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Talking Points

Taylor Swift boosted the bottom line at Universal Music

Taylor Swift accepts the award for favorite pop album for "Red (Taylor's Version)" at the American Music Awards on Nov. 20, 2022, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.Chris Pizzello/Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

MUSIC

Taylor Swift boosted the bottom line at Universal Music

Taylor Swift’s Midnights album helped the US artist generate $230 million in sales for Universal Music last year, according to JPMorgan Chase. Swift, 33, represented close to 3 percent of the company’s revenues from recorded music in 2022, with the biggest boost coming in the fourth quarter after the release of the album, analysts including Daniel Kerven wrote in a note. — Bloomberg News

RETAIL

Party City files for bankruptcy

NEW YORK — Party City has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after struggling with rising prices and a pullback in customer spending. The company, based in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., said that its franchise stores, subsidiaries outside of the US, and its foil balloons Anagram business are not part of the restructuring and will remain core components of its business. Party City Holdco Inc., said its more than 800 company-owned and franchise stores throughout North America will remain open, and customers can still shop on the company website. Party City for years has faced growing competition from Walmart and Target and increasingly from occasion-based pop-up stores such as Spirt Halloween. That pressure has intensified in an era of rising prices, including for helium used in party balloons, and slowing consumer demand. — Associated Press

ECONOMY

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Consumer spending down in December for a second month

NEW YORK — Americans cut back on spending in December, the second consecutive month they’ve done so, underscoring how inflation and the rising cost of using credit cards slowed consumer activity over the crucial holiday shopping season. Retail sales fell 1.1 percent in December, following a revised 1 percent drop in November, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. In October, retail sales ticked up 1.3 percent, helped by early holiday shopping. Auto sales declined as rising interest rates for auto loans crimped demand. That, and falling gas prices, helped to pull overall retail sales lower. — Associated Press

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INTERNATIONAL

Nurses strike in Britain

LONDON — Thousands of nurses in Britain walked out Wednesday in a new protest over pay, with no end in sight to a wave of strikes that has piled pressure on the UK’s overburdened public health system. Two 12-hour strikes on Wednesday and Thursday affect about a quarter of hospitals and clinics in England. Emergency care and cancer treatment will continue, but thousands of appointments and procedures are likely to be postponed. Nurses, ambulance crews, train drivers, airport baggage handlers, border staff, driving instructors, bus drivers, and postal workers have all walked off their jobs in recent months to demand higher pay amid a cost-of-living crisis. Inflation in the UK hit a 41-year high of 11.1 percent in October, driven by sharply rising energy and food costs, before easing slightly to 10.5 percent in December. — Associated Press

INTERNATIONAL

BASF exit from Russia cost it billions

BERLIN — Germany-based chemicals maker BASF says it is taking some 7.3 billion euros ($7.9 billion) in write-downs related to the exit from Russia of its Wintershall Dea gas and oil subsidiary. Wintershall Dea said late Tuesday that it “intends to fully exit Russia in an orderly manner complying with all applicable laws and regulations.” The unit’s CEO, Mario Mehren, said in a statement that “continuing to operate in Russia is not tenable.” “Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is incompatible with our values and has destroyed cooperation between Russia and Europe,” he added. He also pointed to restrictions imposed by the Russian government on the operations of Western countries and “external interferences in our joint venture operations.” — Associated Press

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E-COMMERCE

Amazon begins its layoffs

Amazon is set to begin a round of layoffs ultimately affecting more than 18,000 employees in the largest job cull in its history, which it announced earlier this month. The cuts come as the retailer grapples with slowing online sales growth and braces for a possible recession affecting the spending power of its customers. The eliminations started last year and initially fell hardest on Amazon’s Devices and Services group, which builds the Alexa digital assistant and Echo smart speakers. The latest round, scheduled to commence Wednesday, will mostly affect the retail division and human resources. — Bloomberg News

GAMBLING

Casino junket organizer in Macao sentenced to jail

MACAO — The founder of Macao’s once-biggest casino junket organizer was sentenced Wednesday to 18 years in jail after being convicted of operating illegal gaming activities, running a criminal organization, and numerous other charges. Alvin Chau, former chairman of Suncity Group, was arrested in Macao in November 2021 shortly after Chinese authorities issued an arrest warrant for him based on accusations that he ran an illegal cross-border gambling syndicate with others. Macao is the only place in China where casinos are legal, and junket operators such as Suncity were a key part of its gaming industry. They helped facilitate gambling for high rollers outside the former Portuguese colony, including arranging travel services and extending credit for them. — Associated Press

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CRYPTOCURRENCY

Coinbase pulls out of Japan

Coinbase is halting operations in Japan, less than a month after another major digital asset exchange Kraken announced its withdrawal from the country. Customers will have until Feb. 16 to withdraw their fiat and crypto holdings, Coinbase said in a blog post Wednesday. Any remaining crypto held at Coinbase on or after Feb. 17 will be converted to yen, and the company will send any remaining cash to a guaranty account at the Legal Affairs Bureau in the month after that date, it said. — Bloomberg News

OPIOID CRISIS

West Virginia settles with Walgreens in opioid suit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia has settled for $83 million with Walgreens for the pharmacy store chain’s role in perpetuating the opioid crisis in the state with the most per capita overdose deaths, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Wednesday. That brings the total brought in from opioid litigation to more than $950 million, according to the attorney general’s office. The state now has one remaining opioid case to close out. A trial with Kroger is set for June. — Associated Press

FOOD

Campbell’s to consolidate in New Jersey

CAMDEN, N.J. — Campbell’s Soup Co. plans to spend about $50 million to upgrade of its headquarters in New Jersey as it consolidates the central offices of snacks businesses from North Carolina and Connecticut. The company announced Wednesday it will add about 330 positions at the site in Camden, bringing the total jobs there to about 1,600. It said the move will drive greater creativity, collaboration, and career development at the company. The jobs are moving from a Snyder’s-Lance plant in Charlotte, N.C., and the Pepperidge Farm headquarters in Norwalk, Conn. — Associated Press

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CRYPTOCURRENCY

Bankman-Fried continues to insist FTX is solvent

Sam Bankman-Fried, the fallen crypto entrepreneur who faces trial in the United States on fraud charges, reiterated his claim that the FTX US crypto exchange “was and is solvent.” In a statement on Substack on Tuesday, he said that FTX US likely has “hundreds of millions of dollars in excess of customer balances.” The 30-year-old also referenced the Substack post on his Twitter account. FTX debtors as part of the exchange’s bankruptcy process said earlier Tuesday “there is a substantial shortfall of digital assets at both” FTX.com and FTX US. Bankman-Fried in his more than 1,000-word statement argued they had made a mistake in their tally of assets. — Bloomberg News