Stocks drop on investor concerns

NEW YORK — Renewed pessimism about the strength of the global economy and corporate profits this year led to sharp losses Thursday on Wall Street.

Technology companies, health care stocks and banks accounted for much of the selling. Traders sought safety in U.S. government bonds, sending yields lower.

The sell-off followed a slide in overseas markets after European officials slashed their forecast for economic growth this year in the 19 countries that use the euro and the Bank of England warned that the British economy is set for its weakest growth in a decade.

The moves are the latest flashpoints of worry as investors gird for predicted slowdowns in economies around the world, including the U.S., and weaker corporate earnings growth.

Twitter has bigger profit, users slip

NEW YORK — Twitter's revenue and profit and its daily user base all grew in the final three months of 2018, capping its first profitable year.

But its monthly user count slipped to 321 million, from 326 million, and guidance for the current quarter was below expectations.

The  company disclosed its daily user base count for the first time, putting the figure at 126 million, up 9 percent from a year earlier. These are users who see ads on the platform and log in at least once a day.

Twitter posted earnings of $255 million, or 33 cents per share, in the October-December quarter. That is up from $91 million, or 12 cents per share, a year earlier. Revenue grew 24 percent to $909 million.

N. America sales drive Fiat Chrysler

MILAN — Italian American automaker Fiat Chrysler says fourth-quarter net profits rose by 61 percent to $1.46 billion, powered by North American sales of the all-new Ram 1500 and Jeep Wrangler.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on Thursday reported quarterly revenue rose 6 percent.

North America profits grew by 19 percent, accounting for the lion's share of the automaker's global gains. The carmaker continued to have trouble in Asia, which swung to a loss due to market weakness in China and more competition in Fiat Chrysler's core SUV market.

Europe also lost ground, with profits dipping 44 percent on lower shipments and weaker pricing, while Latin America more than doubled.

Based on the company's earnings last year, 44,000 unionized U.S. auto workers will get $6,000 profit-sharing checks. That's $500 more than in 2017, but smaller than U.S. rivals Ford and General Motors. On Wednesday, GM announced that workers would get $10,750, while Ford workers will get $7,600.

Yum's profit slips despite strong sales

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Yum Brands missed Wall Street's profit and revenue forecasts in the fourth quarter despite strong same-store sales growth at Taco Bell and KFC restaurants. Net earnings fell 17 percent to $1.04 per share.

Without one-time items, including a big gain from refranchising 331 company-owned restaurants, Yum earned 40 cents a share in the October-December period, down 58 percent from a year ago. That was short of the 95 cents analysts had forecast, according to FactSet.

Yum says its earnings took a hit because of a change in the fair value of the $200 million investment it made in Grubhub last February.

Fourth-quarter revenue fell 1 percent to $1.56 billion, short of forecasts calling for $1.59 billion.

Fire causes issues for Wells Fargo 

NEW YORK — Wells Fargo customers experienced issues with accessing online or mobile banking as well as other banking services nationwide, after a fire happened at one of the bank's data centers.

Wells Fargo on Thursday blamed the technical issues on smoke, which was "detected following routine maintenance."

It is unknown how many Wells Fargo customers have been impacted, but the fire at the unspecified location has caused reported outages to Wells Fargo's mobile banking app as well as its online banking portal.

Business news outlet CNBC reported that the incident happened at a data center in Minnesota at around 5 a.m. CST and was under control starting at 9 a.m.

Request for jobless aid fell to 234K

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped sharply last week, a sign that layoffs are rare and the job market is strong.

The Labor Department says weekly applications for jobless aid fell 19,000 to 234,000, a low level that indicates businesses are holding onto their employees. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The four-week average, a less volatile figure, rose to 224,750.

Google Fiber pulls plug in Ky. city

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Google says it is pulling its high-speed internet service out of Kentucky's largest city, one of about a dozen where Google Fiber was offered.

Google Fiber announced on its blog Thursday the service will end on April 15. Google Fiber launched the service in some neighborhoods in Louisville in October 2017.

The tech giant acknowledged problems in Louisville with a new method of digging shallower trenches to speed up the installation times of the fiber optic cable. Google says the problems were "disruptive to residents and caused service issues for our customers."

The service offers 1,000 megabytes per second speed and has been pitched as a cheaper alternative to other providers.

Ford to invest in Chicago plants

CHICAGO — Ford Motor Co. plans to invest $1 billion and add 500 jobs at its plants in Chicago as the automaker launches three new SUVs.

Ford announced at the Chicago Auto Show on Thursday that they will expand capacity to produce a new Ford Explorer, new Police Interceptor Utility and new Lincoln Aviator. Work will be finished this spring. The new jobs at the two Chicago facilities will bring employment at both to about 5,800.

The Chicago plant will stop making the one-time top-selling Taurus sedan as it meets rising demand for SUVs. The Chicago factory is Ford's longest continually operating vehicle assembly plant. It started producing the Model T in 1924.

The Aviator is due in showrooms this summer and the Interceptor is the top-selling police vehicle in the country.

Mortgage rates dip to a 10-month low

WASHINGTON — U.S. long-term mortgage rates fell this week to a 10-month low, spurring on potential homebuyers for the upcoming season.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage eased to 4.41 percent from 4.46 percent last week. Despite the declines in recent weeks, home borrowing rates are above last year's levels. The key 30-year rate averaged 4.32 percent a year ago.

The average rate this week for 15-year, fixed-rate loans declined to 3.84 percent from 3.89 percent.

Increases in home prices have slowed in many areas of the country, and more homes have come on the market. Those developments, along with historically low mortgage rates, should give a boost to this spring's home buying season, experts say.

German factory output slips, raising fears

BERLIN — German factory production declined unexpectedly in December, increasing concerns about the weakening of Europe's largest economy.

The Federal Statistical Office said Thursday industrial production dropped 0.4 percent in December over the month before, when adjusted for seasonal and calendar factors.

On Wednesday, the office reported factory orders also slipped. In both cases, economists had been predicting increases, and the developments raised speculation Germany might have contracted in the fourth quarter of 2018 for the second quarter in a row, meaning it entered a technical recession.

Last week, the government slashed its 2019 economic growth forecast from 1.8 percent to 1 percent. Germany's economy grew 1.5 percent last year and 2.2 percent in 2017.

In January, officials said it appeared Germany had avoided recession, but fourth-quarter numbers haven't yet been finalized.

Germany is one of South Carolina's largest trading partners. 

Wire reports