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Target has already decided about opening on Thanksgiving; chipmaker Intel replaces its top executive

Target continues to thrive in whirlwind retail environment

Target maintained a head of steam through the holiday season. File/AP

Target thrives in whirlwind retail world

NEW YORK — Target's strong sales streak extended through a pandemic-shrouded holiday season after a hard push online and an increased effort to provide alternatives to customers who are trying to minimize risk.

The retailer reported Wednesday that online sales surged 102 percent between November and December. Sales at its stores opened for a least a year rose 4.2 percent. Customer traffic rose 4.3 percent, and the average amount of sales per customer rose 12.3 percent as they consolidated trips to different stores during the pandemic.

And changes made during the pandemic once unthinkable have worked so well that they may become the new norm.

For example, Target closed all stores on Thanksgiving, traditionally the starting gun for the holiday season, rolling out discounts and specials early and over a broader period to control traffic. It said Wednesday that it will do it again in 2021.

"Despite disruptions to the traditional pattern of holiday trade, retailers were able to thrive if they put their best foot forward and stimulated consumers to buy across the whole season," said Neil Saunders of GlobalData Retail. "In our view, this means that it is even less likely retailers will return to the big sales bonanza of Thanksgiving and Black Friday even when the pandemic is over. Target's decision not to open on Thanksgiving of 2021 underlines this point."

The company will report full financial results next month.

Intel replaces top exec after 2 years

SAN FRANCISCO — Intel Corp. is replacing its CEO after only two years, but it has been a rough stretch for the chipmaker.

Bob Swan, who became the company's chief executive in early 2019, will be replaced in mid-February by industry veteran Pat Gelsinger.

Intel said Wednesday that the change in leadership is unrelated to its financial performance last year.

In mid-2020, Intel disclosed that there would be a substantial delay in its development of a next-generation chip-making process already in use by a major Taiwan supplier. The unexpected snag meant that Intel's 7-nanometer processing technology is unlikely to be ready until the end of 2022 or early 2023, potentially putting the company behind its rivals.

Gelsinger has been the CEO of VMware and has more than four decades of experience in the technology industry. He spend most of that time with Intel, where he began his career.

Consumer prices pushed higher by gasoline

WASHINGTON — U.S. consumer prices rose 0.4 percent in December, led by a sharp rise in gasoline prices.

Last month's increase, the largest in four months, followed a 0.2 percent rise in November and no change at all in October, according to Labor Department numbers released Wednesday.

Inflation for all of 2020 rose a modest 1.4 percent, well below the Federal Reserve's 2 percent target. Analysts believe inflation will remain subdued with the U.S. economy still unable to break out of a pandemic-induced downturn.

For December, energy prices rose 4 percent with gasoline prices surging 8.4 percent. Even with that big jump, gas prices are 15.2 percent below where they were a year ago, when people were still commuting to work. Food costs rose 0.4 percent in December and are 3.9 percent higher than a year ago.

Core inflation, excluding volatile food and energy, rose a slight 0.1 percent last month, and just 1.6 percent over the past 12 months.

China auto sales fall for 3rd year in a row

BEIJING — China's sales of SUVs, minivans and sedans fell for a third year in 2020 as the coronavirus hurt already weak demand in the industry's top global market, an industry group reported Wednesday.

Sales declined 6 percent compared with 2019 to 20.2 million, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Sales of commercial vehicles rose 18.7 percent to 5.1 million.

In December, sales rose 7.2 percent over a year earlier to 2.4 million, down from November's 11.6 percent growth. Sales of trucks and buses rose 2.4 percent to 456,000.

Even before the coronavirus hit, demand was hurt by consumer unease about possible job losses due to a slowing economy and Beijing's tariff war with the United States.

The downturn hurts global manufacturers that are looking to China to drive revenue at a time of flat or declining demand in the United States, Europe and Japan.

China is one of the biggest global sales markets for BMW's South Carolina auto plant.

VW sold 15.2% fewer cars in 2020

FRANKFURT, Germany — German automaker Volkswagen said its global sales fell 15.2 percent during 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic but showed significant recovery toward the end of the year. The company more than tripled its sales of battery-only vehicles.

Global sales for all of VW brands amounted to 9.3 million vehicles. The fourth quarter showed a smaller decline of 5.7 percent and within that quarter the month of December was still further improved, showing a shortfall of only 3.2 percent from the same period the year before.

Sales of battery-only cars jumped 214 percent to 231,600 from 73,700 across all the company's brands, including the ID.3 compact, the Audi e-tron SUV and the high-end Porsche Taycan.

Volkswagen said that its sales fell by less than the overall market, meaning it had slightly expanded its market share. "The COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 an extremely challenging year," said group sales chief Christian Dahlheim. "The Volkswagen Group performed well in this environment and strengthened its market position."

Volkswagen Group's brands include Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, SEAT, Skoda and Porsche as sell as truck makers MAN and Scania.

TikTok tightens youth privacy tools

SAN FRANCISCO — A month after federal regulators ordered it to disclose how its practices affect children and teenagers, TikTok is tightening its privacy practices for the under-18 crowd.

Starting on Wednesday, the default privacy setting for accounts with users aged 13-15 became private. That means only someone users approve as a follower can view their videos. Teens can still change this setting to public.

Older teens won't see this default setting change. For users aged 16-17, the default setting to let people download their videos willbe "off," rather than "on."

TikTok is also blocking users' ability to download videos created by those 15 or younger. This age group will also see direct messaging restricted and won't be able to host live streams.

US antitrust issues sink Visa-Plaid merger

CHARLOTTE — Visa Inc. has called off its planned $5.3 billion purchase of payment-processing technology company Plaid, citing the Justice Department's antitrust lawsuit filed last year to block the deal.

Plaid provides the infrastructure that allows consumers and businesses to make payments directly from their bank accounts. Services like Venmo, SoFi, Stripe and TransferWise all use Plaid as a way for consumers to send money from their bank accounts to another party without having to use the debit-card infrastructure that's largely controlled by Visa and its competitor Mastercard.

After Visa bid to buy Plaid, politicians and antitrust experts argued the deal would give Visa — which is already the largest payment processing company in the world — even more power over how customers and businesses pay for goods and services. The Justice Department's lawsuit argued, among things, that the deal would allow Visa to "maintain its monopoly position and supracompetitive prices in online debit."

Visa said it still believes the deal would have benefited consumers, financial institutions and developers but that it decided to scrap it to avoid an extended court battle.

US coal deaths fell to historic low in 2020

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Five miners died in U.S. coal mines in 2020, an all-time low mark for an industry in a year that saw continuing declines in production as electric providers move away from burning coal.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, which tracks the deaths, said Wednesday there were 29 total deaths in all the nation's mines, a sixth-straight year that total mine fatalities were kept below 30.

The previous low in yearly coal deaths was eight in 2016, and there were 12 last year. Workplace deaths in coal mines have remained low since 2014, the first year annual deaths were less than 20. Since then, the totals have exceeded 12 only twice. A century ago in 1920, the nation had more than 2,200 coal deaths, before machines replaced manpower underground.

Kentucky and West Virginia each had two coal mining deaths in 2020, and there was one in Pennsylvania. The death of a coal miner on the job in Pennsylvania in February was attributed to natural causes and did not count as a mining-related accident.

Coal production has declined steadily over the last decade, as dozens of coal-fired power plants have shuttered. There are no new coal power plants being built in the U.S.

Diplomat's family sues Boeing over Max crash

CHICAGO — The family of a longtime Nigerian diplomat killed in the 2019 crash of a Boeing 737 Max in Ethiopia has joined litigation against the company in U.S. federal court.

Lawyers for heirs of Abiodun Bashua accused Boeing of negligence in development of the Max.

The 67-year-old Bashua had held many foreign service jobs for Nigeria and worked with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa over a 40-year career. He was among the 157 people killed when a Max operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa.

"Thinking of him sitting in a plane, a place he was very comfortable ... watching a bunch of people falling to the ground and knowing that they were about to perish, knowing that for the first time in a long time he could not do anything about it, is one of those memories that haunts me today," one of his sons, Lekan Bashua of Chicago, said Wednesday during a news conference organized by the family's lawyers.

The Bashua family lawsuit, which also named Boeing contractors Rosemount Aerospace and Rockwell Collins Inc., was filed last month in U.S. district court in Chicago, where lawsuits filed by dozens of families have been consolidated into two cases — one for the Ethiopian crash and the other for a 2018 Max crash in Indonesia that killed 189 people.

Most of the other lawsuits were filed in 2019. Lawyers said it took longer for the extended Bashua family to decide on its legal team.

Chicago-based Boeing did not immediately respond for comment.

Associated Press

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