Chinese exports fall amid US tariffs, weak global demand

A container ship is docked at a port in in eastern China's Shandong Province. Exports from China to the U.S. are down about 14 percent through February. File/Chinatopix via AP

Job growth slows, but wages climb

WASHINGTON — Despite the tepid pace of hiring in February, the government's monthly jobs report included several positive signs that point to a still-sturdy employment market and economy: Average hourly pay last month rose 3.4 percent from a year earlier — the sharpest year-over-year increase in a decade.

The unemployment rate also fell to 3.8 percent, near the lowest level in five decades, from 4 percent in January.

Housing starts up sharply in Jan.

WASHINGTON — U.S. housing starts jumped 18.6 percent in January, as builders ramped up construction of single-family houses to the fastest pace in eight months.

The Commerce Department said Friday that January ground breakings occurred at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.23 million. Home construction rebounded sharply from December, when the annual rate was just 1.04 million.

The rebound after December's plunge fueled optimism among economists that new-home sales will improve in 2019. The low 3.8 percent unemployment rate has provided a stable economy that has increased interest from would-be buyers, but affordability challenges from high prices and tight inventories have restricted sales. Analysts see the possibility for new construction to ease these pressures and increase sales.

"Given the underlying strength in overall housing demand, slow and steady growth in new supply will support a modest increase in sales," said Mike Fratantoni, chief economist for the Mortgage Bankers Association.

China exports hit by tariffs, demand

BEIJING — China's exports to the United States plunged in January and February as President Donald Trump's punitive tariffs chilled demand, while sales to the rest of the world also weakened.

Exports to the United States, China's biggest trading partner, fell 14.1 percent from a year earlier to $52.3 billion in the first two months of 2019, customs data showed Friday. Analysts usually look at the first two months of the year together to screen out the effect of the Lunar New Year holiday, when factories close for up to two weeks.

China's global exports sank 4.6 percent to $353.2 billion for the two-month period.

The trade slump has added to pressure on Chinese leaders to make peace with Washington in their tariff fight over Beijing's technology ambitions. Premier Li Keqiang, the top economic official, warned this week China faces a "graver and more complicated environment."

The decline in exports to the U.S. market represented a worsening of December's 3.5 percent contraction.

Feds probe 'Pharma Bro' phone use

NEW YORK — Federal authorities said Friday they are investigating claims that Martin Shkreli has been running his pharmaceutical company from behind bars using a contraband smartphone.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons told The Associated Press it has opened an inquiry into whether the man nicknamed the "Pharma Bro" violated prison rules forbidding inmates from conducting business and possessing cellphones.

Shkreli, 35, is serving a seven-year sentence for securities fraud at the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix, N.J. He was found guilty of lying to investors in two failed hedge funds and cheating them out of millions.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Shkreli has used a cellphone to call the shots at his drug company, Phoenixus AG, posting regularly to social media and even firing the company's CEO a few weeks ago.

Shkreli's defense attorney, Benjamin Brafman, declined to comment.

Warner Bros. CEO apologizes to staff

LOS ANGELES — Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara is apologizing to his staff amid a WarnerMedia investigation into sexual misconduct reports prompted by an article in The Hollywood Reporter earlier this week.

Tsujihara is under scrutiny for claims that he promised acting roles and auditions to an actress whom he was having a sexual relationship with.

In the memo obtained by The Associated Press Friday, Tsujihara says he regrets making mistakes in his personal life that have caused pain and embarrassment to people he loves and the company.

He says he intends to cooperate with the investigation and the third-party law firm enlisted to review the claims.

The actress involved has said in a statement that there was no impropriety and she has no claims against him.

14 American jets grounded to fix bins

FORT WORTH, Texas — American Airlines is grounding 14 planes to fix overhead bins on jets that recently underwent cabin makeovers.

An airline spokesman said Friday that nearly 40 flights had been canceled as a result.

American says it spotted problems with the quality of a vendor's work on the bins of two Boeing 737-800s, and grounded 12 more jets that had been worked on by the same vendor.

The president of the American mechanics' union says the bins pop open and poorly installed battery cables could chafe and catch fire.

Reynolds named in e-cig patent suit

WINSTON-SALEM — An Ohio manufacturer of electronic cigarettes has accused the R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company of patent infringement.

The Winston-Salem Journal reports that Fuma sued the North Carolina-based subsidiary of Reynolds American in federal court on Wednesday.

The lawsuit says Fuma and Reynolds entered into a confidentiality agreement in 2010 that allowed Reynolds to review Fuma's e-cigarette designs as part of a potential investment or joint venture. Fuma says Reynolds then copied its design for use in Vuse products.

Vuse debuted in 2012 and has become the second highest-selling e-cigarette on the U.S. market. Fuma's patent was awarded in 2017.

Fuma is requesting a permanent injunction against Vuse, as well as damages of an unspecified amount.

Wire reports