FINANCIAL MARKETS

Wall Street closes higher on shortened day

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks closed broadly higher on Wall Street as technology and health care companies post solid gains on a shortened trading day.

Energy stocks were also higher as the price of U.S. crude oil rose about 1 percent. Oil was higher after Bloomberg reported that OPEC and Russia have agreed on an outline for extending production cuts.

The S&P 500 index closed up 5 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,602. That's another record high and its first close over 2,600.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 31 points today, or 0.2 percent, to 23,557.

And the Nasdaq composite gained 21 points, or 0.3 percent, to 6,889.

HOLIDAY SHOPPING-BLACK FRIDAY

After weeks of deals, stores aim to draw Black Friday crowds

NEW YORK (AP) — Shoppers were out before dawn in the U.S. today for fun and for deals. Retailers that have had a tough year are hoping to bring customers to their stores and websites for Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Black Friday has morphed from a single day when people got up early to score doorbusters into a whole season of deals, so shoppers may feel less need to be out.

The shift to online buying will be a factor as industry analysts watch closely at how the nation's malls are faring for the start of the holiday shopping season.

The Mall of America in Minnesota says that 2,500 people were in line at the 5 a.m. opening today, in line with a year ago. Shoppers started lining up as early as 5:45 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

With the jobless rate at a 17-year-low of 4.1 percent and consumer confidence stronger than a year ago, analysts project healthy sales increases for November and December.

HOLIDAY-SHOPPING-BLACK-FRIDAY

As Black Friday spreads globally, a push against it emerges

NEW YORK (AP) — As Black Friday spreads globally, an anti-Black Friday movement has emerged in France among e-commerce sites that oppose consumerism.

A French association called Zero Waste France got thousands of entrepreneurs and businesses nationwide to sign up to a Black Friday boycott via an online petition called "Count me out on Black Friday."

French furniture outlet Camif closed its website for 24 hours today in protest at the imported American big-spend day — and invites internet users to give to associations all day instead.

Camif's Product Chief Frederic Emery calls Black Friday "an example that's to responsible consumerism" and says "what's more it is not part of French culture."

In France, over seven years Black Friday has slowly crept into the country on the day after Thanksgiving even though it's not celebrated in France.

VIRTUAL SPORTS BETTING

Firm becomes 1st in US to offer online virtual sport betting

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The company behind internet gambling website PlaySugarHouse.com has become the first in the U.S. to let gamblers bet real money online on the outcome of virtual sports events.

Chicago-based Rush Street Interactive tells The Associated Press it has received approval from New Jersey regulators to let patrons bet online on the outcome of virtual computer-generated sporting "events," including soccer, horse, dog and vehicle racing.

The technology exists in some Nevada casinos and is widely used throughout Europe, but this is the first time it will be available over the internet in the U.S.

The site and mobile app launched Wednesday.

Technology company Inspired Entertainment created the product, which debuts shortly before a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could legalize real-world sports betting in the U.S.

EUROPE-AMAZON STRIKE

Amazon workers in Germany, Italy stage Black Friday strike

BERLIN (AP) — Workers at a half dozen Amazon distribution centers in Germany and one in Italy walked off the job today, in a protest timed to coincide with "Black Friday" to demand better wages from the American online giant.

In Germany, the union spokesman Thomas Voss said some 2,500 workers were on strike at Amazon facilities in six locations.

The German union has been leading a push since 2013 for higher pay for some 12,000 workers in Germany, arguing Amazon employees receive lower wages than others in retail and mail-order jobs. Amazon says its distribution warehouses in Germany are logistics centers and employees earn relatively high wages for that industry.

The strikes in Germany are expected to end Saturday.

VENEZUELA-CITGO ARRESTS

US demands visits with oil executives jailed in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — U.S. diplomats are demanding that Venezuela give them immediate access to jailed oil executives who hold American passports.

The State Department says the U.S. Embassy in Caracas made the request to the government under international law.

It follows this week's arrest of six high-ranking executives from Citgo, a Houston-based subsidiary of Venezuela's state oil company. Venezuela accuses them of embezzlement stemming from a $4 billion deal to refinance bonds.

Five of the six Venezuelan executives have dual U.S. citizenship.

Oil-rich Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves, yet low crude prices plunged the country into financial crisis.

The international scuffle could further strain relations between the Trump administration and Venezuela as socialist President Nicolas Maduro tries to refinance billions in foreign debt amid U.S. sanctions.

SASOL-OIL PRICES

S African company pulling out of natural gas to liquid fuels

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A South African energy and chemical company says it's dropping plans for a $14 billion U.S. plant to convert natural gas to liquid fuels because of low oil prices and a volatile market. For the same reasons, it says it's also pulling out of Canadian shale.

Sasol made the announcement today in a news release posted on its website.

The plant would have been in the southwest Louisiana city of Lake Charles.

Sasol says it will sell its shale assets in Canada's Montney Basin.

GAS PIPELINES-OHIO

US appeals court orders halt on natural gas pipeline in Ohio

CLEVELAND (AP) — A federal appellate court has issued an order that temporarily prevents a company from building an 8-mile stretch of a high-pressure natural gas pipeline through a northeast Ohio city.

In a 2-1 decision Wednesday, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals granted Green a stay to stop NEXUS Gas Transmission from starting work on the city's portion of the $2 billion project while a lawsuit is pending.

Green sued the state Environmental Protection Agency in May, challenging the water quality certificate it gave NEXUS for the project. The EPA argues the certificate was properly granted.

The 255-mile-long pipeline is designed to transport as much as 1.5 billion cubic feet of gas per day from Appalachian shale fields across northern Ohio and into Michigan and Canada.

CHINA-TARIFF CUTS

China cuts import tariffs on some consumer goods

BEIJING (AP) — China has announced tariff cuts on consumer goods including avocados, mineral water and baby carriages in a new effort to spur economic growth driven by domestic consumption and reduce reliance on trade and investment.

Beijing faces pressure from the United States, Europe and other trading partners for better access to its growing market. But the range of 187 products affected by the latest cuts is relatively small and it's not how China's trade balance might be affected.

Chinese leaders are in the midst of a marathon effort to nurture self-sustaining economic growth based on consumer spending instead of trade and investment. Foreign products often are seen as higher quality, safer or cheaper, which has fueled a spending boom by Chinese tourists on basic goods including shoes, cosmetics and infant formula.

POLAND-SUNDAY SHOPPING

Poland to phase out Sunday shopping by 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's lawmakers have approved a law that will phase out Sunday shopping by the year 2020 despite criticism that it may eliminate thousands of jobs.

Proposed by trade unions that want shop workers to spend more time with their families, the bill got support from the ruling party that adheres to Catholic values. Critics say it would negatively affect Poland's economy, eliminating tens of thousands of jobs, and hurt supermarket chains, which are mostly western.

There will be, however, some exceptions that will allow Sunday shopping before major holidays like Christmas and Easter. Also, online shops and bakeries are to be exempted from the ban.

The bill still needs approval from the Senate and from Poland's president.