvaney changes to advisory board

NEW YORK (AP) — The new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is reversing yet another policy her predecessor put in place at the financial watchdog.

CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger said she would restore the bureau’s advisory boards back to two-year terms, and would allow half of the board’s existing membership to continue serving. The agency would also increase the number of board meetings per year from two to three.

Mick Mulvaney, who ran the CFPB for President Donald Trump on an interim basis until last December, dissolved the Consumer Advisory Board and other groups, which act as a sounding board on important economic and financial issues as well as policy.

Consumer groups had expressed outrage at the move, saying it stopped important dialogue between the CFPB and outside groups.


Ford CFO Shanks retires; former Snap CFO Stone to take over

DETROIT (AP) — Ford Motor Co. says its chief financial officer, Bob Shanks, will retire in December, capping a 42-year career at the automaker.

The company said that Tim Stone will succeed Shanks as chief financial officer. Stone will come to Ford in April and takes over as CFO on June 1. Stone, 52, joins Ford after serving as the CFO of Snap Inc. and a 20-year stint at Amazon.com Inc.

Ford also announced other executive appointments. Peter Fleet, president of International Markets Group, will retire and be succeeded by Mark Ovenden. Stuart Rowley was named president, Ford of Europe, and Steven Armstrong was named chairman, Ford of Europe.


Neo-Nazi website operator ordered to disclose his net worth

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — A neo-Nazi website operator must disclose his net worth to attorneys for a Montana real estate agent who sued him for orchestrating an anti-Semitic “troll storm” against her family.

Tanya Gersh sued The Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin in Montana back in April 2017, claiming anonymous internet trolls bombarded her family with hateful and threatening messages after Anglin published their personal information, including her 12-year-old son’s Twitter handle and photo.

In a string of posts, Anglin accused Gersh and other Jewish residents of Whitefish, Montana, of engaging in an “extortion racket” against the mother of white nationalist Richard Spencer.

The U.S. Magistrate Judge has ordered Anglin to turn over a financial statement of his current net worth by March 29 or else the court will impose sanctions against him.


Ethiopian plane crash victims from Kenya seek compensation

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The families of Kenyan victims of the Ethiopian plane crash are asking their government for legal assistance in pursuing compensation.

In an emotional gathering in the capital of Nairobi, the victims’ relatives asked for lawyers to help them pursue their case in what could be an expensive and tedious legal battle.

Kenya’s foreign ministry is advising them to “come together as a group” as the attorney general takes up the matter. He said the government will assist in obtaining death certificates for the victims.

Thirty-two Kenyans were among the 157 victims of the plane crash.

The Boeing Max planes have since been grounded.


Squabble over airport’s name heads to court in Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Apparently, this region ain’t big enough for two airports with the name “Orlando.”

The authority that governs Orlando International Airport has sued the authority for the much smaller Orlando Melbourne International Airport on Florida’s Space Coast, claiming its name is misleading passengers into believing they’re going to the theme park mecca instead of the coast.

The lawsuit filed this week in federal court asks that the airport in Melbourne stop using the word “Orlando” in its name.

The Melbourne airport is located about 70 miles southeast of the Orlando airport, which was the nation’s 11th busiest in 2017.

Melbourne airport officials have said in the past both airports compete for the same market share.


First artificial intelligence Google Doodle features Bach

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) — Google is celebrating Johann Sebastian Bach with its first artificial intelligence-powered Doodle.

Thursday’s animated Google Doodle shows the composer playing an organ in celebration of his March 21, 1685, birthday under the old Julian calendar.

It encourages users to compose their own two-measure melody.

Google says the Doodle uses machine learning to “harmonize the custom melody into Bach’s signature music style.