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US housing construction jumps 16.9% in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — Construction of new homes surged in December to the highest level in 13 years, capping a year in which falling mortgage rates and a strong labour market helped lift the prospects of the housing industry. The Commerce Department reported Friday that builders started construction on 1.61 million homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in December, up 16.9% from the November pace of home building.

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Tech, communications stocks push US indexes to more records

NEW YORK (AP) ) — Solid gains in technology and communications stocks pushed major U.S. indexes to more record highs on Wall Street Friday. Chipmaker Qualcomm jumped 4.5% and Google parent company Alphabet rose 2%. Banks also did well, driven by strong results from State Street and Citizens Financial. That came a day after Morgan Stanley soared after reporting blowout earnings.

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AP Exclusive: AT&T under pressure to defy Maduro’s censors

MIAMI (AP) — Venezuela’s opposition together with the Trump administration is looking to recruit AT&T in its fight to oust Nicolás Maduro. State Department officials met in December with from AT&T executives to discuss how they can work together to disarm Maduro’s propaganda machine. Maduro’s opponents want AT&T’s DirecTV unit to restore a number of channels it was required to take down from its lineup. International channels including CNN en Espanol fill an important void for information inside Venezuela after a number of broadcasters critical of the government disappeared from the airwaves. But forcing AT&T to do the political bidding of Maduro’s foes could lead to retaliation.

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For some major US shippers, 2019 ended on a sour note

NEW YORK (AP) — For major shipping companies dealing with trade wars and a slowing global economy, conditions appear to have deteriorated for some as 2019 came to a close. Global shipping and logistics provider Expeditors International said Friday that it expects fourth quarter operating income to fall between $177 million and $183 million. CEO Jeffrey Musser cited trade disputes and slowing growth for a number of national economies. The report comes a day after the railroad CSX reported a 7% decline in the freight it hauled during the final months of the year. Transportation companies are the worst performers across the market in trading. Shares in trucking, railroad and ocean shipping companies are selling off.

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AP Explains: The Justice Department’s new quarrel with Apple

WASHINGTON (AP) — The deadly December shooting of three U.S. sailors at a Navy installation could reignite a long-simmering fight between the federal government and tech companies over data privacy and encryption. The Justice Department insists that it needs data from two locked and encrypted iPhones that belonged to the alleged gunman. Apple, which deliberately makes iPhones so secure that the company itself can’t read personal data without permission, has demurred. Still to come: whether U.S. Attorney General William Barr will try to muscle Apple into hacking its own technology — or press for laws banning encryption that the government can’t break.

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Boeing is working on a new software issue on the 737 Max

CHICAGO (AP) — Boeing has found a new software problem on its grounded 737 Max jetliner. The aircraft maker says it is making the necessary changes and working with the Federal Aviation Administration. It’s up to the FAA to decide when the plane is safe and can resume flying. The latest problem has to do with monitors that verify key systems on the plane are working. According to a person familiar with the situation, during a recent test, one of the monitors didn’t start up when it was supposed to. The Max has been grounded since two crashes killed 346 people.

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Report: Disney dropping the ‘Fox’ from movie studio names

NEW YORK (AP) — Published reports say Disney is dropping the word “Fox” from movie studios it acquired as part of last year’s $71 billion purchase of Fox’s entertainment business. Trade publication Variety reports that 20th Century Fox will become 20th Century Studios, while Fox Searchlight Pictures will be Searchlight Pictures. Variety says the studios’ logos are largely unchanged except for the removal of the Fox name. The change makes sense as Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corp. owns Fox News and the Fox broadcast network, while Disney now owns the movie studios. Disney representatives haven’t returned messages requesting comment.

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Toyota shifting pickup production to Mexico, no US jobs lost

PRINCETON, Indiana (AP) — Toyota will stop making its Tacoma small pickup in San Antonio next year as it shifts production to Mexico. But the company says no U.S. jobs will be lost. To make up for the lost work, the San Antonio plant will build the Sequoia large SUV. Its 3,200 jobs will be preserved. Currently the Tacoma and full-size Tundra pickups are built in San Antonio, and the Tacoma also is produced at a factory in Baja California, Mexico. Late last year a Toyota plant in Mexico also began building Tacomas. Tacoma production in San Antonio will wind down in late 2021, and Sequoia production will start in 2022.

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US industrial production fell 0.3% in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. industrial production fell 0.3% in December, as unseasonably warm weather reduced demand for heating from utilities. The Federal Reserve said Friday that total industrial production — which includes the manufacturing, mining and utilities sectors — slumped 1% over the past year. Much of that annual decline came from factory output tumbling 1.3%.

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The S&P 500 index rose 12.81 points, or 0.4%, to 3,329.62. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 50.46 points, or 0.2%, to 29,348.10. The Nasdaq added 31.81 points, or 0.3%, to 9,388.94. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks dropped 5.58 points, or 0.3%, to 1,699.64.

The Associated Press