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Update on the latest in business:

December 19, 2017


Wall Street slightly lower

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks are lower today as losses for technology companies pull stock indexes away from all-time highs. Energy companies are slightly higher as oil prices rise.

At 12:46 p.m. Eastern Time, the S&P 500 index lost 7 points, to 2,683. The Dow Jones industrial average shed 50 points, to 24,742. The Nasdaq composite gave up 40 points, to 6,955.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks fell 3 points, to 1,545. All four indexes jumped to record highs on Monday.


GOP lawmakers continue to push tax cut bill through Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — A sweeping tax package speeding its way through Congress has cleared a key procedural vote in the House.

The House approved the rule to begin debating the bill by a mostly party line vote of 233-193. The House is on track to pass the bill this afternoon, sending it to the Senate for an expected vote this evening.

The $1.5 trillion package would provide steep tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy and more modest cuts for middle- and low-income families. The business tax cuts would take effect in January. Workers would start to see changes in the amount of taxes withheld from their paychecks in February.

The bill would nearly double the standard deduction used by most taxpayers, which those who itemize would lose some deductions.


Banking panel kills Trump nominee to lead Export-Import Bank

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate panel has rejected President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Export-Import Bank.

Two Banking Committee Republicans, Tim Scott of South Carolina and Mike Rounds of South Dakota, joined with Democrats to shelve the nomination of former GOP Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey to head up the bank, which provides loans, credit insurance and loan guarantees to help foreign buyers purchase U.S. exports.

It has many GOP critics who say it distorts markets and that too much of its help benefits large corporations like Boeing. Some U.S. businesses, including airlines, say the bank effectively subsidizes foreign competitors.

Garrett voted to close the bank when serving in Congress and didn’t apologize for his opposition when testifying at his confirmation hearing.

The bank has significant bipartisan support in Congress.


US housing starts rose 3.3 percent in November

WASHINGTON (AP) — Construction of new homes increased 3.3 percent in November — with the gain largely coming from single-family houses being built at the strongest pace in more than a decade.

The Commerce Department says builders broke ground on homes last month at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.3 million units. The increase marks a key moment in the recovery from the Great Recession: Builders started work on single-family houses at the fastest pace since September 2007, which was just a few months before the start of that economic downturn.

Single-family house construction has risen 8.7 percent so far this year.

Meanwhile, ground breakings for multi-family buildings such as apartment complexes have declined 8.5 percent year-to-date.

Building permits, an indicator of future construction, slipped 1.4 percent in October to 1.3 million.


Gene therapy for rare form of blindness wins US approval

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. health officials have approved a breakthrough therapy that can improve the eyesight of patients with a rare form of inherited blindness.

Today’s approval of the treatment from Spark Therapeutics is another major advance for the emerging field of genetic medicine. However, the drugmaker says it will not disclose the price until next year, delaying potential debate about a treatment that Wall Street analysts expect to cost around $1 million.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug, Luxturna (lux-TUHR’-nuh) for a rare vision-destroying mutation that affects up to 2,000 people in the U.S. Luxturna is the first gene therapy in the U.S. for an inherited disease.


Tenet looks to sell Conifer business, cut more costs

UNDATED (AP) — Tenet Healthcare aims to expand its cost-cutting plan, sell a business and continue shaking up its board mix as the hospital chain seeks firmer financial footing.

The company says it will increase the size of a previously announced cost-reduction plan by $100 million and try to sell its Conifer business, which provides revenue cycle management services.


German flight attendants union slams Ryanair refusal to talk

BERLIN (AP) — A German union representing flight attendants criticized budget carrier Ryanair today, saying the airline is refusing to meet with them to discuss pay and conditions.

The UFO union says it’s reaching out to the European Cabin Crew Association to determine how to increase pressure on Ryanair.

The airline reversed its longstanding refusal to recognize pilots’ unions last week, saying it had invited several for talks because it wished to “avoid any threat of disruption to its customers and its flights from pilot unions during Christmas week.”

UFO chairman Alexander Behrens welcomed Ryanair’s willingness to talk to pilots, but warned it could be an attempt to avert strikes in several European countries over the busy Christmas season.


Audi recalls over 52,000 cars; fuel lines can leak

DETROIT (AP) — Audi is recalling more than 52,000 luxury cars in the U.S. and Canada to fix fuel lines that can leak and increase the risk of a fire.

The recall covers certain A6 and A7 cars from the 2012 through 2014 model years.

The Volkswagen luxury brand says in government documents that the fuel lines have a compression point to make them easier to install. But over time, that point can weaken and may leak fuel.

The documents posted today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say the cars were made between Jan. 25, 2011 and Sept. 13, 2013. Audi says no fires or injuries have been reported.

Owners will be notified starting Feb. 5. Dealers will replace the faulty fuel lines.


Honda to unveil new compact gas-electric hybrid sedan

DETROIT (AP) — Honda will unveil a new five-passenger gas-electric hybrid sedan at the Detroit auto show next month.

The company says it’s bringing back the Insight name for the compact car that will offer mileage competitive with other hybrids.

Fuel economy and price haven’t been released. The vehicle will be in U.S. showrooms next summer.

The Edmunds.com auto buying site is predicting that sales of electric and hybrid cars will hit record numbers in the U.S. next year.


Jack in the Box selling Qdoba for $305 million

NEW YORK (AP) — Jack in the Box is selling the Qdoba restaurant chain to private-equity firm Apollo Global Management for $305 million in cash.

The chain of Mexican restaurants has been a sore spot on Jack in the Box’s overall business, posting same-store sales declines throughout the last year. The San Diego burger chain has been weighing its options with Qdoba for most of this year.

Chairman and CEO Lenny Comma says the San Diego company decided that selling Qdoba was the best thing to do.

Jack in the Box Inc. has more than 2,200 restaurants, while Qdoba has more than 700 throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The deal is expected to close by April 2018.


Facebook improves how blind can “see” images using AI

MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) — Facebook is rolling out a new face recognition service that identifies people in photos, even those who aren’t tagged by the poster.

The innovation is meant to help blind people learn more about photos and tip off people who want to know when they are in photos but haven’t been tagged.

It will also crack down on impersonators who use other people’s faces in their own profile photos.

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