Update on the latest business


Stocks higher

NEW YORK (AP) — Technology companies are helping drive stocks broadly higher in midday trading on Wall Street, as investors study the latest batch of company earnings and deal news.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP led the gainers among technology stocks.

Blue Buffalo Pet Products jumped 16 percent after General Mills agreed to buy the pet food maker.

Bond yields receded from the four-year highs they reached earlier this week.


Fed expects economic gains to prompt gradual rate hikes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve says it expects that the ongoing strength of the U.S. economy will warrant further gradual increases in interest rates this year, delivering the same steady-as-it-goes message under new leader Jerome Powell as it had provided under Janet Yellen.

The Fed’s projection on rate hikes came with the release Friday of its semi-annual monetary report to Congress. Powell will testify on the report before the House Financial Services Committee next Tuesday, making his first public appearance since taking over as chairman earlier this month.

The report stated that the Fed expects steady economic gains will warrant “further gradual increases” in the Fed’s benchmark rate. But it said the rate was likely to remain low enough to stimulate the economy over the next two years.


Trump to announce new NKorea sanctions

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is hitting more than 50 vessels, shipping companies and trade businesses with sanctions in the latest bid to turn up the pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program.

The administration billed it as the largest installment of North Korean economic restrictions to date. President Donald Trump went further, declaring in a speech Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference that it was “the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before.”

While the number of companies from North Korea and other nations was high, the economic impact is unclear. It was certain to be less than previous U.S. measures that targeted large banks and business networks in China and Russia that deal with the North.

However, it significantly tightens the noose on North Korean trading. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters that the U.S. has now imposed more than 450 sanctions against the North, about half of them in the last year — including “virtually all their ships that they’re using at this moment in time.”


Sensing collateral damage, US companies split with NRA

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. companies are taking a closer look at investments, co-branding deals and other ties to the gun industry and its public face, the National Rifle Association, after the latest school massacre.

Some of the companies that partnered with the NRA have begun to distance themselves as a backlash grows. Boycott petitions are circling online for companies that offer discounts to NRA members and #BoycottNRA is trending on Twitter.

MetLife, Symantec and Enterprise Holdings have announced that they are cutting off discounts for NRA members. First National Bank of Omaha, one of the nation’s largest privately held banks, says it won’t renew a co-branded Visa credit-card with the NRA.

On Friday, Blackrock Inc. said it wants to engage with major weapons manufacturers and distributors “to understand their response to recent events.” Blackrock, which manages $6 trillion in assets, has become one of the largest stakeholders in gun manufacturers like Sturm Ruger & Co., American Outdoor Brands Corp. and Vista Outdoor Inc. through indirect investments.


GOP, Dem governors push national health care compromise

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A bipartisan group of governors says the two parties can and should work together to improve the nation’s health care system.

Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich (KAY’-sik), Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and others are set to discuss the group’s latest policy work on health care during a news conference Friday in Washington.

Their blueprint lays out ways to improve affordability, restore stability, promote flexibility in the states and eliminate burdensome or overlapping insurance regulations.

Some specifics include urging the federal government to restore insurer subsidies that were stopped by Republican President Donald Trump, triggering sharp increases in premiums this year, and supporting more outreach to help sign people up for coverage.

Kasich and Hickenlooper, who are both term-limited, have been working together for more than a year.


Prosecutors want Martin Shkreli to forfeit $7.3M

NEW YORK (AP) — The federal government says “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli (SHKREL’-ee) is on the hook for more than $7 million for his securities fraud conviction.

Shkreli appeared in a New York court on Friday for the first time since a judge locked him up for his online antics.

Prosecutors say he should forfeit $7.3 million in assets that include a one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” album that he has boasted he bought for $2 million. The government also wants him to give up $5 million in cash, his interest in a pharmaceutical company and other valuables including a Picasso painting.

The defense has argued that Shkreli owes nothing, because the hedge fund investors actually ended up making a profit off drug company stock he gave them.

U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto didn’t immediately rule on the government’s demand.


General Mills buying Blue Buffalo Pet Products in $8B deal

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — General Mills is buying Blue Buffalo Pet Products Inc. in a deal valued at about $8 billion.

General Mills Inc. will pay $40 per Blue Buffalo share. That’s a 17 percent premium to the pet food company’s Thursday closing price of $34.12.

Blue Buffalo makes natural foods and treats for dogs and cats. Its Blue brand had approximately $1.28 billion in net sales in fiscal 2017.

Minneapolis-based General Mills said once the transaction closes, Blue Buffalo will be run as a new pet operating segment.

Blue Buffalo is expected to keep its Wilton, Connecticut headquarters.

The deal is targeted to close by the end of General Mills’ fiscal year 2018.


BB&T reports services are returning

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — BB&T says it is restoring some of the services it lost after what it calls an equipment malfunction.

Spokesman Brian Davis said Friday that automated Phone24 service and automated teller machines are now available from the North Carolina-based bank. Davis said customers should be aware that some information they will see about their accounts hasn’t yet been fully updated, but will be available and updated later Friday.

The outage, which was first reported Thursday, affected the bank’s online banking, mobile banking app and ATM services. Millions of customers were affected.

The bank said it doesn’t believe the problem is related to a cyber-attack.


Atlantic Coast Pipeline cost expected to increase by $1.5B

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The cost of a controversial natural gas pipeline planned to run through Virginia is expected to increase by more than $1 billon.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports Duke Energy is a 47 percent partner in the 600-mile Dominion Energy-led Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Duke CEO Lynn Good said in an earnings call Tuesday the estimated total project cost is now at least $6 billion because of delays in the permitting process.

Dominion spokesman Aaron Ruby couldn’t confirm the new estimate but said Dominion’s financial disclosure next week would have more information.

Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Greg Buppert says the higher cost means Virginia and North Carolina utility customers will pay more.

Duke anticipates the project’s cost to increase by up to $1.5 billion before its expected 2019 completion date.


BMW plans to build battery electric Minis in China

BERLIN (AP) — German automaker BMW says it’s in talks to build battery electric models of its Mini cars in China, which would be the first time the iconic cars have been made outside Europe.

BMW said in a statement Friday it has signed a letter of intent with Chinese manufacturer Great Wall Motor.

China is the world’s largest market auto market and BMW delivered 560,000 vehicles to customers there last year, of which some 35,000 were Minis.

BMW already cooperates with local manufacturer Brilliance in China.

The company says its main Mini plant in Oxford, England, will start producing the first battery electric models next year.

BMW said making Minis in China wouldn’t call into question its commitment to manufacturing in Britain, citing “significant investments” it has made in the country.


Volkswagen says earnings up more than 50 percent in 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Automaker Volkswagen AG says its net profit increased by more than half last year, while revenue climbed more than 6 percent.

The company said Friday it earned 4.35 billion euros ($5.35 billion) in 2017, a 55.5 percent increase over the previous year’s 2.8 billion euros. Revenue rose to 230.7 billion euros from 217.3 billion euros.

Volkswagen said special items related to the diesel scandal that broke in 2015 again reduced earnings, though the total cost of special items was down to 3.2 billion euros from 7.5 billion euros in 2016.

The company already said it had record sales of 10.74 million vehicles last year. It said Friday that it “expects to moderately exceed its latest record delivery figures” this year, while revenue may rise as much as 5 percent.


Germany books record surplus as economy keeps growing

BERLIN (AP) — Germany saw a record budget surplus last year thanks to unbroken economic growth.

The Federal Statistical Office said Friday that public treasuries received 36.6 billion euros ($45 billion) more than they spent in 2017. The figure was slightly less than had been forecast.

Germany has now recorded a surplus for four years straight.

Strong export-driven growth has boosted tax revenue, with the country’s gross domestic product rising a further 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter of last year compared with the previous three months.

Germany has also benefited from the European Central Bank’s low interest rates, which have made the cost of public borrowing considerably cheaper.

Economists predict Germany’s growth will continue this year, rising to 2.4 percent compared with 2.2 percent in 2017.


Stores make push in scan and go tech, hope shoppers adopt it

NEW YORK (AP) — Shoppers at self-checkout lanes scanning all their groceries after they’re done shopping? Old school. More stores are letting customer tally their choices with a phone app or store device as they roam the aisles.

For customers, scanning as they go can be faster and make it simpler to keep track of spending. For stores, the big expansion coming this year costs less than installing more self-checkouts.

The expansion of scan-and-go comes from retailers trying to make store shopping more convenient and hang on to customers used to Amazon, which just opened a cashier-less store in Seattle. And like other automation technologies, it shifts more of the work to shoppers while freeing up employees for higher-value tasks. It’s happening when retailers are trying to make workers more efficient amid rising wages.

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