Business Highlights

Fraud, backlogs disrupt US unemployment benefit payments

WASHINGTON (AP) — Many American workers applying for unemployment benefits after being thrown out of a job by the coronavirus face a new complication: States’ efforts to prevent fraud have delayed or disrupted their payments. California has said it will stop processing new applications for two weeks as it seeks to reduce backlogs and stop phony claims. Pennsylvania has found that up to 10,000 inmates improperly applied for aid.


Palm oil labor abuses linked to world’s top brands, banks

PENINSULAR MALAYSIA (AP) — An Associated Press investigation into the invisible workforce of millions of laborers toiling in the palm oil industry in Malaysia and Indonesia found many of them suffering from various forms of exploitation — the most serious including child labor, outright slavery and allegations of rape. The workers from some of the poorest corners of Asia tend the heavy reddish-orange palm oil fruit that makes its way into the supply chains of many iconic food and cosmetics companies like Unilever, L’Oreal, Nestle and Procter & Gamble. Together, the two countries produce about 85% of the world’s estimated $65 billion palm oil supply.


Mnuchin and Powell back jobless aid and small business loans

WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell say that the government’s top priorities in any new economic relief package should be to provide affordable loans to small businesses and further support for millions of Americans still unemployed. With the prospects for any new federal aid package appearing dim, members of the Senate Banking Committee pressed both officials Thursday to list improvements that could be quickly made in the nearly $3 trillion in support that Congress has passed to fight the pandemic-induced recession that has nearly 11 million people still jobless.


Sales of new homes surge 4.8% in August

NEW YORK (AP) — Sales of new homes rose by a very strong 4.8% in August to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 1.01 million units. The gains reported Thursday by the The Commerce Department follow steep declines in March and April when COVID-19 infections spread in the U.S. That pace picked back up in the summer, driving home prices in many places to record highs. The median price of a new home sold was $312,800, according to the Commerce Department.


US stocks end higher as market volatility continues

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks closed slightly higher Thursday, as volatility continues to be the dominant force in Wall Street’s tumultuous September. The S&P 500 was 0.3% higher after having been close to a correction earlier. The day’s headline report showed that 870,000 workers filed for unemployment claims last week, a worse number than economists expected. Investors also weighed a report on home sales that was much stronger than economists expected. Technology stocks ended up as the biggest gainers, and only health care sector stocks fell. The market’s momentum has shifted with lightning speed recently, often changing direction by the hour.


IPOs head for banner year on stock market’s strength

NEW YORK (AP) — Companies that cater to the “new normal” of working and shopping from home are rushing to go public in 2020. The year could shape up to be both a dismal one for economic growth and the best year for the IPO market in two decades. Fueling it all is the stock market, which made a soaring recovery in spring and summer after COVID-19 derailed the longest bull run in history. Technology companies have been well represented in the IPO market this year, especially companies that are positioned to take advantage of the sharp shift to working and shopping from home.


Wildfires taint West Coast vineyards with taste of smoke

TURNER, Ore. (AP) — Smoke from the West Coast wildfires has tainted grapes in some of the nation’s most celebrated wine regions. The resulting ashy flavor could spell disaster for the 2020 vintage. The smoke from this year’s blazes has been especially bad — thick enough to obscure vineyards drooping with clusters of grapes almost ready for harvest. Growers are trying to assess the extent of the smoke damage in California, Oregon and Washington. John Aguirre is president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers. He says the fires will be the single worst disaster the wine-grape growing community has ever faced.


UK announces new plan to help workers hit by pandemic

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s treasury chief has announced a new income support program for workers hurt by the coronavirus pandemic as the government races to prevent widespread layoffs when earlier employer subsidies end next month. Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled his plan Thursday to subsidize the wages of workers whose hours are cut due to the pandemic as part of a wider package of measures to help businesses and bolster the economy. The plan comes in response to pressure from businesses and labor unions for the government to step in with more direct support for people in precarious work situations. The announcement comes as COVID-19 cases continue to soar across the U.K., which has the deadliest outbreak in Europe.


The S&P 500 rose 9.67 points, or 0.3%, to 3,246.59. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 52.31 points, or 0.2%, to 26,815.44. The Nasdaq composite added 39.28 points, or 0.4%, to 10,672.27. The Russell 2000 index of small company stocks inched up 0.36 of a point, or less than 0.1%, to 1,451.82.