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Chilly weather endangers SC peach crops; Southwest Air turns a profit with Uncle Sam's help

US aid lifts Southwest to Q1 profit, American loses $1.25B

Southwest Airlines reported first-quarter profit. File/AP

SC peach farmers fear frost harm

LANDRUM — South Carolina farmers are taking precautions against a frost that could damage peach trees and other crops.

Brandon Hyder of Landrum told WYFF-TV that frost is the biggest danger, but also says there's little he can do besides hope for the best.

Workers have cut the grass around the 150 acres of peach trees at Hyder Farms, which Hyder said April 21 would help keep frost from settling. He and his family also pruned trees.

Winds above 10 mph would help keep frost from forming on branches and the grass, Hyder said.

Losing a few peaches would actually be OK. Hyder said that some peaches have to be manually picked when a branch has too much fruit on it.

"Of course, we don't want them all to get frost and killed but we would like to see some of them thinned out," he said. "We're going to have to do it anyway, so it kind of is beneficial at some times."

Bailout enables Southwest to post profit

DALLAS — Southwest Airlines is the first major U.S. airline to report a profit since the pandemic started, as federal payroll aid helped boost the company to net income of $116 million in the first quarter.

Without the federal money, Southwest would have lost $1 billion for the quarter.

Southwest also echoed rivals in saying that demand for travel is continuing to improve. The airline said Thursday that bookings for leisure trips within the United States have been improving each week since mid-February.

"While the pandemic is not over, we believe the worst is behind us, in terms of the severity of the negative impact on travel demand," CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement.

Southwest is benefiting more from the pickup in leisure travel because its biggest rivals — American, Delta and United — depend more on business travel and long-haul international flying, both of which remain deeply depressed.

Kelly also expressed gratitude for federal payroll aid — the airline industry has received $64 billion in cash and low-interest loans over the past 13 months to help cover labor costs.

Southwest posted revenue of $2.05 billion, slightly above predictions of $2.03 billion.

American Air posts $1.25B loss, delays jets

FORT WORTH, Texas — American Airlines said Thursday that it lost $1.25 billion in the first quarter and continued to slash costs, including delaying delivery of new jets as it waits for air travel to recover from the pandemic.

CEO Doug Parker said the airline continues to see signs that demand for tickets is improving.

American said it burned through $27 million in cash each day in the quarter, down from $30 million a day in the fourth quarter of 2020. The airline said it reduced 2021 costs by more than $1.3 billion, including a new round of voluntary buyouts that will result in 1,600 employees leaving the company.

Leisure travel within the U.S. has picked up recently, with about 1.4 million travelers going through airports each day this month. Still, that remains about 40 percent below the pre-pandemic pace of 2019. American's revenue was $4.01 billion for the quarter, down 53 percent from a year ago.

With less traffic, American reached a deal with Boeing to delay delivery of 23 737 Max jets until 2023 and 2024 and convert five of those to a larger version of the plane. American expects to take 14 Max jets over the next 12 months.

AT&T shares rise after results top estimates

NEW YORK — Shares of AT&T Inc. rose more than 4 percent April 22 after the telecom giant's first-quarter results topped analyst expectations.

The wireless division, its largest unit, added 595,000 customers who pay a monthly bill, up from 163,000 in the same period in 2020. It also added 207,000 prepaid phone customers.

In the WarnerMedia entertainment unit, revenue rose 9.8 percent to $8.5 billion.  AT&T also signed up 46,000 home internet customers and lost 620,000 video customers. AT&T is spinning off its DirecTV business after having lost about 60 percent of its satellite and cable TV customer base since buying DirecTV in 2015.

The Dallas-based company reported first-quarter net income of $7.55 billion and revenue rose 2.7 percent to $43.94 billion.

Shortage cuts into sales of existing homes

NEW YORK — Sales of previously occupied U.S. homes fell for the second consecutive month in March because there are so few on the market, and the fierce competition for those that do exist are pushing prices to new highs.

Existing home sales fell 3.7% last month from February to a seasonally-adjusted rate of 6.01 million annualized units, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. Sales jumped 12.3% from March last year.

U.S. median home price surged 17.2% from a year earlier to $329,100, an all-time high. At the end of March, the inventory of unsold homes stood at just 1.97 million. At the current sales pace, that amounts to a 2.1 months' supply, the NAR said.

"Demand remains strong," said Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist. "It's simply a severe lack of supply that is holding back sales."

Would-be homebuyers across the U.S. are facing perhaps the most competitive market in decades. Any house up for sale typically receives multiple, above-asking-price bids, which pushes prices overall even higher.

30-year home loans dips back under 3%

McLEAN, Va.  — Mortgage rates fell for the third straight week, with the benchmark dipping below 3 percent for the first time in two months.

Freddie Mac reported April 22 that the 30-year home-loan rate declined to 2.97 percent from 3.04 percent. At this time last year, the long-term rate was 3.33 percent.

The rate for a 15-year loan, popular among borrowers looking to refinance, dipped to 2.29 percent from 2.35 percent the week before.

Experts have expected home-loan rates to increase modestly in the short term, while remaining at low levels in light of the Federal Reserve's goal of keeping its principal borrowing rate near zero until the economy recovers from the pandemic.

Court cuts FTC power to seize ill-gotten gains

WASHINGTON — A unanimous Supreme Court on Thursday cut back the Federal Trade Commission's authority to recover ill-gotten gains, overturning a nearly $1.3 billion award against a professional race car driver who was convicted of cheating consumers through his payday loan businesses.

The ruling takes away what the FTC has called "one of its most important and effective enforcement tools," used in recouping billions of dollars over the past decade.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his opinion for the court that the provision of federal law that the FTC has relied on does not authorize the commission to seek a federal court to order restitution or disgorgement of profits.

But Breyer noted that other parts of the FTC Act could be used to obtain restitution for consumers who have been cheated. The acting FTC chairwoman, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, issued a scathing statement in response to the decision. Slaughter said the court "ruled in favor of scam artists and dishonest corporations, leaving average Americans to pay for illegal behavior."

The FTC accused Scott Tucker of Kansas of using his payday loan companies to deceive consumers and illegally charge them undisclosed and inflated fees.

Chip shortage halts UK Jaguar production

LONDON — Jaguar Land Rover said Thursday it's suspending production at two U.K. factories, becoming the latest automaker to fall victim to a global shortage of microchips.

Production will be halted for a "limited period" starting Monday at its Halewood factory near Liverpool and at its Castle Bromwich plant near Birmingham in central England, the company said, without being more specific. Manufacturing at another plant in Solihull in central England will continue.

The announcement is the latest to highlight the challenge the intensifying chip shortage poses to the global auto industry, which is building vehicles that are starting to resemble computers on wheels.

General Motors and Ford said earlier this month they were being forced to cut production at their North American factories because of tightening chip supplies. Other marques like Fiat Chrysler, now Stellantis, Volkswagen and Honda have also been hit hard by the semiconductor shortage.

Associated Press

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