Stocks are mixed ahead of trade pact
NEW YORK — Major U.S. stock indexes closed mixed Tuesday, shedding most of their gains from earlier in the day, after a published report revealed that an interim trade deal between the U.S. and China does not remove tariffs on Chinese goods.
Technology stocks accounted for much of the selling. The sector is particularly sensitive to developments in trade relations because many of the companies rely on China for sales and supply chains.
Investors also bid up shares in several big banks, including JPMorgan Chase and Citibank, after the companies reported surprisingly good quarterly results.
The market's late-afternoon burst of selling came a day before the U.S. and China were due to sign a preliminary trade agreement in Washington. Optimism that the deal will bring the two economic powerhouses closer to ending the dispute threatening global economic growth has helped drive markets higher for weeks.
Still, reports suggesting that U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods will remain in place until at least after this year's election appeared to dim some investors' enthusiasm over the deal.
"Would the market be more satisfied with a reduction in those tariffs? Absolutely," said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial. "Nonetheless, you don't want to have an escalation in the tariff war. That was the most important thing for the market."
NSA finds Windows security flaw
REDMOND, Wash. — The National Security Agency has discovered a major security flaw in Microsoft's Windows operating system and tipped off the company so that it can fix it.
Microsoft made a software patch to fix it available Tuesday and credited the agency as the flaw's discoverer.
The company said it has not seen any evidence that hackers have used the technique discovered by the NSA.
"Customers who have already applied the update, or have automatic updates enabled, are already protected," said Jeff Jones, a senior director at Microsoft, in a statement.
Priscilla Moriuchi, who retired from the NSA in 2017 after running its East Asia and Pacific operations, said this is a good example of the "constructive role" that the NSA can play in improving global information security. Moriuchi, now an analyst at the U.S. cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, said it's likely a reflection of changes made in 2017 to how the U.S. determines whether to disclose a major vulnerability or exploit it for intelligence purposes.
The revamping of what's known as the "Vulnerability Equities Process" put more emphasis on disclosing unpatched vulnerabilities whenever possible to protect core internet systems and the U.S. economy and general public.
Those changes happened after a group calling itself "Shadow Brokers" released a trove of high-level hacking tools stolen from the NSA.
3rd-party Amazon sellers use FedEx again
NEW YORK — Amazon said it will allow its third-party sellers to start using FedEx's ground service again after banning them from using it for about a month because FedEx purportedly wasn't delivering on time.
Amazon said FedEx is now getting orders delivered on time and sent a letter to sellers telling them they can start using the carrier on Tuesday.
FedEx said reinstating its ground service for Amazon sellers is good news.
Lower rates hurt Wells Fargo profit
NEW YORK — Wells Fargo's net income tumbled in the fourth quarter, weighed down by hefty costs and a lower interest rate environment.
The bank earned $2.87 billion, or 60 cents per share, for the period ended Dec. 31. A year earlier it earned $6.06 billion, or $1.21 per share. The current quarter's results included 33 cents per share of litigation accruals.
Analysts polled by FactSet predicted a profit of $1.12 per share.
Wells is still under growth restrictions by regulators after years of missteps, beginning in 2016 with the uncovering of millions of fake checking accounts its employees opened to meet sales quotas. In 2018 the Federal Reserve capped the size of Wells Fargo's assets. The Fed hasn't said when it will lift the restrictions on the bank.
Last year Wells Fargo & Co. named its third CEO in as many years as it attempted to move on from its scandals. Charles Scharf, CEO of the Bank of New York Mellon, took over for C. Allen Parker, who had led the company since March.
"Wells Fargo is a wonderful and important franchise that has made some serious mistakes, and my mandate is to make the fundamental changes necessary to regain the full trust and respect of all stakeholders," Scharf said in a statement on Tuesday.
Energy lifts consumer prices in Dec.
WASHINGTON — Rising energy costs drove U.S. consumer prices higher in December, and American workers' earnings couldn't keep up.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that its consumer price index rose 0.2 percent last month, lifted by a 2.8 percent increase in gasoline prices. Over the past year, consumer inflation is up 2.3 percent. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, so-called core consumer inflation rose just 0.1 percent in December and 2.3 percent over the past year.
Inflation is running close to the Federal Reserve's 2 percent annual target. The Fed cut short-term interest rates three times last year, partly to protect a record-breaking U.S. economic expansion from the effects of President Donald Trump's trade war with China.
The Labor Department also reported that workers' hourly earnings, adjusted for inflation, fell 0.1 percent in December after rising at the same pace in November. Over the past year, workers' hourly earnings rose 0.6 percent, but they worked fewer hours, so inflation-adjusted weekly earnings showed "essentially no change'' over the past year, the department said.
Holiday travel, fuel costs boost Delta
DALLAS — Delta Air Lines boosted its fourth-quarter profit to $1.1 billion by adding more flights over the holiday-packed period and stuffing them even more full of passengers.
Lower fuel prices helped too, as Delta reported Tuesday that earnings rose 8% over a year earlier and beat analysts' expectations. And unlike key rivals, Delta was not burdened by the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max — it doesn't own any of them.
U.S. airlines are enjoying a prolonged period of profitability that was long thought to be unlikely if not impossible. Delta has made money 10 years in a row after losing it eight times in the previous decade. Delta CEO Ed Bastian says there is no reason to think the industry's good times will end anytime soon.
Atlanta-based Delta gets two-thirds of its revenue from the U.S., which outperformed each of Delta's international regions in the fourth quarter. Delta grew its passenger-carrying capacity nearly 5%, but it was able to raise average prices and still fill 85.6% of its seats in the fourth quarter and a record 86.3% for all of 2019. Premium travel has been especially strong.
"The domestic market still has quite a ways to go," Bastian said. "Airfares are still quite affordable."
Overseas was a mixed bag, however, with Delta's revenue down in Asia, which it blamed on trade tension and weakness in China.
Delta is the first major U.S. airline to report fourth-quarter results, and others are expected to post solid profits too.
BlackRock to focus on climate change
NEW YORK — BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, will make climate change central to its investment decisions going forward.
Laurence Fink, who oversees the management of about $7 trillion in funds, said in his influential annual letter to CEOs Tuesday that he believes we are "on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance" because of a warming planet.
Climate change has become the top issue raised by clients, Fink said, and it will affect everything from municipal bonds to long-term mortgages for homes.
The New York firm is taking immediate action, exiting investments in coal used to generate power, and it will begin asking clients to disclose their climate-related risks.
"Because capital markets pull future risk forward, we will see changes in capital allocation more quickly than we see changes to the climate itself," Fink wrote in the letter. "In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital."
Russell Stover to cut and add jobs
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Russell Stover Chocolates plans to close some facilities and stores nationwide but the expected loss of about 400 jobs will be offset by new jobs resulting from expansion in other areas, the company announced Tuesday.
The company will close distribution centers in Missouri and Tennessee. The candy maker plans to add a total of 300 jobs at plants in Texas and Kansas.
The changes are part of a consolidation effort begun in 2018, four years after the Kansas City-based company was purchased by Lindt & Sprungli of Switzerland. Russell Stover had a "strong" fiscal year in 2019 but must adapt to changing tastes and preferences, CEO Andy Deister said.
"Just as consumers change their preferred flavor or package, they're changing the way they shop for our products, and we're making sure we have the infrastructure to deliver on their expectations," Deister said.
MGM to spin off 2 Vegas assets
LAS VEGAS — MGM Resorts International is selling the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay resorts and casinos on the Las Vegas Strip to a joint venture for about $2.5 billion.
The joint venture includes private-equity and real estate company Blackstone Group and MGM Growth Properties LLC. The joint venture will be owned 50.1 percent by MGM Growth Properties and 49.9 percent by Blackstone. It will also acquire the real estate assets of Mandalay Bay from MGM Growth Properties and lease both properties to MGM Resorts for an initial rent of $292 million.
MGM Resorts anticipates cash proceeds of approximately $2.4 billion.
MGM Resorts announced in October that it was selling the real estate of Bellagio to a joint venture with Blackstone for about $4.25 billion. Last month MGM Resort said it closed on the sale of Circus Circus Las Vegas and 37 adjacent acres for $825 million.