Health, tech sectors lead stocks higher

NEW YORK — Health care and technology companies powered stocks broadly higher on Wall Street, giving the market its third straight gain Wednesday.

Boeing briefly dipped, but finished slightly higher, after the U.S. said it was joining other countries in grounding the company's 737 Max 8 airplane following a fatal crash of an Ethiopian airliner over the weekend.

The S&P 500 has now clawed back all its losses from last week, when the benchmark index posted its worst week since December.

AT&T hikes prices for DirecTV Now

NEW YORK — AT&T is raising prices for its DirecTV Now streaming TV service, while removing some networks from the cable-like television package.

The changes come just weeks after a U.S. appeals court upheld the company's Time Warner takeover. The Justice Department fought it, arguing it would lead to higher prices.

DirecTV Now used to start at $40 a month. The cheapest for new customers will now be $50. Packages will now include the AT&T-owned HBO, but the service is dropping some popular lifestyle and entertainment networks not owned by AT&T, including HGTV, Discovery, Food Network and MTV.

DirecTV Now, along with similar services from Hulu, YouTube and others, let people stream regular cable channels over the internet for a monthly fee. Hulu's Live TV service and Netflix have also raised prices recently.

Facebook, Instagram suffer outages

NEW YORK — Facebook said Wednesday that was aware of outages on its platforms including Facebook, Messenger and Instagram and is working to resolve the issue.

According to downdector.com, which monitors websites, the outages started around 12 p.m. EDT on Wednesday in parts of the U.S., including the East and West Coast, parts of Europe and elsewhere. Both Facebook's desktop site and app appeared to be affected.

Besieged drug maker mulls bankruptcy

NEW YORK — The company that has made billions selling OxyContin says it is considering bankruptcy protection, among other legal options, as trial dates for opioid lawsuits get closer.

Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma is being sued by well over 1,000 state and local governments that allege it aggressively sold the drug as less addictive despite knowing it carried major risks. The bankruptcy filing could change the course of the lawsuits.

Verizon 5G will cost extra $10 a month

NEW YORK  — A handful of Verizon customers will soon have faster wireless service — but they'll have to pay $10 a month more.

Verizon says it'll flip the switch next month on a much-hyped, next-generation "5G" phone network . Service will start in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis.

The offer is available only on unlimited plans, which currently start at $75 for one person without 5G. It requires Motorola's Moto Z3 phone with a special 5G attachment.

Other 5G-enabled phones, including one from Samsung, will come this year. Verizon would not say how 5G pricing would work with those phones.

T-Mobile has said its 5G plans won't be more expensive if its proposed takeover of Sprint goes through. Sprint hasn't announced 5G prices. AT&T did not immediately respond to questions.

Construction spending up to start year

WASHINGTON — Spending on U.S. construction projects in January posted the biggest gain in nine months, as strength in nonresidential construction and government projects offset continued weakness in home construction.

The Commerce Department says that construction spending rose 1.3 percent in January following two months of declines. It was the biggest gain since spending was up 1.7 percent in April. Spending on residential projects fell 0.3 percent in January, the sixth consecutive monthly decline for a sector that was hurt last year by rising mortgage rates and higher home building costs.

Spending on nonresidential construction increased 0.8 percent in January with spending on office buildings, hotels and the category that covers shopping centers all showing gains.

Spending on government projects jumped 4.9 percent, the biggest increase since March 2004. The January strength reflected a 4.9 percent rise in spending on state and local building projects and a 4.2 percent rise in federal construction spending.

It pushed total public construction spending to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $313.6 billion, the highest level since September 2010.

The 1.3 percent overall gain pushed total spending to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.28 trillion.

Aircraft push durable goods higher

WASHINGTON — Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods edged up slightly in January, but the strength came from a big increase in the volatile aircraft category. In encouraging news for future growth, a key category that tracks business investment plans posted its biggest gain in six months.

Orders for durable goods rose 0.4 percent in January, led by a 15.9 percent rise in orders for commercial aircraft, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The category that serves as a proxy for business investment rose 0.8 percent after two months of declines. It was the biggest gain since a 1.5 percent July bump.

The weakness in business investment has puzzled economists who expected to see strength in this area as companies boosted investment spending to take advantage of new tax breaks.

Orders in the business investment category did show strength at the beginning of last year, immediately after passage in December of President Donald Trump's $1.5 trillion tax cut program. But investment orders weakened in the second half of last year.

For January, the 0.4 percent increase in orders for durable goods, items expected to last at least three years, followed a much bigger 1.3 percent jump in December. However, both months were heavily influenced by demand for commercial jetliners, which had surged 35.7 percent in December. Orders for autos and auto parts fell 1 percent in January after a 2 percent December increase.

Wholesale prices tick up 0.1% in Feb.

WASHINGTON — U.S. wholesale prices barely increased last month after falling for three straight months, a sign there is little inflation pressure in the economy.

The producer price index — which measures price changes before they reach the consumer — rose 0.1 percent in February, the Labor Department said Wednesday. It slipped 0.1 percent in January. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, core producer prices also rose 0.1 percent. Wholesale prices increased 1.9 percent from a year earlier, and core prices rose 2.5 percent.

Wholesale price increases have slowed in the past year. Twelve months ago, the producer price index rose 2.8 percent from a year earlier, nearly a full percentage point higher than last month's pace.

VW: Automation to claim up to 7,000 jobs

BERLIN — German carmaker Volkswagen AG says it expects to shed between 5,000 and 7,000 jobs at its core brand by 2023 as a result of increasing automation of "routine tasks."

The company said Wednesday that the Volkswagen brand can cut the posts by not recruiting replacements for employees who retire, and so it can carry out "restructuring along the demographic curve."

It said that, at the same time, it will create some 2,000 new jobs in technical development. The company noted in a statement that "with regard to all measures, Volkswagen has given its workforce a job security guarantee until at least 2025." The move comes as Volkswagen unveils a program aimed at improving earnings by 2023.

Tesla picks LA area for fast-charge site

PASADENA, Calif. — A Los Angeles suburb has agreed to a deal with Tesla to build what's described as the largest fast-charging site for electric vehicles in the western United States.

Southern California News Group reports the Pasadena City Council this week voted for a five-year pact with Tesla to create 44 publicly accessible charges on the top of a parking structure.

Under the deal, Tesla would pay for 24 so-called super chargers for Tesla vehicles only. The company would also install infrastructure for the city utility to add 20 fast-charging stations for non-Tesla vehicles.

The city sees the agreement as helping it achieve climate goals by attracting zero-emission vehicles.

Wire reports

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