Must credit (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy)

Dominion Energy is based in downtown Richmond, Va. File

Stocks climb on US-China trade hopes

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks closed broadly higher Thursday on Wall Street as investors hope that new talks set for September can result in progress in resolving the U.S.-China trade dispute.

Technology companies and banks were the biggest winners Thursday. Microsoft rose 1.9 percent and Wells Fargo added 1.6 percent

Retailers also did well. Discount store chain Dollar General soared 11 percent after reporting results that were better than analysts were expecting.

Dominion's profits too high, Va. says

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia's largest electric utility earned $277 million more in profits last year than what regulators say is reasonable and its customers could see huge bill increases in coming years, state regulators said Thursday in a new report.

The Virginia State Corporation Commission's report on Dominion Energy comes a year after it reported that the utility made more than $300 million in excessive profits in 2017.

Thursday's report said Dominion's return on equity, a measurement of profitability, was 4.27 percentage points higher in 2018 than what the commission said was fair. The data will likely intensify opposition from critics who already have said that the utility's prices are too high and political influence too great.

Many of Dominion's big customers, including Walmart and Target, are trying to get legal authority to buy electricity from someone else, setting up a potential heavyweight showdown at the General Assembly next year. And an increasing number of state lawmakers are becoming vocal opponents of the energy giant, prodded in part by a wealthy Charlottesville man — Michael Bills — who is spending millions on a lobbying and public relations campaign to restrict Dominion's political sway.

Technically under state law, regulators can require Dominion to refund a large portion of overearnings to its consumers. But an energy regulation overhaul in 2018 that Dominion helped push into law gives the company increased flexibility in accounting for costs and virtually guarantees that it won't be ordered to give refunds or lower rates.

Dominion is the exclusive energy provider for most of the eastern and central parts of Virginia. It acquired South Carolina Electric & Gas earlier this year. 

Best Buy's profit strong, sales miss

RICHFIELD, Minn. — Best Buy Co. on Thursday reported a strong quarterly profit but its revenue fell short.

The electronics retailer said it had fiscal second-quarter net income of $238 million, or 89 cents per share. Earnings, adjusted for restructuring costs and amortization costs, were $1.08 per share.

The results topped Wall Street expectations by about 11 cents on a per-share basis.

The retailer posted revenue of $9.54 billion in the period, falling short of forecasts of $9.57 billion.

Best Buy said profit was driven by cost reductions and efficiencies.

Best Buy raised its full-year profit outlook and now expects fiscal 2020 earnings in the range of $5.60 to $5.75 per share. It trimmed the high end of its revenue guidance and now sees it in a range of $43.1 billion to $43.6 billion.

The company said its updated guidance reflects its strong earnings in the year to date as well as the impact of tariffs on Chinese goods and "general uncertainty related to overall customer buying behavior in the back half of the year."

Cracked iPhone screen? More options coming

NEW YORK — There may soon be more places to get an Apple-sanctioned fix for a cracked iPhone screen.

Apple said Thursday that it will sell tools and parts to independent phone-repair shops in the U.S. and later in other countries. Repairs at these shops, though, will be limited to iPhones already out of warranty.

Customers with in-warranty repairs will still need to visit an Apple store or one of more than 5,000 authorized service providers worldwide, including all Best Buy stores in the U.S. Same goes for repairs on other products, such as Apple Watch and Mac computers, or for more complicated iPhone repairs.

Though many unofficial repair shops have been offering basic fixes such as screen replacements, they aren't necessarily using Apple parts or qualified technicians, leading to variations in quality. Now, these shops will be able to buy parts directly from Apple, as long as they have an Apple-certified technician to make those repairs.

"When a repair is needed, a customer should have confidence the repair is done right," Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer, said in a statement.

With iPhone sales on the wane and people hanging on to their phones longer, Apple is trying to ramp up its services business, with offerings such as music subscriptions. It plans to launch a video streaming service this year.

Pending home sales slid 2.5% in July

WASHINGTON — Fewer Americans signed contracts to buy homes in July, signaling that the housing market has yet to enjoy a strong bounce from lower mortgage rates.

The National Association of Realtors says its pending home sales index fell 2.5 percent to 105.6 in July. Pending home sales have slipped 0.3 percent from a year ago as uncertainty has mounted about the health of the economy.

Sales have also been hampered by the lack of available homes on the market, which has contributed to home prices climbing faster than incomes and pricing out some would-be buyers. The long-standing shortage of sales listings and persistently high prices have blunted the benefits of mortgage rates nearing all-time lows.

Pending sales are a measure of home purchases that are usually finalized a month or two later.

Mortgage rates tick up, still low

WASHINGTON — U.S. long-term mortgage rates ticked up slightly this week, yet they remain near historic lows.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year loan rose to 3.58 percent from 3.55 percent last week. Mortgage rates have fallen sharply as a slowing global economy and tensions from the trade war between the United States and China have caused the interest rates on government bonds to tumble, prompting the average rate for a 30-year home loan to decline from 4.52 percent a year ago.

Lower mortgage rates should help homebuyers, but low inventories and high prices that have consistently eclipsed wage growth have restrained sales growth.

The average mortgage rate for 15-year, fixed-rate home loans rose to 3.06 percent, up from 3.03 percent last week.

VF stops buying leather from Brazil

NEW YORK — The owner of Timberland, Vans and several other shoe and clothing brands says it has stopped buying leather from Brazil as fires continue to destroy the Amazon rainforest in that country.

VF Corp. says it won't purchase leather and hide from Brazilian suppliers until it's assured that the materials "do not contribute to environmental harm in the country."

The current fires in the Amazon were set by those who are clearing the forest for cattle ranching and crops. About 60% of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil.

VF, based in Greensboro, N.C., says a small amount of the leather it buys comes from Brazil, but didn't provide specific numbers.

Besides Timberland boots and Vans sneakers, VF also makes The North Face jackets, Eastpak backpacks and Dickies clothing.

Wire reports