Business Highlights

Some businesses thrived, many lagged during pandemic in 2020

The coronavirus pandemic created winners and losers in the business world. Wall Street recovered after March, even though Main Street is still struggling. In 2020, many people took to working remotely in sweatpants, hopped onto an expensive high-tech exercise bike and had their favorite restaurant dish delivered, perhaps by a driver trying to earn an extra buck and hoping not to catch the coronavirus. On the flip side, many office buildings remain deserted, restaurants are empty and gyms remain sparsely populated. As few people traveled, the airline industry needed billions of dollars in aid from the government and is still threatening to lay off workers.


US layoffs remain elevated as 803,000 seek jobless aid

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell by 89,000 last week to a still-elevated 803,000, evidence that the job market remains under stress nine months after the coronavirus outbreak sent the U.S. economy into recession and caused millions of layoffs. The latest figure shows that many employers are still cutting jobs as the pandemic tightens business restrictions and leads many consumers to stay home. Before the virus struck, applications typically numbered around 225,000 a week before shooting up to 6.9 million in early spring when the virus — and efforts to contain it — flattened the economy. It has since come down but remains at historically high levels.


A season of fear, not cheer, as virus changes Christmas

All most people wanted for Christmas after this year of pandemic uncertainty and sadness was some cheer and togetherness. Instead many are heading into a season of isolation, grieving lost loved ones, worried about their jobs or confronting the fear of a potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus. Residents of London can’t see people outside their households. Peruvians won’t be allowed to drive their cars over Christmas and New Year to discourage visits. South Africans won’t be able to go to the beach over Christmas. The patchwork of restrictions being imposed by local and national governments across the world varies widely — but few holiday seasons will look normal this year.


With time running out, EU and UK near post-Brexit trade deal

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union and British negotiators are closing in on a trade deal with only a disagreement over fishing rights in U.K. waters remaining, After resolving a few remaining fair competition issues, negotiators were down to dealing with fishing quotas and transition terms Wednesday as they worked to secure a deal for a post-Brexit relationship by an end-of-year deadline. Two EU sources say there is hope a chaotic break on New Year’s Day could be averted as soon as Wednesday night. Britain withdrew from the EU on Jan. 31, and an economic transition period expires on Dec. 31. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted the U.K. would “prosper mightily” even if no deal were reached.


Safety a higher priority than sales for many small retailers

NEW YORK (AP) — Small and independent retailers already struggling because of the coronavirus outbreak are taking extraordinary steps this holiday season to try and lessen the spread of the virus. They’re going beyond limiting the number of people in a store — owners are encouraging online buying, and setting up appointments before and after hours for private shopping trips. Owners ask customers in their stores to limit the amount of time they spend there, and curbside pickup, delivery and shipping are standard operating procedure. All of this is in addition to state and local restrictions on how many people can be in a store at a time.


Virus-linked isolation of UK eases but backlog persists

DOVER, England (AP) — Gridlock at an English port is keeping thousands of truckers and travelers stranded despite a deal with France to lift a two-day blockade imposed because of a new variant of the coronavirus. That blockade had isolated Britain and raised fears of food shortages. While some goods and passengers began arriving on French shores in the morning, many still struggled to get through. With officials warning that the backlog would take days to clear, frustrated truckers scuffled with police. Some have suggested the chaos was a precursor to what Britain may face if it doesn’t come to a trade agreement with the European Union before it leaves the bloc’s economic embrace on Dec. 31.


Global virus rules for Christmas: Tough, mild or none at all

In Peru, you can’t drive your car on Christmas. In Lebanon, you can go to a nightclub over the holidays, but you can’t dance. Italy’s color-coded virus rules change every couple of days for the next two weeks. Some countries want families to limit the number of people at Christmas meals. Others aren’t regulating private gatherings at all. Governments around the world are trying to find the right formulas to keep their people safe for the holidays. New virus variants are prompting renewed travel bans and fueling resurgent infections, hospitalizations and deaths at the end of an already devastating year.


Insurance shoppers: Plan now to trim next spring’s tax bill

Some health insurance shoppers who got government assistance may receive a tax surprise next spring. The problem centers on income estimates. People who use tax credits to buy coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces must estimate their income to figure out how much help they need. Those who estimate too low and get more help than they should will have to pay back all or part of the money. But next spring’s tax headache can be softened with some planning and saving.


S&P 500 index ticks higher, breaking a 3-day losing streak

Stocks managed small gains on Wall Street Wednesday following a mixed set of reports on the economy. The S&P 500 inched up 0.1%, enough to break a three-day losing streak. Banks and communication services companies led the gains. Weakness in tech stocks pulled the Nasdaq slightly lower. Overnight, Wall Street had seemed set for a rockier day of trading. President Donald Trump suggested that he may not sign the $900 billion economic rescue package Congress just approved. But investors quickly shrugged it off. Roughly 60% of the stocks in the S&P 500 rose. Treasury yields climbed.


What the new COVID relief package means for your money

A second round of relief is poised to affect the finances of millions of Americans as soon as the end of this year. The $900 billion package includes $600 one-time checks for those earning under $75,000 — half of what people received from the original pandemic relief package, known as the CARES Act. For unemployed Americans, $300 of supplemental unemployment insurance will top other unemployment benefits for 11 weeks. The package also extends multiple benefits made possible by the original CARES Act, like a moratorium on rental evictions, and expanded eligibility for small business owners seeking Paycheck Protection Program loans, among other benefits for college students, homeowners and parents.


The S&P 500 rose 2.75 points, or 0.1%, to 3,690.01. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 114.32 points, or 0.4%, to 30,129.83. The Nasdaq composite fell 36.80 points, or 0.3%, to 12,771.11. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gained 17.22 points, or 0.9%, to 2,007.10.