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Update on the latest business

January 4, 2019

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks surge

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks are rocketing higher after a string of developments eased investors’ concerns about the global economy and interest rates.

The Labor Department said hiring ramped up in December, which could allay fears about an economic slowdown in the U.S. Those worries, along with a weak revenue forecast from Apple, contributed to steep losses Thursday.

Also, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank will be flexible with interest rates.

And China’s government said trade talks between the U.S. and China will be held Monday and Tuesday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up more than 750 points in early afternoon trading.

ECONOMY-JOBS REPORT

US employers added a stellar 312,000 jobs in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers dramatically stepped up their hiring in December, adding 312,000 jobs in an encouraging display of strength for an economy in the midst of a trade war, slowing global growth and a partial shutdown of the federal government.

The Labor Department says the unemployment rate rose slightly to 3.9 percent, but that reflected a surge in jobseekers— a positive for growth.

Average hourly pay improved 3.2 percent from a year ago.

The health care, food services, construction, and manufacturing sectors were the primary contributors to last month’s hiring.

The strong job gains suggest that the tumbling stock market has yet to depress expectations that the economy will expand for a 10th straight year. Still, growth is likely to slow as the stimulus from last year’s tax cuts wane.

HEALTH OVERHAUL-LAWSUIT

Dem-led House moves to join health care law case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The new Democratic-controlled House has moved toward defending President Barack Obama’s health care law against a federal court ruling that the statute is unconstitutional.

The House has filed papers seeking to intervene in the case, which by itself is unlikely to have a substantial impact. But the move is part of an effort by congressional Democrats to pressure Republicans.

The House plans a vote next week formally authorizing its attorneys to enter the case. That will force Republicans to choose between seeming to defend the law or support its demise.

Republicans unanimously opposed the 2010 law and have voted repeatedly to repeal it.

During last fall’s campaign, many Republicans said they’d back legislation ensuring coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions — one of the law’s most popular benefits.

KUSHNERS-OPPORTUNITY ZONES

Watchdog group urges probe of Ivanka Trump tax break role

WASHINGTON (AP) — A watchdog group is asking the Justice Department to investigate whether President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka violated federal conflict-of-interest law by her key role in promoting an Opportunity Zone tax break program from which she could potentially benefit.

The complaint from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington follows an Associated Press investigation last month. The AP found that, as White House aides, Trump and her husband Jared Kushner both backed the Opportunity Zones program, which could financially benefit the couple.

Kushner owns a $25 million to $50 million stake in Cadre, a real estate platform has announced plans to invest in several cities under the Opportunity Zones program.

The CREW complaint says that, under the law, Kushner’s financial interests are considered of value to Ivanka Trump.

SOCIAL MEDIA-POLITICAL ADS

Judge bars enforcement of Maryland online political ad law

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A federal judge says a Maryland law aimed at addressing foreign interference in local elections on social media platforms such as Facebook appears to overstep the First Amendment.

The law requires certain media websites to publish online ad purchases and keep records of them for state inspection.

U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm granted a preliminary injunction on Thursday to prevent the state from enforcing those provisions until the case is resolved.

The Washington Post and other media outlets with an online presence in Maryland filed a federal lawsuit last year to block portions of the law from being enforced.

Grimm says while he has no cause to block the law’s wholesale enforcement, the plaintiffs persuaded him the requirements are “most likely unconstitutional as it applies to these Plaintiffs.”

MARRIOTT DATA BREACH

Fewer affected in Marriott hack, but passports a red flag

BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Marriott says fewer guest records were compromised than feared in a previously announced data breach.

But the largest hotel chain in the world confirmed Friday that approximately 5.25 million unencrypted passport numbers were accessed.

The compromise of those passport numbers has raised alarms among security experts because, combined with names, addresses and other personal information, they can be used to open fraudulent accounts, or be used by foreign operators.

The FBI is leading the investigation of the hack and investigators suspect the hackers were working on behalf of the Chinese Ministry of State Security.

The hackers accessed about 20.3 million encrypted passport numbers. There is no evidence that they were able to use the master encryption key required to gain access to that data.

FORD-RECALL

Ford recalls over 953,000 vehicles to replace inflators

UNDATED (AP) — Ford is recalling more than 953,000 vehicles worldwide to replace Takata passenger air bag inflators that can explode and hurl shrapnel.

The move includes 782,000 vehicles in the U.S. and is part of the largest series of recalls in U.S. history.

Included are the 2010 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX, the 2010 and 2011 Ford Ranger, the 2010 to 2012 Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ, the 2010 and 2011 Mercury Milan, and the 2010 to 2014 Ford Mustang.

Some of the recalls may be limited to specific geographic areas of the U.S.

At least 23 people have been killed worldwide by the inflators.

Ford says it doesn’t know of any injuries in vehicles included in this recall. Dealers will replace the inflators.

CHINA-US TRAVEL ADVISORY

China says US travel advisory ‘cannot stand up to scrutiny’

BEIJING (AP) — China has rebutted a U.S. travel advisory that once again urges American nationals to “exercise increased caution” when travelling in the Communist Party-ruled country.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Friday that more than 2.3 million Americans visited China in 2018. He also noted that some Chinese citizens have encountered difficulties entering the U.S.

An updated U.S. State Department notice warns that China sometimes arbitrarily detains U.S. citizens or prevents them from leaving the country. The notice says the “exit bans” are imposed to compel Americans to facilitate government investigations or resolve business disputes.

The advisory is largely the same as one released a year ago.

EUROPE-ECONOMY

Falling oil prices push eurozone inflation to 8-month low

LONDON (AP) — Official figures show that falling oil prices reduced inflation in the 19-country eurozone in December to its lowest in eight months.

Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency, said consumer prices were up 1.6 percent in the year to December, down from the previous month’s 1.9 percent and the lowest since April. Analysts had expected a decline to 1.8 percent.

Lower energy prices were behind the decline. Over the year, they rose 5.5 percent against the 9.1 percent recorded in November.

Stripping out potentially volatile items such as energy, core inflation was steady at 1 percent.

The fall in the headline inflation rate will likely rein in expectations that the European Central Bank will raise interest rates soon. The ECB aims for an inflation rate of just below 2 percent.

BRITAIN-ECONOMY

UK house prices drop amid Brexit uncertainty

LONDON (AP) — One of Britain’s leading mortgage providers says home prices in the country fell in December by their biggest amount in six and a half years, in a further sign that uncertainty surrounding Brexit is weighing on economic activity.

The Nationwide Building Society said Friday that house prices fell by a monthly rate of 0.7 percent in December, the biggest monthly decline since July 2012.

On an annual basis, prices were up only 0.5 percent, the lowest since February 2013.

The housing market, a barometer of the British economy, has slowed since the country voted in June 2016 to leave the European Union. Now that the country’s actual departure in March is looming, the property market, like other sectors, is being hobbled by uncertainty over what Brexit will mean economically.

TEXAS SHIP CHANNEL-EXPANSION

$92M contract awarded to expand Corpus Christi Ship Channel

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — An Illinois company has won a $92 million contract to deepen and widen the Corpus Christi Ship Channel to accommodate larger oil tankers.

The Port of Corpus Christi on Thursday announced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers selected Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company. The federal government and the Port of Corpus Christi are funding the overall $360 million ship channel project.

Plans include expanding the Corpus Christi Ship Channel from the Gulf of Mexico to Harbor Island. The depth would increase from 47 feet to 54 feet from the jetties at the entrance to the channel.

The project comes amid replacement of the Harbor Bridge, which opened in 1959 and has a 138-foot clearance, with a larger span.

GADGET SHOW-WOMEN IN TECH

Tech’s big gadget show edges closer to gender equity

NEW YORK (AP) — Critics have been on the case of one of the tech industry’s largest trade shows for not including enough female speakers.

That seems to be changing this year at CES, the consumer-electronics show in Las Vegas. Last year, CES initially had no female keynote speakers, for what would have been the second year in a row.

But one of the event’s most outspoken critics, a group called GenderAvenger, recently awarded CES a “Gold Stamp of Approval” for a 2019 roster of keynote and “featured” speakers that the group says is 45 percent women — 60 percent of them women of color.

Leveling the playing field often means more than inviting female CEOs to speak. Attendance, for example, is still largely male, reflecting the gender imbalance of the broader tech industry.

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