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Wall Street opens modestly higher ... Wells Fargo CEO apologizes for 'unethical sales practices' ... Home construction slumps in August

Posted September 20

— Stocks are opening modestly higher on Wall Street, led by gains in banks and industrial companies. General Electric rose 1 percent shortly after the opening bell today, one of the biggest gains in the Dow Jones industrial average. Pier 1 Imports jumped 4 percent after Alden Global Capital disclosed a 9.5 percent stake in the company. At 10:23 a.m. Eastern Time, the Dow was up 77 points, at 18,197. The S&P 500 was up 8 points at 2,148. And the Nasdaq was up 17 points at 5,252. Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.69 percent.

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf is appearing before the Senate Banking Committee this morning and says he is "deeply sorry" that bank employees opened customer accounts without customers knowing in order to meet aggressive sales targets. Stumpf says he takes "full responsibility for all unethical sales practices" but says team members were never directed to obtain services that customers did not want. Bank employees allegedly moved customers' money into unwanted accounts and even created fake email addresses to sign up customers for online banking.

The Senate is taking a closer look today at a proposed $66 billion merger of American seed and weed-killer company Monsanto and German medicine and farm chemical maker Bayer. The deal combines two of the six U.S. and European companies that dominate the agrochemical market. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Charles Grassley of Iowa, has said he's concerned that the consolidation could hurt American farmers who are already worried about rising costs.

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. Building activity increased in the Northeast, Midwest and West.

Troubled theme park operator SeaWorld says it will pay its last quarterly dividend to shareholders on Oct. 7. SeaWorld had been dealing with falling attendance as people's feelings about using animals for entertainment have soured. Earlier this year, the Orlando, Florida company said it would stop breeding killer whales and using them in shows.

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