Economy

Business Highlights | Roundup of top economy stories

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NEW YORK — Walmart is raising wages for 425,000 of its 1.5 million U.S. workers and is investing $14 billion this year to speed up its distribution network as the nation’s largest retailer navigates vast industry changes that were accelerated by the pandemic.

Walmart Inc. reported a mixed performance Thursday for the fourth quarter. It swung to a loss partly due to costs related to the pandemic, and the sale of its Japan and U.K. divisions. But sales surged by 7.4% in the period that includes the critical holiday shopping season. Sales at stores opened at least a year rose 8.6%, up from 6.4% in the previous quarter.

While online sales surged 69%, that is down from an 80% spike in the prior period and it was the slowest growth since the pandemic began. The company also said it expects overall sales to moderate this year. Shares dipped almost 6% in early trading.

It is the steepest one-day sell off in almost a year.

The retail giant also reported Thursday that it’s raising its average hourly wage to more than $15 per hour, up from more than $14 per hour. The pay raises will be concentrated in online and stocking roles. Starting March 13, pay for workers in those jobs will increase to between $13 and $19 an hour, based on a store’s location.

Walmart raised its starting hourly wage from $9 to $11 not too long ago, and that starting wage will remain. Amazon and Target have already increased hourly wages to $15 for all workers.

Walmart Inc. lost $2.09 billion, or 74 cents per share, compared with last year’s $4.14 billion profit during the fourth quarter, or $1.45 per share. Adjusted per-share earnings came to $1.39, which was well short of the $1.51 that Wall Street expected, according to a survey by FactSet.

WASHINGTON — U.S. home construction fell 6% in January but applications for building permits, which typically signal activity ahead, rose sharply.

The decline pushed home and apartment construction down to a seasonally adjusted rate of 1.58 million units last month, compared with 1.68 million in December, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Single-family construction starts dropped 12.2% while construction of apartment units rose 16.2%.

SILVER SPRING, Md. — U.S. long-term mortgage rates ticked up this week but remain at historic lows as the coronavirus pandemic continues to batter the economy even as more Americans get vaccinated.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate on the benchmark 30-year fixed-rate home loan rose to 2.81% from last week’s 2.73%. One year ago, the rate was 3.49%.

The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate loans, popular among those seeking to refinance their mortgages, rose to 2.21% from to 2.19% last week. A year ago it was 2.99%.

The 5-year adjustable rate mortgage averaged 2.77%, down from last week’s 2.79%. It averaged 3.25% one year ago.

While economists expect modest increases in home-loan rates this year, they likely will remain low with the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates near zero until the economy recovers.

Read more at www.texarkanagazette.com

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