Business Highlights

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COVID-19 danger continues to drive joblessness in US

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to 860,000, a historically high figure that reflects economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak. Before the pandemic hit the economy, the number signing up for jobless aid had never exceeded 700,000 in a week, even in the depths of the 2007-2009 Great Recession. The Labor Department also said Thursday that 12.6 million are collecting traditional unemployment benefits, compared with 1.7 million a year ago.

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Wall Street slumps as Big Tech once again leads decliners

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks are closing lower Thursday as Wall Street continues to swirl after the Federal Reserve said it will keep interest rates at nearly zero for years to help nurse the wheezing economy. The S&P 500 fell 0.8%. The selling was widespread, with eight of 11 sectors that make up the S&P 500 lower and the heaviest losses in the sectors that include Amazon, Facebook and Apple. Analysts said the Fed’s somber assessment of the economy and diminishing odds that Congress will provide more financial relief may account for the weakness.

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August US home building slides 5.1% after months of gains

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. housing construction fell 5.1% in August after three months of strong gains as home builders mounted a rebound following a pandemic-induced shutdown in March and April. The Commerce Department reported Thursday that new homes were started at a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 1.42 million last month after a 17.9% surge in July. The August drop was bigger than expected but still left housing construction 51.6% above the low hit in April. A builders’ survey of sentiment this week found strong optimism that home building is on the upswing.

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Bank of England eyes sub-zero rates in face of virus, Brexit

LONDON (AP) — The Bank of England indicated Thursday that it could cut interest rates below zero for the first time in its 326-year history as it tries to shore up a U.K. economic recovery that is facing the dual headwinds of the coronavirus and Brexit. After unanimously deciding to keep the bank’s main interest rate on hold at the record low of 0.1%, the rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee said it had discussed its “policy toolkit, and the effectiveness of negative policy rates in particular.” Alongside developments related to the virus, rate-setters have to keep abreast of developments surrounding the post-Brexit trade discussions between the U.K. and the EU.

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2 Spanish banks merge amid tough times for financial sector

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Two of Spain’s biggest banks are poised to merge and create the country’s largest bank in terms of domestic operations, with assets of more than 600 billion euros ($708 billion). The deal brings the prospect of more job losses amid difficult times for the financial sector. The boards of CaixaBank and Bankia are due to meet Thursday to iron out the final details of a possible deal. A tie-up between CaixaBank, the largest bank in the domestic market, and Bankia, Spain’s biggest mortgage lender, could herald other moves toward consolidation in the financial sector.

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Politics creates economic illusion in Houdini’s hometown

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) — Appleton, Wisconsin, is a predominately white city of 75,000 people along Wisconsin’s Fox River. By almost any measure, President Donald Trump’s promises of an economic revival have gone unfulfilled. The area has lost about 8,000 jobs since he was elected. But these days the health of the economy isn’t judged on jobs, personal bank accounts or union contracts. Instead, it’s viewed through partisan lenses — filtered through the facts that voters want to see and hear, and those they don’t. Many Trump supporters remain faithful. One is Scott Rice, who has seen businesses close and friends furloughed and has even suffered his own bout with the novel coronavirus. Others, though, say they have had enough.

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Google receives $25M tax break from Nevada to build facility

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Officials say Google will receive more than $25 million in tax breaks after pledging an additional $600 million for a new data center in southern Nevada. The company previously committed $600 million to the data center in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. Google also says it will invest $600 million to build a data center at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center in northern Nevada, bringing its total investment in the state to $1.8 billion.

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BERLIN (AP) — German authorities say a hacker attack caused the failure of IT systems at a major hospital in Duesseldorf, and a woman who needed urgent admission died after she had to be taken to another city for treatment. The Duesseldorf University Clinic’s systems gradually crashed and the hospital wasn’t able to access data; emergency patients were taken elsewhere and operations postponed. Authorities said Thursday that an extortion note left on a hospital server was aimed at an affiliated university, not at the hospital. When police told hackers the hospital was affected, they provided a decryption key. The hackers are no longer reachable, they said.

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The S&P 500 fell 28.48 points, or 08.%, to 3,357.01. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 130.40 points, or 0.5%, to 27,901.98. The Nasdaq composite slid 140.19 points, or 1.3%, to 10,910.28. The Russell 2000 index of small company stocks gave up 9.73 points, or 0.6%, to 1,542.60.