Business Briefs – January 3, 2019

China Back in the Market for American Soy With Trade Talks Planned

(Bloomberg) – China is back in the market for U.S. soybeans just as Washington and Beijing plan more trade discussions.

Cofco Corp., China’s top food company, was asking for prices, according to four traders familiar with the process, who asked not to be identified because talks are private. The inquiries were for February and March delivery, three of the traders said.

Cofco didn’t make any purchases, according to a person familiar with the matter, and it’s still unclear if state stockpiler Sinograin bought any. Both companies declined to comment. While most traders say they haven’t heard of any sales, Chicago-based consultancy AgResource says state-run buyers probably purchased about 1.5 million metric tons.

Survey: U.S. Firms Added a Strong 271,000 Jobs in December

WASHINGTON& (AP) – U.S. businesses added a robust 271,000 jobs in December, according to a private survey.

Payroll processor ADP said Thursday that last month’s job gains marked a sharp upturn from November’s gain of 157,000. The gains, if backed up by government numbers due Friday, could be strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate.

The burst of hiring last month comes as financial markets are dreading a broader economic slowdown, causing stock prices to collapse. But job growth at December’s pace suggests that the U.S. economy is unlikely to fall into a recession, said Mark Zandi, who prepares the ADP report as chief economist at Moody’s Analystics

Average Mortgage Rates Fall; 30-Year at 4.51 percent

WASHINGTON& (AP) – Long-term mortgage rates fell this week, starting the year with an inducement to prospective homebuyers.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage declined to 4.51 percent from 4.55 percent last week. Despite recent declines, home borrowing rates remain far above last year’s levels. The key 30-year rate averaged 3.95 percent a year ago.

The average rate for 15-year fixed-rate loans edged down to 3.99 percent this week from to 4.01 percent last week.

Mortgage rates began to spike after President Donald Trump signed broad tax cuts, financed by government deficits, into law in December 2017. But rates have eased in recent weeks amid steep declines in the stock market and tumbling interest rates on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note — which influences long-term mortgage rates.

Factories Expanded at Slowest Pace in More Than 2 Years

WASHINGTON& (AP) – American factories grew last month at the slowest pace in more than two years, with some manufacturers complaining about the impact of President Donald Trump’s contentious trade policies.

The Institute for Supply Management, an association of purchasing managers, said Thursday that its manufacturing index dropped to 54.1 in December, down from 59.3 in November and the lowest level since November 2016. Anything above 50 signals growth, and American manufacturing has been on a 28-month winning streak.

Bristol-Myers Squibb Buying Celgene in $74B Deal

SUMMIT, N.J. (AP) – Bristol-Myers Squibb is spending $74 billion on fellow drugmaker Celgene in a deal aimed at stocking the combined company’s development pipeline with cancer, immunology and cardiovascular treatments.

Bristol would gain the cancer treatment Revlimid in the cash-and-stock deal announced Thursday, as well as inflammatory disease treatments and several products close to launching.

The combined company will have nine products with more than $1 billion in annual sales.

No Refuge for Investors: Even “Safe” Funds Fell in 2018

NEW YORK (AP) – The past year felt dismal for investors.

Mutual funds of all types sank. Even those funds that are typically steadier during turbulent markets struggled through what became the worst year since the Great Recession for many investors.

Stock, bond and commodity markets all succumbed to worries about rising interest rates, a predicted slowdown in economic growth and the potentially painful effects of the global trade war. That meant losses not only for investors who went all-in on U.S. stock funds, which looked unstoppable after notching their best January in two decades, but also for those who hewed to the traditional advice and diversified their 401(k) accounts across many different markets.