Health shares lead stocks lower

NEW YORK — Stocks finished a wobbly day of trading on Wall Street on Wednesday with modest losses that erased most of the market's slight gains from a day earlier.

A sharp sell-off in health care companies far outweighed gains in technology and other sectors. Smaller company stocks fell more than the rest of the market.

Insurers drove the health sector slide for the second straight day. Investors fear the potential impact on profits from health reform ideas being discussed in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail.

Qualcomm led the gainers in the technology sector after settling a bitter legal dispute with Apple Inc. Intel climbed after pulling out of the smartphone modem market. And T-Mobile and Sprint slumped on reports the Justice Department is questioning their proposed merger.

PepsiCo and Morgan Stanley rose after delivering better than expected quarterly results Wednesday. IBM and Netflix fell a day after reporting their earnings.

Feb. trade gap narrows to $49B

WASHINGTON — The U.S. trade deficit fell for the second straight month in February, and the politically sensitive deficit in the trade of goods with China narrowed.

The Commerce Department says the gap between the goods and services that the United States sells and what it buys from the rest of the world dropped 3.4% to $49.4 billion in February, the lowest since June. Exports climbed 1.1% to $209.7 billion. Imports rose 0.2% to $259.1 billion.

The goods deficit with China dropped 28.2% to $24.8 billion. Exports to China rose 18.2% to $8.4 billion. Imports from China fell 20.2% to $33.2 billion.

President Donald Trump has imposed tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports in a fight over U.S. allegations that China steals technology and forces foreign firms to turn over trade secrets.

Fed: Economy is growing mildly

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve says the economy was expanding at a "slight-to-moderate pace" in March and early April, with some regions seeing signs of strengthening after a winter slowdown.

In its latest report on economic conditions around the country, the Fed says that the reports on manufacturing were favorable, although some business contracts noted uncertainty caused by tensions over President Donald Trump's get-tough trade policies.

The Fed report, known as the "Beige Book," says that tariffs imposed on imports, higher shipping costs and rising wages had all contributed to some increase in input costs.

The findings will form the basis for discussion when central bank officials meet April 30-May 1 to discuss interest rates. The wide expectation is that the Fed will keep its policy rate unchanged.

China growth steady amid tariff tiff

SHANGHAI — China's economic growth held steady in the latest quarter amid a tariff war with Washington in a sign Beijing's efforts to reverse a slowdown might be gaining traction.

The government reported Wednesday the world's second-largest economy expanded by 6.4 percent over a year earlier in the three months ending in March. That matched the previous quarter for the weakest growth since 2009.

Communist leaders stepped up government spending last year and told banks to lend more after economic activity weakened, raising the risk of politically dangerous job losses.

Data showed consumer spending, factory activity and investment all edged up in March from the previous month.

The fight with Washington over Beijing's technology ambitions has battered Chinese exporters.

Boeing aid spurs EU tax threat

BRUSSELS — The European Union has drawn up a list of $20 billion worth of U.S. products it could tax in an escalating feud over commercial airplane industry subsidies.

The European Commission said Wednesday it could tax the products, which range from aircraft parts to frozen fish, in retaliation for U.S. financial support to Boeing Co. that it says hurt Europe's Airbus.

Godiva goes beyond chocolate to cafes

NEW YORK — Godiva is looking beyond its iconic gold gift box of chocolates.

The Belgium confectioner is rolling out 2,000 cafes over the next six years that will serve a complete menu of items like the croiffle, a croissant and waffle hybrid that's stuffed with fillings like cheese or chocolate and pressed on a waffle iron. Other items include an expanded list of coffees and a new collection of teas as well as grab-and-go items like sandwiches and yogurt parfaits.

The cafes mark Godiva's foray into prepared meals. The first one officially opens in Manhattan Wednesday and is part of an ambitious growth plan spearheaded by CEO Annie Young-Scrivner, who took over Godiva's helm in 2017 after serving as a top executive at Starbucks. Her goal: to increase its revenue fivefold by 2025.

The company, privately owned by Turkish Yildiz Holding AS, doesn't report sales or profits but according to reports, Godiva was about a $1 billion business in 2017. It expects 40% of its total sales to come from the cafes in the next five years. One-third of the new cafes will be in the U.S.

Shared scooters surge, overtake docked bikes

NEW YORK — Electric scooters are overtaking station-based bicycles as the most popular form of shared transportation outside transit and cars.

Riders took 38.5 million trips on shared electric scooters in 2018. That eclipsed the 36.5 million trips riders took on shared, docked bicycles, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Scooter companies are facing challenges from every direction including vandalism, theft, rider injuries, intense competition and aggressive regulations in cities across the U.S.

Yet the scooter industry persists, and venture capitalists, ride-hailing companies and traditional auto manufacturers continue to pour millions into the fledgling companies.

Companies are jockeying for strategic position in the so-called micromobility revolution, where consumers are embracing ride-hailing services, scooters, bikes and shared cars that can be hailed and paid for by smartphones.

Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572 or follow him on Twitter at @byjohnmcdermott

We're improving out commenting experience.

We’ve temporarily removed comments from articles while we work on a new and better commenting experience. In the meantime, subscribers are encouraged to join the conversation at our Post and Courier Subscribers group on Facebook.