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S&P 500 drops after sell-off in bank, tech stocks; pandemic sales boost L.L. Bean's business

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Wall St. closes lower, ends week in the red

NEW YORK — Wall Street closed out a choppy week of trading March 19 with major stock indexes mostly lower and all finishing in the red for the week.

The S&P 500 ended 0.1 percent lower after reversing a small gain. The benchmark index, which hit an all-time high on Wednesday, posted its first weekly decline in three weeks. Losses by banks, industrial companies and technology stocks weighed on the market. They offset gains in companies that rely on consumer spending, health care and other sectors.

Bond yields were mixed, though the 10-year Treasury yield inched higher. The closely watched yield, which influences interest rates on mortgages and other consumer loans, has hovered this week near the highest level since January. Higher yields put downward pressure on stocks generally, in part because they can steer investors toward bonds.

"Overall, the very near term concerns are going back to some of the bigger picture questions," said Barry Bannister, chief equity strategist at Stifel. "How high can yields go and what does that mean for stock valuations?"

A late-burst of selling may have been caused by "quadruple witching," the simultaneous expiration of four kinds of options and futures contracts. The phenomenon happens four times a year and forces traders to tie up loose ends in contracts they hold.

Outdoor rush fuels LL Bean's sales boom

FREEPORT, Maine — With Americans hunkering down and hankering to get outdoors during the pandemic, L.L. Bean recorded its best annual sales growth in nearly a decade, the company said Friday.

The Freeport-based retailer started its fiscal year with store closings and worries about survival, but the company weathered the turbulent times with revenue growth of 5 percent, its best showing since 2011.

L.L. Bean was positioned to meet consumer demand for both comfy items for people working from home and outdoor gear as more people ventured outdoors to ensure social distancing and other pandemic-related protocols.

The company's 4,600 full- and part-time workers reaped $72 million in benefits from the net revenue of $1.59 billion. The family-owned company on March 19 awarded a cash bonus of 10 percent based on salary and an additional 401(k) contribution equal to 8 percent of salary, said CEO Steve Smith.

During the pandemic, L.L. Bean closed all of its stores for 100 days but online and catalog sales remained strong.

Reserves ratio to rise for big banks

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve says it will restore capital requirements for large banks that were relaxed as part of an efforts to shore up the financial system during the early days of the pandemic.

The Fed said it will not extend the relief from what is called the supplementary leverage ratio past March 31. The easing had been intended to give banks financial flexibility last year when they were having to suddenly write down billions of dollars of loans.

The ratio requires big banks to reserve capital equal to about 3 percent of their assets. It will rise to 5 percent for banks that are deemed critical to the financial system.

The move rattled bank stocks, with Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase all slipping more than 1 percent.

Report: DOJ probes Visa debit card unit

CHARLOTTE  — Visa is under investigation by the Department of Justice's antitrust division over whether the company pushes merchants into more expensive forms of debit card payments, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The investigation is focused on how merchants route debit card transactions when a consumer makes an online transaction, according to the Journal, which cited anonymous sources.

Visa declined to comment on the report.

Visa earns a fee for each transaction that is run on its network. However, debit card fees are strictly regulated under the Dodd Frank Act that followed the 2008 financial crisis. The reasoning behind the regulation was because debit cards are typically used for smaller transactions, where merchants' profit margins may be smaller, compared to high-value transactions that consumers typically use their credit cards for.

Merchants are supposed to be given the option to run debit transactions on lower-cost networks.

The option often appears on the pin pads used by consumers when they buy goods at a store. But that option is not available for online transactions, and where those transactions are being routed could be an anticompetitive practice.

Celebrity Cruises to end hiatus in June

MIAMI — Two Royal Caribbean cruises will resume in June ending a yearlong hiatus, but passengers 18 and older must test negative for COVID-19 before getting on a ship.

The company's Celebrity Cruises subsidiary said its Celebrity Millennium ship will relaunch on June 5 from St. Maarten. One itinerary will stop in Aruba, Curacao and Barbados, and another will stop in Tortola, St. Lucia and Barbados.

Royal Caribbean Group's namesake line will start a week later with a voyage leaving from Nassau, the Bahamas on the Adventure of the Seas.

In both cases, passengers 18 and older will be required to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of boarding.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has held up U.S. cruise operations for ships that can hold more than 250 passengers since March 2020.

Carnival Cruise Line, which has a ship based at the Port of Charleston, also plans to resume sailings in June, according to its most recent update.

Amway cuts 900 jobs, mostly at Mich. HQ

ADA TOWNSHIP, Mich.  — Amway, the global direct sales giant, said it's cutting 900 jobs, most of them at headquarters in western Michigan.

The company said it hopes to accomplish the move by offering buyouts and other incentives. The 900 jobs are equal to 6 percent of Amway's global workforce.

"We are investing even more in our wellness portfolio — in science, innovation, manufacturing — while also improving our digital capabilities," chief executive Milind Pant said in a written statement Thursday.

Amway sells a variety of products through an army of distributors, including cosmetics, vitamins, energy drinks, kitchenware and water purifiers. It had sales of $8.5 billion in 2020.

Associated Press

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