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Stocks fall over worries about virus outbreak spreading

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are falling in midday trading on Wall Street as investors worry that a deadly virus outbreak in China could continue spreading and hurt the global economy.

The slump for U.S. indexes follows a sell-off for global markets as authorities worldwide take measures to monitor and contain the virus. The central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus is concentrated, closed down its train station and airport Thursday to prevent people from entering or leaving the city.

Banks and other financial companies are leading the losses. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.72% from 1.77% late Wednesday. Financial institutions rely on higher bond yields to set lucrative interest rates on mortgages and other loans.

Health care stocks are also broadly lower, while utilities and real estate companies held onto slight gains as investors shifted money into the safe-play sectors. Crude oil prices slumped, weighing on energy stocks.


Long-term US mortgage rates slump to 3-month lows

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. long-term mortgage rates fell this week to their lowest level in three months, deepening the incentive for prospective homebuyers although they face eroded affordability as prices continue to climb.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage declined to 3.60% from 3.65% last week. The benchmark rate stood at 4.45% a year ago.

The average rate on a 15-year mortgage eased to 3.04% from 3.09% last week.


Next stop, Brexit: Britain's EU divorce bill becomes law

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s delayed and disputed Brexit bill became law on Thursday, removing the last U.K. obstacle to the country leaving the European Union in just over a week.

The U.K. is finally leaving the 28-nation bloc more than 3 1/2 years after voters narrowly opted to do so in a June 2016 referendum — and after interminable rounds of political wrangling.

Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans announced Thursday in the House of Commons that the Withdrawal Agreement Act had received royal assent from Queen Elizabeth II, the final formality in its legislative journey.

The brief announcement, which drew cheers of “Hear! Hear!” from some Conservative lawmakers in the Commons, came hours after the bill completed its passage through Parliament late Wednesday by getting approval from the House of Lords.

The EU Parliament also must ratify the Brexit divorce deal before Jan. 31, Britain's scheduled departure date. The EU Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee voted by a large margin Thursday to approve the Brexit withdrawal deal, preparing the way for a vote of all European lawmakers in Brussels next Wednesday.


High hopes: US, EU and UK all aim for trade deals this year

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — The United States, the European Union and what will soon be post-Brexit Britain have all raised the prospect of concluding trade deals between themselves by the end of this year, setting up an intense few months of negotiations.

High-level representatives said Thursday at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos that it's possible that those discussions, operating in parallel, could be wrapped up by the end of the year.

That would be some achievement given that most trade deals take years as they get bogged down in minutiae of rules and regulations.

At a press briefing, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he's heading to London this weekend to meet with his counterpart, Sajid Javid, to discuss an array of issues including trade. Though Javid has said that negotiating a trade deal with the EU will be his “top priority,” discussions with the U.S. will take place at the same time.


Boeing jet weighs on airlines as Southwest's profit falls

DALLAS (AP) — The three big U.S. airlines that own Boeing 737 Max jets don’t expect the grounded plane back in their fleets before the end of the peak summer travel season, and that promises to lead to thousands more canceled flights and higher costs well into another year.

On Thursday, American Airlines executives said they canceled 10,000 flights in the fourth quarter because of the Max grounding, and they don’t expect to use the plane until late summer or early fall. The CEO of Southwest Airlines, the biggest operator of 737s including the Max, hinted at more delay in bringing back the plane.

The airlines had hoped to add more flights in 2020 to take advantage of strong demand for travel. They are trying to stick to those plans.

The comments, which echoed those by the president of United Airlines, came as American and Southwest reported fourth-quarter profits.

Both American and Southwest have reached settlements with Boeing over damages they suffered from the loss of their Max jets during 2019. Boeing said this week it doesn't expect regulators to clear the plane to fly until this summer, setting up the airlines for more fallout.


New internet customers boost Comcast 4th-quarter profit

UNDATED (AP) — Comcast continued adding internet customers in the fourth quarter, helping lift its net income 26%.

The Philadelphia company, which owns NBCUniversal and European broadcaster Sky as well as a providing cable and internet service in the U.S., has been focusing on broadband as more people quit traditional cable. Providing internet is more profitable for Comcast than supplying cable video service.

It added 442,000 internet customers in the fourth quarter, while losing 149,000 video customers. It lost 733,000 video customers in 2019, and expects to lose more in 2020 as it raises prices and more people shift to getting TV on the internet. A newer business for Comcast Corp. is mobile, and it added 261,000 cellphone lines. Overall, the video-and-internet division's revenue rose 2.6% to $14.77 billion.

While more than 80 million U.S. households still pay for cable TV, the move to video on the internet prompted Comcast to launch a streaming service, Peacock, later this year into a market crowded with services from its rivals.

In its NBCUniversal division, revenue dropped 2.6% to $9.15 billion, hurt by the weak debut of “Cats” at the box office.


ABC News to bolster streaming service with live programming

NEW YORK (AP) — ABC News is moving aggressively to boost its streaming service with the belief that these products will change the news business over the next decade the way cable channels CNN, Fox News and MSNBC did a generation ago.

The network said Thursday that it will hire some 50 journalists, assign correspondents Linsey Davis and Tom Llamas to online leadership roles and increase the number of hours of live programming with the goal of becoming a round-the-clock service within a year. The rollout begins next month.

Starting with the Iowa caucuses, Llamas will anchor breaking news coverage for ABC News Live, while Davis will host two separate one-hour newscasts to stream on weekday evenings.

Currently, ABC News streaming service shows live events and offers clips of broadcast stories.


GM to open racing tech center near Charlotte Motor Speedway

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors is planning to open a new technical center for performance and auto racing near the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina.

The company says the 75,000-square-foot center will open by mid-2020 off Interstate 85 in Concord. GM says it's still finalizing plans for the number of people who would work there. But it would be a mix of employees moving from the Detroit area and new hires in North Carolina.

The company says in a prepared statement Thursday that the center will be near many Chevrolet and Cadillac racing team partners and parts suppliers. It will tap a growing talent base in the Charlotte area, GM says.

The center will focus on transferring auto racing knowledge into engineering for vehicles that are sold to the public. GM says knowledge of fluid dynamics, scale model testing, and some wind tunnel tests began with racing and are now used in development of mainstream vehicles.

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