Business Briefs – February 1, 2017

Fed Leaves Rates Alone and Gives No Hint of When It May Hike

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Federal Reserve has left its key interest rate unchanged at a time of solid economic gains but also heightened uncertainty surrounding the new Trump administration.

At the same time, the Fed pointed to improved sentiment among consumers and businesses. And it said it had become more confident that inflation will reach its 2 percent target. But the Fed offered no hints about when it will resume raising rates.

In a statement it issued Wednesday after its latest policy meeting, the Fed said it wants more time to monitor the economy and still envisions a gradual pace of rate increases.

Many economists think the Fed will put off further rate increases until more is known about President Donald Trump’s ambitious agenda, or whether his drive to cancel or rewrite trade deals will slow growth or unsettle investors.

The statement offered a slightly more upbeat tone than it did after the Fed’s previous meeting in December, reflecting rising confidence in the economy and signs that chronically low inflation is moving higher.

Retailers, Trade Groups Increase Fight Against Tax Proposal

NEW YORK (AP) – More than 100 retailers including Wal-Mart and Target as well as key trade associations are launching a new coalition to fight a Republican proposal on how imports get taxed, a measure they believe will deal a big blow to businesses. They’re increasing their fight even while Congress and the president try to sort out exactly what adjustments to put forth.

Facebook Beats Street 4Q Forecasts

MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) – Facebook blew past Wall Street’s expectations yet again with its quarterly earnings report, despite some concerns that its “ad load,” or the number of advertisements it can show users without clogging up their feed, has reached its limit.

Insurers Shrink From Exchanges As Lawmakers Mull Changes

The Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges have become too risky for major health insurers, and that’s creating further doubt about coverage options consumers might have next year. Anthem CEO Joseph Swedish said Wednesday his company is waiting to see whether the government makes some short-term fixes to the shaky exchanges before it decides how much it will participate in 2018.

Self-Driving Car Prototypes Need Less Human Help, Data Show

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Self-driving car prototypes appear to be getting better at negotiating California streets and highways without a human backup needing to intervene. California regulators released documents Wednesday that report data from 11 companies testing the technology on public roads. The reports catalog the number of times in 2016 that humans took control from the cars’ software. Google’s self-driving car project that has been rebranded Waymo improved notably.

Hiring Rebound at Small Businesses in January, ADP Says

WASHIGNTON (AP) – Small businesses more than tripled their number of new jobs in January, adding 62,000, according to payroll provider ADP. That’s up from 18,000 in December, and in line with the average of more than 62,000 per month in 2016. ADP counted the number of jobs at its small business customers, those with up to 49 staffers.

Small businesses were part of an overall trend of stronger job growth last month. ADP reported that businesses of all sizes added 246,000 jobs last month, up from December’s 151,000.

The figures suggest that employers are hiring again after scaling back their payroll expansion in the second half of last year. The arrival of the Trump administration, which was welcomed by many small business owners, may have encouraged them to take some more of the risks they’ve been avoiding since the recession, including expanding their staffs. Many owners have said in surveys they’re not willing to hire unless their revenue is strong enough to justify the added expense.