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Update on the latest in business:

Posted October 3

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Automakers, homebuilders lead stock gains

Stocks are inching higher in midday trading on Wall Street in another mostly quiet day of trading.

General Motors jumped 2.8 percent, and Ford gained 2.3 percent after the automakers both reported solid sales growth for September. Paychex, a payroll and human-resources provider, rose 4 percent after reporting stronger earnings than analysts expected.

At 12:50 p.m. Eastern Time, the S&P 500 index rose 3 points, to 2,532.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 71 points, to 22,628, and the Nasdaq composite rose 5 points, to 6,521. All three indexes closed at record highs the day before.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury dipped to 2.32 percent.

CONGRESS-EQUIFAX

Former Equifax CEO defends sale of company stock

—The former chief executive at Equifax tells lawmakers that the sale of company stock by senior executives in early August was unrelated to the data breach at the company.

On Aug. 1 and 2, Equifax Chief Financial Officer John Gamble and two other executives, Rodolfo Ploder and Joseph Loughran, sold a combined $1.8 million in stock.

At a congressional hearing today, former company CEO Richard Smith described the executives as "honorable men, men of integrity."

Smith says that while the company was aware of suspicious activity by potential hackers, there was no indication that data had been removed from the system. He said that recognition only occurred after forensic experts conducted their review in the following weeks.

Smith also says that he was not involved in the approval process for the stock sales, which he says often occur on a quarterly basis.

WELLS-FARGO-CONGRESS

Wells Fargo CEO faces an angry Congress

Some U.S. Senators questioning Wells Fargo's CEO say an auto insurance scandal is an example of how the bank's culture hasn't changed.

Wells Fargo acknowledged earlier this year that it signed up tens of thousands of auto loan customers up for insurance they did not need, and some of those customers who could not afford the auto insurance had their cars repossessed.

That came after a scandal over millions of accounts created without customer knowledge as bank employees tried to meet aggressive sales targets.

Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said "it was amazing" for Wells Fargo to claim it puts customers first when people's cars were repossessed.

And Democrat Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota said, "I do not hear a level of cultural change that satisfies me today."

AUTO SALES

Automakers bounce back with strong sales in September

General Motors, Ford, Nissan and Toyota are all posting strong monthly U.S. sales numbers, confirming expectations that the industry would rebound in September.

GM reports that sales rose 11.9 percent to just over 279,000, while Ford sales rose 8.7 percent to just over 222,000. Nissan posted a September record of nearly 140,000 sales, up 9.5 percent, while Toyota sales rose 14.9 percent to nearly 227,000.

Fiat Chrysler reports a 10 percent decrease to 174,000 on a planned reduction of sales to rental car companies.

Industry analysts had predicted a strong month due to Labor Day weekend deals and a small boost from owners replacing cars damaged by Hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

The auto website Edmunds.com expects overall sales to rise 0.4 percent from last year.

FIAT CHRYSLER-SUV RECALL

Fiat Chrysler recalls 710k SUVs; braking could be limited

Fiat Chrysler is recalling nearly 710,000 Jeep and Dodge SUVs in North America because an improperly installed brake shield could let water leak in and limit braking ability.

The recall covers 2011 to 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Durangos.

The company says brake booster shields were added as part of a 2014 recall, but a check of warranty claims found that some weren't installed correctly. In those cases water can cause corrosion or get inside the booster and freeze. That can reduce braking ability, increasing the risk of a crash.

Fiat Chrysler says it knows of one potentially related crash but no injuries.

Dealers will inspect the shields and correct the installation if needed. The recall is expected to start Nov. 7.

FORD-BUSINESS UPDATE

Ford CEO faces first big test as he meets with investors

Ford's new CEO is facing his first big test as he tries to convince skeptical investors that he has a clear and compelling plan for the automaker's future.

Jim Hackett, who became Ford's CEO in May, will meet with around 100 investors in New York this afternoon.

He's expected to discuss plans for cost-cutting as well as new partnerships such as Ford's recent alliance with Indian automaker Mahindra. Ford and Mahindra plan to cooperate on mobility projects, electric cars and other areas.

Ford hired Hackett to turn around its share price, which has languished below $15 for the last two years despite strong profits.

Brian Johnson, an analyst with Barclays, says Ford lagged rivals in bringing electric vehicles to market and articulating its plans for self-driving vehicles and future mobility.

HOLIDAY FORECAST

Retail group expects holiday sales to rise 3.6 to 4 percent

The nation's largest retail trade group is forecasting holiday sales for the November and December period to rise between 3.6 percent and 4 percent to $678.75 billion to $682 billion.

The estimate from the National Retail Federation compares with 3.6 percent in the same period last year.

The dollar figure excludes sales from autos, gas and restaurants but includes online spending and other non-store sales.

The forecast is based on an economic model that considers such indicators as consumer credit, disposable personal income and monthly retail sales. It's a key industry barometer for retailers who depend on the last two months of the year. Holiday sales account for nearly 20 percent of annual retail industry sales. It also offers a snapshot of the mindset of the consumer.

BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY-TRUCK STOPS

Buffett's firm to buy majority of Pilot Flying J truck stops

Warren Buffett's company is acquiring a major stake in Pilot Flying J truck stops and it will become a majority owner within about five years.

Berkshire Hathaway says it will buy 38.6 percent of the company with 750 truck stops in 44 states and Canada, and that stake will rise to 80 percent in 2023.

Financial terms have not been disclosed.

Pilot Flying J, which is run by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, has been under scrutiny in recent years because of a diesel fuel rebate scam that led to criminal charges against several executives.

The Knoxville, Tennessee, company paid an $85 million settlement with some of the defrauded customers as well as a $92 million penalty to the government.

WALMART-SAME-DAY DELIVERY

Walmart, honing same-day delivery skills, buys NYC's Parcel

Walmart is sharpening its same-day delivery skills through the acquisition of a small, New York City company.

Walmart says that Parcel, with a warehouse in Brooklyn, has learned to deftly navigate densely populated areas and get groceries to customers fast. That last leg is key for all retailers in a transformed landscape where the ability to deliver at speed and with low costs brings tremendous advantages in fending off competitors like Amazon.com.

The announcement comes just a few days after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. introduced higher-end, online groceries that are aimed at younger urbanites.

Walmart's focus on fast, local delivery shows how priorities have shifted for major retailers as they travel to shoppers' homes, rather than the other way around.

Walmart is not saying how much it paid for Parcel.

BRITAIN-DATA PRIVACY

European court asked to rule on Facebook data transfers

Ireland's High Court has asked the European Court of Justice to decide whether Facebook's Dublin-based subsidiary can legally transfer users' personal data to its U.S. parent, saying there are "well-founded concerns" the practice violates European law.

In a case brought after former U.S. defense contractor Edward Snowden revealed the extent of electronic surveillance by American security agencies, the court found that Facebook's transfers may compromise the data of European citizens.

The case has far-reaching implications for social media companies and others who move large amounts of data via the internet.

Ireland's Data Commissioner had previously issued a preliminary decision that such transfers are illegal because agreements between Facebook and its Irish subsidiary don't adequately protect the privacy of European citizens.

DUPONT-PRICE FIXING

Appeals court affirms ruling for DuPont in price-fixing suit

A federal appeals court has affirmed a judge's ruling in favor of chemical company DuPont Co. in a lawsuit alleging price-fixing involving a widely used industrial pigment.

The Third Circuit court panel on Monday upheld a Delaware judge's decision last year granting summary judgment to DuPont in a lawsuit brought by the Valspar Corporation, a Minnesota-based manufacturer of paints and coatings.

Valspar claimed that it was overcharged $176 million for titanium dioxide after DuPont conspired with three other companies starting in 2002 to control the price of the whitening pigment, resulting in 31 parallel price increases by the companies over the next 12 years.

DuPont argued that the pricing was the natural consequence of the marketplace. The judge ruled that evidence of an actual agreement to fix prices was lacking.

CHARTER-HEADQUARTERS

Cable operator Charter to build new Connecticut headquarters

Cable operator Charter Communications has announced plans to build a new 15-story headquarters in Connecticut and add another 1,100 jobs there, with the help of up to $20 million in loans and tax credits from the state.

The nation's second-largest cable operator disclosed plans for the Stamford headquarters today in an announcement with Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Charter has been based in Stamford since 2012. It has more than 26 million customers in 41 states.

The company says it will construct a 500,000 square-foot building and has agreed to $100 million in capital spending in the state over the next several years. The new headquarters is expected to open in 2019.

The state will provide a 10-year, $10 million low-interest loan and up to $10 million in tax credits.

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