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Update on the latest in business:

October 17, 2017


US stock indexes mostly lower in midday trading; oil falls

NEW YORK (AP) — Industrial companies are leading U.S. stocks mostly lower in midday trading today as investors size up the latest company earnings news. Packaged food and beverage companies are also among the big laggards. Health care companies have posted some of the biggest gains. Oil prices are down, giving up early gains.

At 12:49 p.m. Eastern Time, the S&P 500 index was down 1 point, or 0.1 percent, at 2,557. The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 18 points, to 22,975, lifted by a big gain in UnitedHealth. The average briefly rose above 23,000 points for the first time. And the Nasdaq composite slid 3 points to 6,621.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks picked up 2 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,504.

More stocks fell than rose on the New York Stock Exchange. The S&P 500, Dow and Nasdaq each posted record highs on Monday.


Leading senators say have outline of health insurance deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two leading senators say they have the “basic outlines” of a bipartisan deal to resume payments to health insurers that President Donald Trump has blocked. But Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray say in brief interviews that they still have unresolved issues.

Alexander says the two bargainers are close to an agreement to continue federal subsidies to insurers for two years. Republicans want Congress to give states meaningful flexibility to ease coverage requirements under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Alexander says they still haven’t agreed on what “meaningful” means.

The payments go to insurers for their costs for reducing out-of-pocket expenses for lower-earning customers.

Trump and many Republicans consider them bailouts to carriers. Insurers and others have warned premiums will rise unless the money is restored.


Dems slam Arctic drilling plan as ‘polar payout’ to Big Oil

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats and environmental groups are denouncing a Republican plan to allow oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, saying it would defile a crown jewel of U.S. wilderness to promote oil exports to China and other nations.

Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts called the plan a “massive corporate handout to Big Oil” that amounted to a “polar payout.”

The Trump administration and congressional Republicans are pushing the drilling plan, a longtime GOP goal, as a way to help pay for proposed tax cuts. The plan is included in a GOP budget proposal.

Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state called the GOP plan a “sneak attack” on the nation’s wildest place. The remote refuge is home to polar bears, caribou, snowy owls and other wildlife.


US industrial production rose solid 0.3 percent in September

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. industrial production rose a solid 0.3 percent in September, but the increase was limited due to the lingering damage from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The Federal Reserve says the storms, which struck the Gulf Coast and Florida, held down industrial output by 0.25 percentage points. Still, the manufacturing of automobiles, home electronics and appliances advanced in a potentially positive sign for consumer spending.

Factory output improved 0.1 percent, while the mining and utilities sectors rebounded from declines in August. Mining posted a 0.4 percent monthly gain, and production at utilities climbed 1.5 percent.

Over the past year, industrial production has risen just 1.6 percent — largely a reflection of the hurricanes over the past two months. Before the storms, the manufacturing sector had been helped by a stronger global economy leading to greater demand for U.S.-made goods.


US homebuilder sentiment rises in October

UNDATED (AP) — U.S. homebuilders are feeling more optimistic than they have in months, looking past a recent slowdown in new home sales and the risk of rising labor and materials costs following hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index rose four points to 68 this month. That’s the highest reading since May.

Readings above 50 indicate more builders see sales conditions as good rather than poor. The index has remained above 60 since September of 2016.

According to the latest survey by FactSet, the index easily exceeded expectations for a reading of 64 among industry analysts.

Readings gauging builders’ view of single-family home sales now and over the next six months rose from September. A measure of traffic by prospective buyers also rose.


Microsoft rolls out new Windows 10 update and laptops

UNDATED (AP) — Microsoft has begun rolling out an update to its Windows 10 operating system, hoping to spark enthusiasm for its virtual- and augmented-reality ambitions.

Several of Microsoft’s partners — Acer, Dell, HP and Lenovo — are simultaneously launching their first “Windows Mixed Reality” headsets. Samsung is also releasing one early next month.

Microsoft is also announcing a new generation of laptops in its Surface line. Two versions of the new Surface Book 2 — one 13.5 inches and the other 15 inches — will go on sale next month.


Facebook buys anonymous teen compliment app TBH

NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook has bought TBH, a teen-focused app that lets people give anonymous compliments to each other through polls and messages.

Facebook has confirmed the purchase, announced on TBH’s blog, but did not say how much it paid. TBH, internet-slang short for “to be honest,” says more than 5 million people have downloaded its app since it launched on Aug. 3.

TBH, which is only available for Apple devices at the moment, will continue to exist as a stand-alone app.

Facebook, based in Menlo Park, California, also owns Instagram and WhatsApp and has tried and failed to buy Snapchat several years ago. The latest acquisition is consistent with its strategy of buying — or copying — rivals, especially those popular with young people.


UK interest rates set to rise as inflation hits 3 percent

LONDON (AP) — Inflation in Britain is set to rise above 3 percent in the next month or two as Brexit-related price increases push through the economy, the Bank of England’s governor warned today, reinforcing expectations interest rates will soon rise for the first time in a decade.

Mark Carney’s comment came after official data showed consumer prices rose 3 percent in the year to September, from the previous month’s 2.9 percent rate.


Autonomous cars head for the Big Apple

DETROIT (AP) — Autonomous vehicles are already navigating the verdant hills of Pittsburgh and cruising the pitched avenues of San Francisco. They may soon be tested by the chaos of downtown Manhattan, where pedestrians, taxis, buses and bikes embark daily on an eternal quest to avoid impact.

Cruise Automation, a self-driving software company owned by General Motors, aims to begin testing in New York early next year. They’ll have an engineer behind the wheel to monitor performance.

Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt says the densely populated city of more than 8 million people will give the company more unusual situations to test software and accelerate the work on the technology.

Testing in New York is allowed under legislation included in the 2018 state budget. Cruise currently is testing in San Francisco.


Self-driving cars could ease traffic, but increase sprawl

UNDATED (AP) — A new study inspired by Boston’s early experiments with self-driving cars finds that the technology could ease congestion, but might also lead to more cars on the road and further encourage urban sprawl.

The report by the Boston Consulting Group and the World Economic Forum is a mostly optimistic take on how autonomous vehicles could change cities.

Three companies are now testing self-driving cars in Boston’s Seaport District. One of them, NuTonomy, has also partnered with ride-hailing service Lyft to research how passengers book and route a self-driving car.

The consulting group’s study included a computer simulation of how downtown Boston traffic would change with the advent of self-driving taxis, buses and private cars. It would likely add vehicles to roads while simultaneously reducing traffic time.


Volvo’s electric car brand Polestar unveils first model

BEIJING (AP) — Volvo Cars’ performance electric car brand, Polestar, has unveiled a four-seat coupe in lightweight carbon fiber as its first model, adding to competition in a market dominated until now by Tesla.

The hybrid Polestar 1 promises a range of 150 kilometers (95 miles) on a charge, with a gasoline-powered engine to supplement that if needed. It is due to be produced at a factory in western China and released in 2019.

Volvo, owned since 2010 by Chinese automaker Geely Holding, announced in July that it would make only electric and hybrid vehicles starting in 2019.

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