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FORECAST: ‘Critical’ fire danger in Hill Country, ‘elevated’ danger in Austin this afternoon

Business Digest: Consumer confidence at highest level since 2001


ECONOMY

Consumer confidence at highest level since 2001

WASHINGTON — U.S. consumer confidence climbed to the highest level in more than 15 years, good news for the economy.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index rose to 114.8 in February from 111.6 in January and the highest since July 2001.The index measures both consumers’ assessment of current conditions and their expectations for the future. Both improved in February.

Americans have been in a sunny mood since the Nov. 8 election of Donald Trump ended a divisive presidential campaign and increased the odds of a tax cut and a repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law. The stock market has also surged since the election. The Dow Jones industrial average closed Monday at a record high for the 12th straight time.

Economists closely monitor consumers’ mood because their spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.

INVESTING

Investing costs fall: Fidelity, Schwab cut commissions

NEW YORK — It keeps getting cheaper to invest. Fidelity on Tuesday became the latest company to cut its fees in an ongoing industry battle that’s helped mom-and-pop investors keep more of their own dollars. Rival Charles Schwab matched the price cut in a matter of hours.

Fidelity said it will cut its commission for retail brokerage investors trading U.S. stocks and exchange-traded funds online by more than a third to $4.95 from $7.95, among other fee cuts. Fidelity is the country’s largest online brokerage firm with 17.9 million accounts and $1.7 trillion in client assets.

Earlier this month that Schwab cut its base commission for online stock and ETF trades to $6.95 from $8.95, a move that many investors anticipated would lead to a pricing war. Just hours after Fidelity made its announcement, Schwab said on Tuesday it will drop the commission to $4.95, which matches Fidelity’s cost.

Schwab is cutting the expenses for its index fund that tracks the Standard & Poor’s 500 index, so that fees will eat up $3 of every $10,000 invested annually, down from $9. Other rivals have made similar moves in recent months.

BANKING

U.S. banks in strong shape as profit jumps

WASHINGTON — U.S. banks’ earnings in the final quarter of 2016 rose 7.7 percent from a year earlier, as lending continued to grow and banks set aside less for losses on loans for the first time since late 2015.

The data issued Tuesday by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. showed strength in the industry more than eight years after the financial crisis struck. However, banks continued to post bigger losses on loans, especially for credit cards and commercial and industrial loans.

The FDIC reported that U.S. banks earned $43.7 billion in the fourth quarter, up from $40.8 billion a year earlier. Banks’ profit for all of 2016 rose by $7.9 billion, or 4.9 percent, to $171.3 billion.

Almost 60 percent of banks reported an increase in profit from a year earlier. Only 8.1 percent of banks were unprofitable, down from 9.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015.

As a sign of a healthy banking industry, overall lending increased by 0.8 percent.

RESTAURANTS

Subway disputes findings of study on chicken

How much chicken is actually in your chicken sandwich?

A study by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s consumer affairs show “Marketplace” says researchers conducted DNA tests on several chicken sandwiches from fast-food restaurants and found that Subway’s chicken breast contained only about half chicken. The rest was mostly soy.

Subway said Tuesday the report was “absolutely false and misleading” and that its chicken is 100 percent white meat with seasonings, marinated and delivered to stores as a finished, cooked product.

The study said DNA researcher Matt Harnden at Trent University’s Wildlife Forensic DNA Laboratory tested the poultry in popular chicken sandwiches. The Peterborough, Ontario-based team found that most of the scores were close to 100 percent chicken at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, A&W and Tim Horton’s.



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