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TALKING POINTS

Comcast offers temporary free option for new low-income customers

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BROADBAND

Comcast offers free option for new low-income customers

Broadband provider Comcast said late Thursday that it’ll provide 60 days of free broadband service to new customers of its Internet Essentials service for low-income users. Normally the service costs $9.95 a month. In addition, Comcast will increase the download speed of the service from 15 megabits per second to 25 megabits. The speed increase will apply permanently to new and existing Internet Essentials customers. — HIAWATHA BRAY

CONSTRUCTION

Bank of America cuts ratings on homebuilders

Bank of America cut its ratings and price targets on several homebuilders and building products companies as the firm is bracing for the “inevitable” coronavirus impact on the US housing market. The firm on Thursday downgraded Lennar Corp. and NVR Inc. to neutral from buy and cut Toll Brothers Inc. and Foundation Building Materials Inc. to underperform from neutral and buy, respectively. KB Home was raised to buy from neutral as BofA sees “substantial first-time buyer offerings” providing “some degree of resiliency” compared to the overall market. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

EMPLOYMENT

Jobless claims fall for a second week

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment insurance fell last week for a second straight week, an indication that the coronavirus had not yet hit the labor market in a major way. The Labor Department said Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits, a good proxy for layoffs, dropped by 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 211,000. Claims had fallen by 4,000 in the previous week as well. Applications for unemployment benefits are being watched for any signs that the virus has started to trigger major layoffs. Some economists are already warning that the economic impact of the virus could be severe enough to push the global economy into a recession. Some analysts argue that the economy should be strong enough to withstand the adverse effects of the virus. Last week, the government reported that the unemployment rate in February returned to a 50-year low of 3.5 percent as employers added 273,000 new jobs, evidence that the labor market was in good shape before the coronavirus began spreading across the country.
— ASSOCIATED PRESS

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ECONOMY

Wholesale prices fell in February by the most in 5 years

US wholesale prices fell 0.6 percent in February, the biggest decline in five years, led by a sharp drop in energy costs. The Labor Department said the decline in its producer price index, which measures price pressures before they reach the consumer, followed a 0.5 percent rise in January. It was the sharpest decline since a similar 0.6 percent drop in January 2015. Core inflation, which excludes energy and food, was also down in February, dropping 0.3 percent. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

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ENTERTAINMENT

World’s second largest cinema company takes a big hit as coronavirus may keep people home

Cineworld Group Plc, the world’s second-biggest cinema company, lost half its market value at one point on Thursday after it said its worst-case scenario for the coronavirus outbreak could put it at risk of breaching lending covenants. The shares have pared losses, bringing their year-to-date decline to 68 percent and making the company among the worst performers in the Euro Stoxx 600 so far in 2020. Cineworld has not seen a material impact from the pandemic, it said in a statement. In a scenario where the virus impact causes a loss of as much as three months’ revenue, an inability to reduce its fixed costs to cope with site closures, and other assumptions, Cineworld would be at risk of breaching debt covenants. The company has a credit line whose terms can be triggered when it is more than 35 percent drawn, and loans with terms that limit the ratio of net debt to earnings to 5.5 times.
— BLOOMBERG NEWS

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ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

Solar energy company backs relief for battered oil producers

One of America’s biggest rooftop-solar companies supports a potential relief package for an unlikely group: oil producers clobbered this week by collapsing prices. The head of Houston-based Sunnova Energy International Inc. said he would back the oil industry’s bid for federal aid amid the worst price rout in a generation, as long as it’s part of a package that restores the US solar industry’s federal tax credit to last year’s level. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

MORTGAGES

Rates mixed after hitting record lows last week

Long-term mortgage rates were mixed this week after hitting all-time lows last week amid anxiety over risks to the economy from the deepening coronavirus crisis. The average rate on the benchmark 30-year loan rose to 3.36 percent from 3.29 percent last week — which was the lowest level since mortgage buyer Freddie Mac started tracking it in 1971. The average rate on the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage slipped to 2.77 percent from 2.79 percent last week. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

ENERGY

Icahn increases his stake in Occidental Petroleum

Activist investor Carl Icahn has boosted his stake in Occidental Petroleum Corp. after the oil producer slumped this week amid a rout in oil prices and made one of his predictions come true by cutting its dividend. Icahn now owns roughly 10 percent of the company, up from 2.5 percent previously, and continues in his push to replace its board. The billionaire investor has been critical of the company’s leadership, in particular chief executive Vicki Hollub, for the takeover of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and the $10 billion in pricey financing the company took from Warren Buffett to get the deal done. Occidental announced last month that chairman Eugene Batchelder will step down later this year. Batchelder had drawn the ire of Icahn as well. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

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DELIVERIES

UPS chief retiring

The CEO of UPS is retiring after six years in the top job. Board member Carol Tome will take over for David Abney at the end of May. Tome, the one-time chief financial officer at Home Depot, has been on the board of the Atlanta company since 2003. UPS Inc. said Thursday that Abney will serve as board chairman until his retirement in September. The long-time UPS employee was previously chief operating officer and began his career in 1974 as a package handler in Mississippi. — ASSOCIATED PRESS

CRYPTOCURRENCY

Bitcoin value plunges amid coronavirus pandemic

Bitcoin plunged on Thursday, at one point sinking through $6,000 for the first time since May as a sell-off in cryptocurrencies became a rout amid wider market turmoil sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. The wild moves come as stock gauges globally slide into bear markets and credit cracks on fears the spreading virus will cause a significant economic downturn. The retreat threatens to undermine the argument from many of its advocates that Bitcoin can be a haven in times of turmoil. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

RETAIL

Chinese shoppers return to malls

Chinese shoppers are slowly returning to the glitzy malls and boutiques where they’ve been driving growth of the global luxury industry as coronavirus quarantine measures relax. Store traffic in China is creeping back up after falling as much as 80 percent at the virus outbreak’s peak there earlier this winter, hammering sales of brands ranging from Burberry to Gucci. The recovery could accelerate in the coming weeks, fueled by so-called “revenge spending” sprees. — BLOOMBERG NEWS

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