FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks rise

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are higher in midday trading on Wall Street as gains in health care companies and retailers outweigh losses in banks and utilities.

Consumer goods companies also rose. Energy stocks were among the laggards as crude oil prices declined.

Macy's jumped 9 percent after reporting results that were far better than analysts were expecting. Other retailers also rose. Target climbed 2.7 percent.

Abaxis soared 15 percent the veterinary diagnostic products company agreed to be acquired by Zoetis.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.08 percent.

EARNS-MACY'S

Macy's profit surpasses expectations, shares soar

NEW YORK (AP) — Macy's has surpassed all profit and revenue expectations for the first quarter of the year and is raising its outlook.

The company said its Bloomingdale's and Bluemercury divisions as well as its flagship store brand all did well.

Macy's, the first of the major department store to release its quarterly results, has been expanding its store label brands, adding more of the off-price Backstage stores, and upgrading its checkout technology to make it faster and easier for shoppers.

Macy's results follow government data released Tuesday showing that U.S. retail sales rose a solid 0.3 percent in April, a sign that shoppers may be rebounding from weak spending earlier this year.

HOME CONSTRUCTION

US home building slides 3.7 percent in April

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. builders broke ground on fewer apartment buildings last month, pushing overall home construction down 3.7 percent from March.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that housing starts fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.29 million in April, lowest since December. Apartment construction tumbled 12.6 percent to 374,000. Construction of single-family homes blipped up 0.1 percent to 894,000.

Still, housing starts are up 10.5 percent from April 2017 on a 7.2 percent increase in single-family homes, and a 19.1 percent surge in apartments.

Home construction has grown steadily since the housing crash hit bottom in 2012. The pace of homebuilding remains below its long-run average of about 1.5 million a year. Demand for housing is strong: Millennials are increasingly moving out on their own and seeking to buy homes.

INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION

US factory production rose a healthy 0.5 percent in April

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. factories cranked out more appliances, computers and aircraft last month, lifting manufacturing production for only the second time in five months.

The Federal Reserve says that factory output rose 0.5 percent in April after a flat reading in March. In the past year, production has increased a modest 1.8 percent.

U.S. manufacturers are benefiting from solid consumer and business spending, while also facing uncertainty because of steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the Trump administration. The production of machinery jumped 2.3 percent last month, while the output of metals fell 0.5 percent.

A broader measure of industrial production, which includes mining and utilities, rose 0.7 percent. Mining output, lifted by higher oil prices, jumped 1.1 percent. Utilities output rose 1.9 percent.

MINING POLLUTION

APNewsBreak: Trump mining pollution rule change challenged

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Environmental groups are challenging the Trump administration's rejection of an Obama-era rule that would have required mining companies to prove they have enough money to clean up pollution.

The Idaho Conservation League, Earthworks and other groups on Wednesday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. to review last year's move to drop the rule.

Earthjustice Attorney Amanda Goodin says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency action leaves taxpayers responsible for pollution that fouls waterways and endangers public health.

Mining industry representatives pushed hard to kill the rule.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt agreed with their argument that modern mining poses less risk for pollution despite a legacy of taxpayer-funded mine cleanups.

Under former President Barack Obama, the agency determined the opposite — that mining pollution remains an ongoing concern.

CONGRESS-NET NEUTRALITY

Senate Democrats push to reinstate 'net neutrality' rules

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is poised to approve legislation designed to reverse the Federal Communications Commission's effort to deregulate the internet.

Back in December, the FCC repealed an Obama-era rule known as "net neutrality" rule, junking the principle of equal treatment for all web traffic.

The rule had prevented providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from interfering with internet traffic and favoring their own sites and apps.

Telecommunications companies lobbied hard to overturn the rule, saying it discouraged investment and innovation.

The Senate is expected to pass a resolution from Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., that would reverse the FCC's decision. But the House isn't likely to take it up.

Still, Democrats see their effort as something that will energize young voters who value unfettered access to the internet.

UNITED STATES-CHINA

Trump says 'no folding' in trade negotiations with China

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says there has been "no folding" in his trade negotiations with China, as he addresses his efforts to help a Chinese telecommunications company that violated U.S. sanctions.

Trump tweeted on Wednesday, "Nothing has happened with ZTE except as it pertains to the larger trade deal."

He added that "We have not seen China's demands yet." He also said: "There has been no folding as the media would love people to believe."

Trump tweeted his support for ZTE earlier this week, putting the president at odds with the Commerce Department and its decision to impose trade restrictions on the company amid allegations it violated U.S. sanctions.

Trump has also drawn criticism from Democrats and Republicans that the company poses a national security risk.

NOVARTIS-TRUMP LAWYER

Novartis general counsel resigns over deal with Trump lawyer

GENEVA (AP) — Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis said Wednesday that its top lawyer is stepping down over a deal to hire U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as a consultant.

The company said general counsel Felix Ehrat is retiring.

Company spokesman Eric Althoff said last week that Novartis had entered into a one-year agreement with Cohen's company, Essential Consultants, in February 2017 — a month after Trump's inauguration — to focus on health care policy.

Althoff said Novartis, which is based in Basel, Switzerland, had hired Cohen for $100,000 per month, but determined after a single meeting with him that he wouldn't be of use. The company still paid out the $1.2 million contract.

JAPAN-ENERGY

Japan draft plan sets ambitious targets for nuclear energy

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's government has proposed an energy plan that sets ambitious targets for nuclear energy use in the coming decade despite challenges after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The draft, presented Wednesday to a government-commissioned panel of experts, says that by fiscal 2030 nuclear energy should account for 20-22 percent of Japan's total power generation. The Cabinet is expected to approve the plan within weeks.

The targets appear difficult to achieve given that electric utilities are opting to scrap aging reactors rather than pay higher costs to meet post-Fukushima safety standards. Uncertainty over what to do with massive radioactive waste in the crowded island nation is another big concern.

Nuclear energy now accounts for less than 2 percent of Japan's energy mix since most reactors were idled after the 2011 disaster.

NFL-PANTHERS-SALE

Panthers: Signed agreement to sell NFL team to David Tepper

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Carolina Panthers say they've signed a "definitive agreement" to sell the team to David Tepper, the founder and president of global hedge fund Appaloosa Management.

The deal is subject to NFL approval. The Panthers said in a release the transaction is expected to close in July.

Tepper, who has been a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2009, said in a release Wednesday that he's thrilled to have been selected to be the next owner of the Panthers.

The 60-year-old Tepper says he'll "build upon the Panthers' success on the field and in the community."

The release didn't mention if Tepper plans to move the team or keep it in Charlotte.

PET LEASING

Please don't repo Fido: Lawmakers look to ban pet leasing

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Can't afford that $1,000 purebred puppy? Want to pay it off in installments?

New York lawmakers have introduced legislation seeking to ban the option of leasing plans for pets that often come with terms that end up charging people double the animal's cost, with the threat of repossession if they can't keep up with the payments.

The practice has been drawing scrutiny from lawmakers and animal welfare groups since media reports last year highlighted customer complaints against Reno, Nevada-based Wags Lending, which pioneered pet leasing.

Democratic Assemblyman Matthew Titone says his bill would end what he calls a predatory practice that preys on people who cannot always afford a companion animal. If it passes, New York would join Nevada and California with such a ban.