Business Highlights

US layoffs still high, but so is skepticism on jobless data

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dipped last week to a still-high 840,000, evidence that layoffs remain elevated seven months into the pandemic recession. Yet economists say they are increasingly dubious about the unemployment claims figures, even though there is little doubt that hiring has slowed and employers have continued to lay off workers. One reason layoffs remain high is that companies often hold on to workers when a recession begins, if they can, in hopes of outlasting the downturn. Yet if the recession drags on, many will eventually give up and cut workers.


Stocks climb again on Wall Street with hopes for stimulus

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks closed higher on Wall Street Thursday as hope remains that Washington can approve more aid for the economy and after a report suggested the pace of layoffs is slowing a bit, though it remains incredibly high. The S&P 500 rose 0.8%. It tacked more gains onto Wednesday’s rise after President Donald Trump apparently backtracked on his decision to halt talks on more aid for the economy. He said Thursday morning that “very productive” talks have begun. Banks, technology and communications companies led the gains. Energy stocks jumped after the price of U.S. crude oil climbed more than 3%.


COVID-19 relief pushes U.S. budget deficit to a record $3.1T

WASHINGTON (AP) — New, eye-popping federal budget figures show an enormous $3.1 trillion deficit in the just-completed fiscal year, a record swelled by coronavirus relief spending that pushed the tally of red ink to three times that of last year. The Congressional Budget Office says the deficit equaled 15% of the U.S. economy, a huge gap that was the largest since the government undertook massive borrowing to finance the final year of World War II. The government borrowed 48 cents of every dollar it spent, CBO said, fueled by a 47% increase in spending.


Facebook removes fake accounts linked to conservative group

Facebook has removed more than 275 accounts that used fake profiles to pose as conservative Americans. The platform announced Thursday that it’s also banned an Arizona-based marketing firm that its investigation found was behind the fake accounts. Facebook says the firm, Rally Forge, was working for Turning Point USA, a conservative youth organization. Last month The Washington Post reported that Turning Point Action, a political action committee created by the founder of Turning Point USA, had hired teenagers to post coordinated pro-Trump content, a violation of the platform’s rules. Rally Forge and Turning Point USA did not immediately respond to messages on Thursday.


To dodge sanctions Venezuela turns to Asia asphalt giant

MIAMI (AP) — One of Asia’s biggest asphalt companies is helping Venezuela skirt harsh U.S. sanctions by moving hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of the state-run oil company PDVSA, according to an Associated Press investigation. Internal documents obtained by the AP show that Thailand’s Tipco Asphalt has been making payments to dozens of third parties at PDVSA’s instructions in exchange for cheap oil. The parallel payment system emerged at a time western banks have closed accounts belonging to Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government. Tipco said the payments are a standard feature of oil purchases that don’t violate sanctions targeting only U.S. companies. But the AP has learned that the outlays are being scrutinized by U.S. law enforcement and the Trump administration.


JPMorgan puts $30B toward fixing banking’s ‘systemic racism’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — JPMorgan Chase says it will extend billions in loans to Black and Latino homebuyers and small business owners in an expanded effort toward fixing what the bank calls “systemic racism” in the country’s economic system. The bank said it is committing $30 billion over the next five years toward programs that include earmarking more money for getting Black and Latino families into homeownership and providing additional financing to build affordable rental housing units. The bank said it expects the $30 billion to help finance 40,000 additional mortgages for Black and Latino households, another 20,000 loans that will refinance mortgages and help construct 100,000 affordable rental units.


US long-term mortgage rates change little; 30-year at 2.87%

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. long-term mortgage rates changed little this week, flattening in recent weeks following a year-long decline amid economic anxiety in the recession set off by the coronavirus pandemic. Home loan rates have remained at historically low levels. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reports that the average rate on the 30-year loan eased to 2.87% from 2.88% last week. The average rate on the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage ticked up to 2.37% from 2.36%. The low borrowing rates have bolstered demand by prospective homebuyers, who on the other hand have been constrained by the scarcity of available homes for sale.


The S&P 500 index rose 27.38 points, or 0.8%, to 3,446.83. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 122.05 points, or 0.4%, to 28,425.51. The Nasdaq composite picked up 56.38 points, or 0.5%, to 11,420.98. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks climbed 17.51 points, or 1.1%, to 1,628.55.