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Tech companies lead US stocks higher as virus fears subside

NEW YORK (AP) — Technology companies led stocks higher in midday trading Wednesday as investors set aside some of their concerns about the virus outbreak that originated in China.

New cases of the virus fell for a second straight day. China’s top diplomat told counterparts in Southeast Asia that the situation “is under effective control” in the province where the outbreak is centered.

The gains mark a reversal from Tuesday when tech stocks led the market lower after Apple warned that its revenue would take a hit because of the outbreak. Apple rose 1.6% and chipmaker Nvidia jumped 5%.

Bond prices fell, pushing yields higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose to 1.56% from 1.55% late Tuesday. JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and other banks climbed.

Navigation device maker Garmin and chipmaker Analog Devices jumped after reporting strong earnings.

Safe-play assets like real estate companies and utilities lagged behind.


US wholesale prices up 0.5% in January, most since late 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. producer prices climbed last month at fastest pace since October 2018 as higher prices for services more than offset a drop in the cost of energy.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that its producer price index, which measures inflationary pressures before they reach the consumer, jumped 0.5% in January after rising 0.2% in December. The monthly increase was much bigger than economists expected.

Over the past year, wholesale prices are up 2.1%.

Energy prices dropped 0.7% last month, pulled down by a 1.5% decrease in gasoline prices. Food prices rose 0.2% in January. But the price of chicken eggs plummeted 42.4% last month, most in records dating back to 1937.

Excluding volatile food and energy prices, so-called core producer inflation rose 0.5% in January from December and 1.7% from January 2019.


US home construction dips 3.6% in January

WASHINGTON (AP) — Construction of new homes edged back slightly in January after a December surge that had pushed home construction to the highest level in 13 years.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that builders started construction on 1.57 million homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, a decline of 3.6% from 1.63 million units in December. That had been the highest point since late 2006 at the peak of the housing boom of the last decade.

Economists had expected a slight pullback from the December surge, which was attributed in part to unseasonably warm weather which had allowed builders to start more construction projects.

Application for building permits, considered a good sign of future activity, jumped 9.2% in January to an annual rate of 1.56 million units.

Construction of single-family homes fell 5.9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.01 million homes while construction in the smaller apartment category edged up 0.7% to 557,000 units.


Bed Bath & Beyond rises as retailer unveils turnaround plan

UNDATED (AP) — Shares of Bed Bath & Beyond moved sharply higher at the opening bell Wednesday after executives rolled out a raft of initiatives to turn the struggling chain around.

Six weeks after using the company's own dismal quarterly results as motivation for change, new CEO Mark Tritton said late Tuesday that Bed Bath & Beyond would spend $1 billion this year reinvesting in stores, upgrading technology, and on debt reduction and share buybacks.

Part of the funding for those maneuvers will come from the $252 million sale of its PersonalizationMall.com business, announced Tuesday.

The Union, New Jersey, company withdrew its annual guidance last month after swinging to a $38.6 million third-quarter loss. Shares tumbled 8% on that day, and have fallen 32% this year.

Same-store sales at Bed Bath & Beyond, a crucial barometer of a retailer's health, have been negative since May 2017.


GM gets tax break for new plant next to factory it closed

LORDSTOWN, Ohio (AP) — General Motors Co. will receive a tax break to build a new electric battery cell factory in Ohio next to the site of a much larger assembly plant it shut down last year.

Village leaders in Lordstown approved a 75% tax abatement that will extend over 15 years and allow the company to move forward with the plant.

GM and Korea's LG Chem announced in December that they had formed a joint venture to work together on battery technology and build the new plant near Youngstown. GM has said it will be among the largest battery factories in the world.

GM stopped making cars at its Lordstown assembly plant last March after more than 50 years of production. It later sold the factory to a newly formed company that wants to make electric pickup trucks.

The battery plant was announced last fall during contract talks with the United Auto Workers union, but it won’t make up for the lost jobs at the small-car plant. The joint venture also likely will pay less than what GM pays unionized assembly plant workers.


US judge dismisses Huawei suit over government contracts ban

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge in Texas has dismissed Chinese tech giant Huawei's lawsuit challenging a U.S. law that bars the government and its contractors from using Huawei equipment because of security concerns.

The lawsuit, filed last March, sought to declare the law unconstitutional. Huawei argued the law singled out the company for punishment, denied it due process and amounted to a “death penalty.”

But a court ruled Tuesday that the ban isn't punitive and that the federal government has the right to take its business elsewhere.

Huawei, China’s first global tech brand, is at the center of U.S.-Chinese tensions over technology competition and digital spying. The company has spent years trying to put to rest accusations that it facilitates Chinese spying and that is controlled by the ruling Communist Party.

Huawei said it was disappointed and will consider further legal options.


North Dakota regulators OK expanded Dakota Access pipeline

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota regulators on Wednesday unanimously approved expanded capacity for the Dakota Access pipeline, saying they believed the project had met exhaustive state and federal requirements.

The 3-0 vote by the all-Republican Public Service Commission came after the body signaled last month it was likely to approve a permit to expand the capacity of the pipeline, despite objections from opponents who said it would increase the probability of a disastrous oil spill.

Texas-based Energy Transfer proposed doubling the capacity of the pipeline last year to meet growing demand for oil shipments from North Dakota, without the need for additional pipelines or rail shipments. Commissioner Brian Kroshus said Wednesday that he believes the project would help take oil trucks off the road, reducing traffic fatalities.

The company plans to build a $40 million pump station near Linton in south-central North Dakota. The company also plans additional pumping stations in South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.


Burger King breaks the mold with new advertising campaign

UNDATED (AP) — Burger King is breaking the mold in its new advertising campaign.

The burger chain is portraying its Whopper covered in mold in print and TV ads running in Europe and the U.S. The message: Burger King is removing artificial preservatives from its signature burger.

The company, already known for irreverent ad campaigns, turned it up a notch, including a time-lapse of a decaying burger on Twitter. That imagery goes beyond the print ads that show a 28-day-old burger — a week beyond.

The restaurant, based in Miami, Florida, says it has removed artificial preservatives from the Whopper in several European countries — including France, Sweden and Spain — and around 400 of its 7,346 U.S. restaurants. It plans to remove preservatives from Whoppers served in all of its restaurants this year.

The Whopper is topped with onions, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and pickles, all of which will contain no artificial preservatives.

Burger King says it has also removed artificial colors and flavors from all its sandwiches and sides in some European markets and the U.S.


Meal-kit company Blue Apron considers selling itself

NEW YORK (AP) — Blue Apron, the online seller of meal kits, said it may put itself up for sale.

The struggling company, which pioneered the meal-kit craze in the U.S., has faced tough competition from online rivals that also ship boxes of raw meat, fish and vegetables to doorstops. Grocers, including Kroger and Walmart, have also been selling their own ready-to-cook kits in stores.

Blue Apron said late Tuesday that its number of customers fell 37% to 351,000 in the last three months of 2019. Revenue fell 33% to $94.3 million and it reported a loss of $21.9 million in the quarter.

New York-based Blue Apron said it is also considering merging with another company or selling parts of its business.


EU proposes rules for artificial intelligence to limit risks

LONDON (AP) — The European Union unveiled proposals Wednesday to regulate artificial intelligence that call for strict rules and safeguards on risky applications of the rapidly developing technology.

The report is part of the bloc's wider digital strategy aimed at maintaining its position as the global pacesetter on technological standards. Big tech companies seeking to tap Europe's vast and lucrative market, including those from the U.S. and China, would have to play by any new rules that come into force.

The EU's executive Commission said it wants to develop a “framework for trustworthy artificial intelligence." European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had ordered her top deputies to come up with a coordinated European approach to artificial intelligence and data strategy 100 days after she took office in December.

Officials in Europe, which doesn't have any homegrown tech giants, hope to catch up with the U.S. and China by using the bloc's vast and growing trove of industrial data for what they anticipate is a coming wave of digital transformation.


Germany: Bill requires sites to report hate speech to police

BERLIN (AP) — Sharing threats made by someone else could soon become a punishable offense in Germany, after the government approved a bill Wednesday designed to crack down on hate speech and online extremism.

Following a regional politician's slaying and an attack on a synagogue last year, German government ministers announced plans to require companies like Facebook and YouTube to report certain forms of hate speech to the police and to provide the users' IP addresses. Firms already have to delete such posts.

Under the bill that won Cabinet backing, internet companies would have to report a wide range of hate speech to federal police. This includes posts containing far-right propaganda, graphic portrayals of violence, murder or rape threats, preparations for a terrorist attack and images of child sexual abuse.

The legislation endorsed Wednesday also would extend the definition of criminal hate speech to include threats of rape or property damage and expressing approval for serious crimes.

The measures still require the approval of parliament.

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