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Update on the latest in business:

Posted September 20

FINANCIAL MARKETS

US stocks tick higher as health care companies rise

U.S. stocks are edging higher today with health care companies leading the way.

Banks are rising as central banks in the U.S. and Japan meet to discuss potential changes in interest rates and stimulus measures.

Phone company stocks, which do better when interest rates are lower, lagged the market.

At 12:48 p.m. Eastern Time, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 36 points, to 18,156.

The S&P 500 index added 3 points, to 2,142.

And the Nasdaq composite picked up 7 points, to 5,243.

WELLS FARGO-CONGRESS

Wells Fargo CEO apologizes for 'unethical sales practices'

Sen. Elizabeth Warren says Wells Fargo's CEO should be criminally investigated by the Justice Department and securities regulators over allegations that bank employees opened accounts without customer permission to meet sales quotas.

The Massachusetts Democrat, one of the fiercest critics of Wall Street, challenged John Stumpf today about what he has done regarding his repeated claim of being accountable. She asked whether he had returned "one nickel" of what he was paid while the conduct went on or had fired any senior executives. She said, "It's gutless leadership."

Warren told Stumpf he should resign and "give back the money you took while the scam was going on."

Regulators fined San Francisco-based Wells Fargo $185 million earlier this month.

STATE UNEMPLOYMENT

Unemployment rates mostly fall in US battleground states

Unemployment rates mostly fell in August compared with a year ago in U.S. presidential swing states, including Florida and North Carolina.

But they were up in some hotly contested states, such as Pennsylvania, where the rate jumped to 5.7 percent from 4.9 percent 12 months earlier.

Typically, falling unemployment is a good sign for an incumbent party in a presidential election. But GOP nominee Donald Trump points out that growth remains weak and is seeking to benefit from the economic distress that is still apparent in many pockets of the nation.

Overall, the data painted a mixed picture. Unemployment rates also fell in the past year in close-fought states such as Georgia, Virginia and New Hampshire. Yet they rose in Iowa and Ohio.

HOME CONSTRUCTION

US home construction slumped in August; big dip in the South

Southern homebuilders pulled back on construction in August, causing the pace of housing starts nationwide to fall to their lowest level in three months.

The Commerce Department says ground breakings dropped 5.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.4 million from 1.21 million in July. That pace of construction was the lowest since May.

Starts plummeted 14.8 percent in the South, likely reflecting the monthly volatility of the government report. Building activity increased in the Northeast, Midwest and West.

Housing starts have risen 6.1 percent so far this year, fueled by greater demand amid an improving job market and low mortgage rates.

Still, additional construction might be limited as permitting activity has slipped. Authorized permits fell 0.4 percent in August to an annual rate of 1.14 million.

BAYER-MONSANTO

Monsanto, Bayer officials defend proposed $66 billion merger

Top officials for Monsanto and Bayer defended their proposed $66 billion merger before skeptical senators today, insisting that the deal would lead to greater investments in technology that could help American farmers.

Monsanto, the American seed and weed-killer, and Bayer, the German medicine and farm-chemical maker, responded to concerns from Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Grassley warned that consolidation and competition in the U.S. seed and agrochemical industry could hurt American farmers who are already dealing with an economic downturn.

After months of negotiations, Monsanto last week accepted an offer from Bayer AG that will pay $57 billion to Monsanto shareholders and assume $9 billion in Monsanto debt. The deal combines two of the six U.S. and European companies that dominate the agrochemical market, and would create a global agricultural and chemical giant with a broad array of products.

EARNS-LENNAR

Lennar's 3Q results top Street, delivers more homes

Lennar's fiscal third-quarter results topped analysts' estimates as it delivered more homes amid the ongoing recovery of the housing market.

Shares rose more than 2 percent before the market open today.

Lennar's announcement of its quarterly performance comes on the same day that the Commerce Department reports on August U.S. home construction. Building activity has climbed this year, with steady job gains and low mortgage rates prompting more Americans to seek out homes.

Housing starts have increased 6.7 percent in 2016, with single-family houses leading the way. The rebound has been held in check by rising land and labor costs, leading many economists to project a sustained period of construction because demand is so strong.

For the period ended Aug. 31, Lennar Corp. earned $235.8 million, or $1.01 per share. A year earlier the Miami-based company earned $223.3 million, or 96 cents per share.

Analysts polled by FactSet were looking for earnings of 90 cents per share.

Revenue increased to $2.83 billion from $2.49 billion a year ago, beating the $2.69 billion that Wall Street called for.

PIPELINE SPILL

Pipeline company says leak fix is on the way

The pipeline company working to repair a leak that led to gas shortages and higher prices for drivers across the South says its bypass repair is complete and it expects to restart its main gasoline line tomorrow.

Colonial Pipeline spokesman Steve Baker says testing is now being done on the line.

He says crews have been working around the clock to get fuel to markets, and that it will take a few days for the fuel supply chain to fully recover after the line restarts.

WHOLE FOODS-EPA SETTLEMENT

Whole Foods reaches $3.5M environmental waste settlement

Whole Foods Market Inc. has reached a $3.5 million settlement with regulators over the disposal of products that were once for sale but later classified as hazardous waste.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the fine and an agreement today for Austin-based Whole Foods to comply with waste regulations and better train workers.

The EPA says the grocer improperly identified or mishandled hazardous waste in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Whole Foods said the matter often involves products — such as nail polish remover, vitamins, liquor and cleaning items — that are purchased, opened, returned and then can no longer be sold and are declared waste. The company says it worked with the EPA and has updated operations and training, plus improved its systems to better track such waste.

ALLERGAN-TOBIRA ACQUISITION

Allergan targets liver disease drugs with Tobira acquisition

Botox-maker Allergan is bulking up its drug pipeline by acquiring Tobira Therapeutics Inc. and two potential liver disease treatments in a deal that could be worth almost $1.7 billion.

Tobira is testing two treatments for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, a disease that triggers inflammation that can lead to cirrhosis, cancer and eventual liver failure.

Allergan Plc says it will pay $28.35 in cash up front for each Tobira share plus up to $49.84 in contingent value rights, depending on whether certain development, regulatory and commercial milestones are met.

Shares of Allergan slipped more than 2 percent, or $5.48, to $239.81 early today. Tobira shares closed at $4.74 Monday before soaring more than 600 percent to $36.17 after the deal was announced.

SEAWORLD-DIVIDEND

SeaWorld says it will stop paying shareholders a dividend

Troubled theme park operator SeaWorld says it will soon stop paying its shareholders a quarterly dividend.

SeaWorld, known for its water shows featuring killer whales and dolphins, has been dealing with falling attendance and revenue as people's feelings about using animals for entertainment has soured. Earlier this year, the Orlando, Florida, company said it won't breed killer whales and will stop using them in shows.

The company will pay its last dividend on Oct. 7, and the amount it pays will be cut by 52 percent to 10 cents for each share owned, down from 21 cents in the previous quarter. SeaWorld says the money saved on dividends will be used to buy its own shares.

Shares of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. fell 6.5 percent to $11.86 in premarket trading today.

COMCAST-WIRELESS

Comcast plans to launch wireless service next year

Comcast plans to launch a cellphone service roughly in the middle of next year and appears to be aiming it at areas of the country where it's the cable provider.

That could potentially make the cable giant a competitor to Verizon and AT&T for a subset of the country. Comcast has just over 28 million customers.

It plans to create a service that would run on its 15 million Wi-Fi hotspots and use Verizon's wireless network, which it has a deal to resell.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts confirmed the company's plans at an investment conference today in New York.

MACY'S-HOLIDAY HIRING

Macy's to hire about 83,000 holiday workers

Macy's plans to hire about 83,000 people for the busy holiday shopping season, about equal to the number of hires last year.

The new hires will work at Macy's or Bloomingdale's department stores, call centers or at the company's facilities that ship products to stores and to online shoppers.

Other retailers, such as Kohl's and Target, have already announced their hiring plans.

Macy's Inc., based in Cincinnati, has about 880 stores.

NIGERIA-OIL LAWSUITS

APNewsBreak: Nigeria sues over $12B in 'illegal' oil exports

Nigeria is suing several major oil companies for $12.7 billion of oil that allegedly was exported illegally to the United States between 2011 and 2014.

The Federal High Court in Lagos (LAY'-gohs) begins hearings next week in cases filed against Nigerian subsidiaries of U.S. multinational Chevron, British-Dutch Shell, Italian ENI's Agip, France's Total and Brasoil of Brazilian Petrobas, according to the court register.

Oil companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Officials familiar with the cases say Nigeria's government alleges that the companies did not declare more than 57 million barrels of crude oil shipments. That was deduced from audits of declared exports and what was unloaded in the United States.

Officials say some shiploads registered less when they left Nigeria and more on reaching the United States, while some entire shiploads were undeclared in Nigeria.

TX-BP-TEXAS REFINERY

20K cases dismissed over refinery emissions release in Texas

A judge has tossed out about 20,000 cases filed against BP by people who alleged they got sick after a 2010 emissions release from its Texas City refinery.

The Galveston County Daily News reports a judge on Monday granted BP's request to remove nearly half of the 45,000 pending class-action cases. Judge Lonnie Cox found some plaintiffs never showed evidence of damages or they opted out of any settlement, where the other cases remain.

Regulators say the refinery in April and May 2010 emitted 500,000 pounds of chemicals, including carbon monoxide and benzene. BP denied that the release, during flaring, caused health issues.

Investigators determined BP violated Texas air quality laws. The company paid $50 million in a state settlement including past emission violations.

Marathon Petroleum Corp. now owns the refinery.

REVEL REOPENING

Ex-Revel casino to reopen as 'TEN' in 1st quarter of 2017

Atlantic City's former Revel casino resort plans to reopen next year under the name Ten.

The $2.4 billion resort lasted a little over two years before shutting down, never having turned a profit.

Florida developer Glenn Straub bought it out of bankruptcy court for $82 million, or about 5 cents on the dollar.

He's hired Revel's former chief financial officer Alan Greenstein to fill the same role in the reopened Ten.

On Tuesday afternoon, the project is seeking a key approval from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority that could move it closer to getting final clearance to reopen. It needs approval of new traffic patterns from the agency, as well as a city certificate of occupancy.

Straub plans to open Ten in the first quarter of 2017.

BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INVESTMENT

Berkshire Hathaway executive joins JPMorgan Chase's board

One of Berkshire Hathaway's investment managers is joining the board of JPMorgan Chase.

The bank says Todd Combs had been elected to JPMorgan's board.

The 45-year-old Combs has been helping manage Berkshire's investments since 2010. He is one of two investment managers Berkshire hired in recent years to help run the company's portfolio after CEO Warren Buffett is gone.

Before joining Berkshire, Combs ran the Castle Point Capital hedge fund.

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