Stock indexes mostly lower, end streak
NEW YORK — U.S. stocks indexes barely budged Thursday as the market's three-day winning streak stalled.
The benchmark S&P 500 index finished essentially flat as losses in communications, industrial and health care stocks outweighed gains in financial and technology companies. Several retailers and home builders also declined.
Reports of a criminal investigation into Facebook's data-sharing practices weighed on the social media giant's shares.
The market was coming off a solid three-day rally as it reclaimed some of the momentum it had in January and February.
Investors are still waiting for some more news on U.S.-China trade negotiations before they feel comfortable pushing the market much higher. Media reports had stoked hope that a summit would take place this month, but no concrete announcement has been made.
Despite some softness over the last few weeks, U.S. stocks are still considered a safe haven relative to the rest of the world, said Scott Wren, senior global equity strategist for Wells Fargo Investment Institute.
"We're still the lead sled dogs here, we're pulling the global economy along," he said.
Toyota investing $750M at US plants
BUFFALO, W.Va. — Toyota announced Thursday it is investing an additional $750 million at five U.S. plants that will bring nearly 600 new jobs, including the production of two hybrid vehicles for the first time at its Kentucky factory.
It marks yet another expansion of the Japanese automaker's U.S. presence, bringing to nearly $13 billion the amount it will spend by 2021.
The latest investments are at existing facilities in Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and West Virginia. Those same sites were part of a 2017 announcement by Toyota for a $374 million investment to support production of its first U.S.-made hybrid powertrain.
Toyota Motor North America CEO Jim Lentz said the latest investments "represent even more examples of our long-term commitment to build where we sell. By boosting our U.S. manufacturing footprint, we can better serve our customers and dealers and position our manufacturing plants for future success with more domestic capacity."
Facebook: Outages tied to server
NEW YORK — Facebook says its lengthy outages over the past day were the result of a "server configuration change."
The outages affected countless users and advertisers worldwide. Some people weren't able to reach Facebook's website and apps, including Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The length of the outage is another publicity problem for a company already dealing with privacy issues and regulatory probes. The outages started midday EDT Wednesday. There were still sporadic problems Thursday morning.
Facebook did not say how many users were affected or why the outage was so long. In a tweet about 24 hours after the problems began, Facebook apologized and thanked people for their patience. It didn't elaborate on the server change.
New-home sales fall almost 7%
WASHINGTON — Sales of new U.S. homes slumped 6.9 percent in January, a possible sign that buyers paused during the government shutdown.
The Commerce Department says that new homes sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 607,000 in January, down from 652,000 in December.
The partial government shutdown during January as well as a battered stock market appears to have hurt sales, even as lower mortgage rates eased affordability pressures and boosted buyer interest. Purchases of homes yet to be constructed to plunged 26.8 percent in January, accounting for all of the month's decline. Sales increased of homes that were already under construction. New-home sales in January ran slightly below the totals for 2018 and 2017.
The median sales price of a new home in January fell 3.8 percent to $317,200.
Dollar General results mixed, outlook weak
GOODLETTSVILLE, Tenn. — Dollar General Corp. posted mixed fourth-quarter results, with profit pressured by an income tax expense while revenue grew during the critical holiday period. The discount retailer also provided a fiscal 2019 profit outlook below Wall Street's view.
The discount retailer earned $483.2 million, or $1.84 per share, for the fiscal period ended Feb. 1. A year earlier the company earned $712.2 million, or $2.63 per share. The current quarter included an income tax expense of $130.2 million.
The performance was 4 cents short of what analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research were calling for.
"As disappointing as this is, we do not view it as particularly problematic as it is the result of a higher income tax provision over the prior year when Dollar General received a tax benefit," said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.
Revenue increased to $6.65 billion from $6.13 billion, topping the $6.6 billion that Wall Street expected. Sales at stores open at least a year, a key gauge of a retailer's health, rose 4 percent.
China's auto sales contraction widens
BEIJING — The downturn in China's auto market worsened in January and February as an economic slowdown and a tariff fight with Washington chilled demand in the industry's biggest global market.
Sales of SUVs, minivans and sedans plunged 17.5 percent from a year earlier to 3.2 million SUVs, minivans and sedans in the first two months of 2019, according to an industry group, the China Association of Auto Manufacturers. Total vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, fell 15 percent to 3.8 million units.
The drop in sales of passenger cars in January was 15 percent.
Economists and industrial analysts often combine the first two months of the year when looking at consumer activity to screen out the effect of the Lunar New Year holiday, when factories close for up to two weeks and commercial activity falls.
Chinese consumers are putting off big purchases amid an economic downturn that saw growth last year fall to a three-decade low of 6.6 percent. Trade tension with Washington is fueling consumer jitters.
Last year's auto sales suffered their first decline in nearly three decades, calling 4.1 percent from 2017 year to 23.7 million.
Mortgages sink on weak global growth
WASHINGTON — Mortgage rates were driven down this week by weak economic data and concerns about global growth, according to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac.
The benchmark 30-year fixed-rate average tumbled to 4.31 percent from 4.41 percent a week ago and 4.44 percent a year ago. The 30-year fixed rate hasn't been this low in more than a year.
The 15-year fixed-rate average dropped to 3.76 percent from 3.83 percent.
Last week's disappointing employment report began a cascade of discouraging economic news. Consumer price levels increased in February but fell short of analysts' expectations. The European Central Bank downgraded growth and inflation for the coming year. Britain and the European Union failed to reach an agreement on Brexit.
Dampened growth expectations boosted the demand for safer assets such as bonds. The yield on the 10-year Treasury sank to its lowest level since early January, falling to 2.61 percent Tuesday and holding there on Wednesday. The movement of long-term bonds tends to be a good indicator of where mortgage rates are headed. When yields fall, home loan rates often follow.
Report: Facebook data deals being probed
SAN FRANCISCO — The New York Times reports that federal prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation into Facebook's data deals with major electronics manufacturers.
The newspaper says a grand jury in New York has subpoenaed information from at least two companies known for making smartphones and other devices, citing two unnamed people familiar with the request. It reports that both companies had data partnerships with Facebook that gave them access to the personal information of hundreds of millions of users.
Facebook describes those data deals as innocuous efforts to help smartphone makers provide Facebook features to users before the social network had its own app.
The Times reports that it is not clear when the inquiry began or exactly what it is focusing on. Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.
Port giant DP World reports $1.29B profit
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Global port operator DP World said Thursday its profit rose 10 percent to $1.29 billion last year despite worldwide trade tensions, buoying a firm that may try again to enter the U.S. market after a failed attempt a decade ago became a political maelstrom. Revenue rose to $5.6 billion, up 20 percent from 2017.
DP World CEO Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem said U.S. under President Donald Trump was "open for investment." He declined, however, to offer any specifics of what ventures his government-backed firm would pursue.
"I think DP World is different than DP World what was, because we were just starting and nobody knew us and now they know us," he said. "What stops us from going to America is really finding good opportunity. If we find a good opportunity, we will go."
It attributed its revenue growth to acquisitions like the Dubai-based businesses Drydocks World and the Dubai Maritime City zone near the Dubai Creek. It said it plans capital expenditures of up to $1.4 billion in 2019, with investments planned in the Emirates, Ecuador, Egypt, Senegal and Somaliland.
DP World is the world's fourth-largest port operator