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Update on the latest in business:


Stocks muted

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks have been muted in afternoon trading on Wall Street, as investors weigh solid corporate earnings results against concerns about the virus pandemic.

Blue chip companies like Johnson & Johnson and General Electric reported better-than-expected results.

Wall Street faces renewed worries that troubles with COVID-19 vaccine rollouts and the spread of new variants of coronavirus might delay a recovery from the pandemic. Investors are in the midst of quarterly earnings reporting season for U.S. companies, and this is the busiest week so far.


US consumer confidence rebounds in January

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumer confidence posted a gain in January, helped by a rise in expectations about the future.

The Conference Board reports that its consumer confidence index increased to 89.3, a rebound from December when it had fallen to a reading of 87.1. The January strength came from a rise in the expectations index, which measures feelings about the future path of incomes, business and labor market conditions.

The present situation index weakened further, likely reflecting concerns about the resurgence in COVID-19 cases.


Home prices rise at fastest pace in more than 6 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices jumped in November at the fastest pace in more than six years, fueled by demand for more living space as Americans stick closer to home during the pandemic.

Home prices soared 9.1% in November compared with 12 months ago, according to the report on the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index. That is the largest increase since May 2014.


IMF: Vaccines will power 5.5% global economic growth in 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) — The spread of COVID-19 vaccines will power a stronger global economic recovery in 2021. That's the forecast from the International Monetary Fund.

After sinking 3.5% in 2020, the worst year since World War II, the forecast says, the global economy will grow 5.5% this year. The new figure for this year from the 190-nation lending organization marks an upgrade from the 5.2% growth the IMF forecast in October. The vaccine is expected to contain the spread of the virus and allow governments around the world to ease lockdowns and other restrictions on normal economic activity.

The IMF expects the U.S. economy to expand 5.1% this year after collapsing 3.4% in 2020. No. 2 China is expected to grow 8.1% this year.


Janet Yellen sworn in as first woman Treasury secretary

WASHINGTON (AP) — Janet Yellen has been sworn in as the nation’s 78th Treasury secretary and the first woman to hold the office. She was sworn in Tuesday by Vice President Kamala Harris. The ceremony was performed outside on the East Landing of the White House with a view of the Treasury Department that Yellen will lead.

Yellen’s husband, George Akerlof, winner of a 2001 Nobel prize in economics and their son Robert, also an economist, were present for the brief ceremony.

Yellen became the third of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominations to win Senate approval late Monday.


Biden’s Commerce pick, Raimondo, voices tough line on China

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s pick to oversee the Commerce Department has taken a tough line on China in her confirmation hearing.

But Gina Raimondo stopped short of singling out which Chinese companies should remain on a list that limits their access to advanced U.S. technology.

Raimondo is the first woman elected governor of Rhode Island.

She says China’s actions have been anti-competitive and hurtful to American workers and she will use all tools at her disposal to level the playing field for American workers. Raimondo also focused her testimony Tuesday on the need to help mend those sectors of the economy and the workers hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.


AP sources: Biden to pause oil drilling on public lands

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is set to announce a wide-ranging moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on U.S. lands. This, as his administration moves quickly to reverse Trump administration policies on energy and the environment and address climate change.

Two people with knowledge of Biden’s plans outlined the proposed moratorium, which will be announced Wednesday.

The move follows a 60-day suspension of new drilling permits for U.S. lands and waters announced last week and follows Biden’s campaign pledge to halt new drilling on federal lands as part of his plan to address climate change.


Consumer financial-hardship agreements slow but remain high

UNDATED (AP) — Credit reporting agency TransUnion has found that nearly 3% of common consumer debts were in financial-hardship status at the end of 2020.

Hardship agreements can put a pause on payments or provide other relief to help struggling consumers.

The latest number is down from a peak of almost 5% in spring, but it’s still far above the norm. It illustrates how many Americans are struggling to get by financially as the pandemic wears on. TransUnion looked at auto, credit card, mortgage and unsecured personal loan products.

Hardship agreements hit their peak in May at 4.77%. In February, just before massive pandemic-related closures and layoffs hit, they were at 1.71%.


Widespread internet outages hit northeast U.S.

UNDATED (AP) — Users across the northeast U.S. have reported widespread internet outages today. Verizon reported a fiber cut in Brooklyn via Twitter, although it’s not clear if that issue is responsible for the entire outage.

According to DownDetector and user reports on Twitter, the problem appears to extend from Washington to Boston, and is affecting internet and cloud providers as well as a number of Google services, Facebook and other major sites.


EU demands that vaccine makers honor their commitments

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is warning pharmaceutical companies that have developed coronavirus vaccines with EU aid that it must get its shots on schedule.

The warning comes a day after the bloc threatened to impose export controls on vaccines produced within its borders. The hardening of its position came days after it accused AstraZeneca of failing to guarantee the delivery of coronavirus vaccines without a valid explanation. It also had expressed displeasure over vaccine delivery delays from Pfizer-BioNTech. The Pfizer vaccine is already being rolled out in the EU, and the AstraZeneca one is expected to be approved this week.

On Monday, the EU threatened to impose strict export controls on all coronavirus vaccines produced in the bloc.


EU urges US to draft joint rule book to rein in tech giants

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is urging U.S. President Joe Biden to help draw up a common rule book to rein in the power of big tech companies like Facebook and Twitter and combat the spread of fake news.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said today that the way online platforms are doing business impacts on “our democracies, our security and on the quality of our information.”

In a speech to the Davos World Economic Forum, she called on Biden to join forces against “the darker sides of the digital world.” She says “together, we could create a digital economy rule book that is valid worldwide,” encompassing data protection, privacy rules and the security of critical infrastructure.


Twitter permanently bans My Pillow CEO

UNDATED (AP) — Twitter has permanently banned My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell’s account after he continually perpetuated the baseless claim that Donald Trump won the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

A Twitter spokesperson said in a statement that it decided to ban Lindell, who founded bedding company My Pillow, due to “repeated violations” of its civic integrity policy. The policy was implemented last September and is targeted at fighting disinformation.

It was not immediately clear which posts by Lindell on Twitter triggered the suspension of his account. Lindell, a Trump supporter, has continued to insist the presidential election was rigged even after U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has begun.


Amazon’s growth continues in 2021, more jobs to Boston

UNDATED (AP) — Amazon’s 2020 hiring spree does not appear to be slowing in the new year with the company announcing 3,000 new jobs in Boston. The hires announced Tuesday will double the workforce in Amazon’s Boston tech hub.

A number of companies that have allowed people to better maintain social distancing during the global pandemic have experienced explosive growth over the past year, and Amazon is at the top of that list.

Amazon hired more than 250,000 people in the quarter than ended in September. In October, the start of this quarter, it hired another 100,000. Amazon now has more than a million employees, 800,000 of them in the United States.


Judge OKs Weinstein bankruptcy plan with $17M for victims

DOVER, Del. (AP) — A Delaware judge has approved a revised Weinstein Co. bankruptcy plan that provides about $35 million for creditors, with roughly half that amount going to women who’ve accused disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct. The judge approved the plan following a hearing Monday and overruled objections by attorneys representing four women.

The settlement amount is $11.5 million less than under a previous bankruptcy plan. That plan was scrapped after a federal judge in New York refused to approve a proposed $19 million settlement between Weinstein and some of his accusers.


PepsiCo goes Beyond Meat in new partnership

UNDATED (AP) — PepsiCo is joining forces with Beyond Meat to develop new snacks and drinks made from plant-based proteins. The companies aren’t yet saying what kinds of products they will make.

The partnership gives Pepsi access to one of the leading plant-based meat companies in a market that is increasingly looking for healthier options. Beyond Meat makes burgers and sausages from pea protein.

Beyond Meat will get access to Pepsi’s big product line and distribution muscle. Pepsi is the maker of Frito Lay snacks and Quaker cereals in addition to its beverage portfolio.

Beyond Meat’s shares soared nearly 40% on the news.


American Express 4Q profit fell 15% on virus impact

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — American Express said its fourth-quarter profits dropped by 15% from a year ago. The New York-based company said it earned a profit of $1.42 billion, or $1.76 per share, down from a profit of $1.69 billion, or $2.03 a share, in the same period a year earlier.

The results were much better than what analysts had predicted, on average looking for AmEx to earn $1.31 a share.

The coronavirus pandemic struck at the heart of AmEx’s business model last year. AmEx cardmembers — often the well-to-do and corporate clients — stopped traveling, stopped shopping, weren’t able to go see concerts and shows, and stopped dining out.


J&J 4Q sales rise despite pandemic, but charges cut profits

UNDATED (AP) — A big jump in prescription drug sales boosted fourth-quarter revenue at Johnson & Johnson. That’s despite the coronavirus pandemic cutting into sales of products from contact lenses to surgical equipment and other medical devices used in procedures at hospitals swamped with COVID-19 patients.

Profits dove 57% due to higher research spending, plus one-time charges totaling $2.4 billion. The results still cruised past Wall Street expectations.

Johnson & Johnson says it expects to share results from the late-stage study of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine — the first requiring only one dose — “by early next week.”

Shares jumped nearly 3%.


Virginian-based UPS Freight being sold to TFI for $800M

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — UPS has reached an agreement to sell the Virginia-based UPS Freight to Canadian trucking giant TFI International for $800 million.

Both companies announced their agreement in a statement Monday. They say the deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2021 pending regulatory approvals.

TFI says about 90% of the acquired business will operate under “TForce Freight” and continue to serve UPS’ less-than-truckload operations. Those operators typically use trucks for bulk shipments. The remaining assets will join TFI’s truckload business segment.

The Richmond-Times Dispatch reports UPS Freight’s 14,500 workers will become employees of TFI when the deal is finalized.


Norway to fine dating app Grindr $11.7M over privacy breach

LONDON (AP) — Gay dating app Grindr faces a fine of more than $10 million from Norwegian regulators for failing to get consent from users before sharing their personal information with advertising companies, in breach of stringent European Union privacy rules.

Norwegian’s data privacy watchdog said Tuesday it notified the company of its draft decision to issue a fine for 100 million Norwegian krone.

The watchdog came to the preliminary conclusion that Grindr shared user data with a number of third parties without legal basis. The data included GPS location, user profile information as well as the fact that users are on Grindr, which could indicate their sexual orientation.

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