Business Highlights

By MarketsAssociated Press

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Fed expects economic gains to prompt gradual rate hikes

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve says it expects that the ongoing strength of the U.S. economy will warrant further gradual increases in interest rates this year. It delivered the same steady-as-it-goes message under new leader Jerome Powell as it provided under Janet Yellen. The Fed's projection on rate hikes came with the release Friday of its semi-annual monetary report to Congress.

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US companies distance themselves from NRA as pressure mounts

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. companies are taking a closer look at investments, co-branding deals and other ties to the gun industry and its public face, the National Rifle Association, after the latest school massacre. Petitions are circulating online targeting companies that offer discounts to NRA members on its website. #BoycottNRA is trending on Twitter. For a second consecutive day companies listed on the site have cut ties to the NRA as it aggressively resists calls for stricter gun control.

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US asks judge to approve seizure of 'Pharma Bro' assets

NEW YORK (AP) — "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli has appeared in court for the first time since a judge locked him up for his online antics. He heard the government argue Friday that he's on the hook for more than $7 million for his securities fraud conviction. The 34-year-old had a new look since his bail was revoked in September: a scruffy beard that made his appearance less boyish.

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Broad rally helps stocks end a choppy week slightly higher

NEW YORK (AP) — Wall Street capped several days of choppy trading Friday with a broad rally that gave the stock market a modest gain for the week. Technology companies, banks and health care stocks accounted for much of the gains. Energy companies also rose along with crude oil prices. The rally came as bond yields pulled back for the second day in a row after reaching four-year highs earlier in the week.

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General Mills gets pet-friendly again by buying Blue Buffalo

NEW YORK (AP) — The maker of Cheerios also wants to fill dog bowls. General Mills said Friday that it plans to buy high-end pet food maker Blue Buffalo for $8 billion. It's a return to the pet business for the more than 150-year-old company, which used to sell food for cats, dogs and birds back in the 1950s. The deal is also a way for General Mills to further diversify its business as more people seek less-processed foods, even for their furry friends.

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China prosecuting tycoon who considered Kushner investment

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese authorities are prosecuting an insurance tycoon who had discussed possibly investing in a Manhattan skyscraper owned by the family of U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law. Prosecutors said Wu Xiaohui, the founder of Anbang Insurance, was accused of financial offenses but gave no indication they were linked to Wu's talks with Jared Kushner's family, which ended last year with no deal. Regulators said they were taking control of Anbang, one of China's biggest insurers.

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EU leaders can't agree yet on post-Brexit budget

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders are unlikely to agree this year on a new multiyear budget that will plug a huge funding gap caused by Britain's departure from the bloc. That's what European Council President Donald Tusk said Friday after a summit of EU leaders minus Britain's prime minister. He says the bloc will spend more on increased defense and stemming illegal migration but there will be fewer lawmakers in the European Parliament.

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EU official says UK seems delusional over post-Brexit ties

BRUSSELS (AP) — A top European Union official says Britain's view on its future ties with the EU after Brexit appears to be 'based on pure illusion'. European Council President Donald Tusk said Friday that 'if the media reports are correct, I am afraid that the U.K. position today is based on pure illusion.' He spoke after an EU leaders' summit. They have been appealing for Britain to explain its vision of future ties, so Tusk can draft negotiating guidelines on the issue for next month.

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Money-laundering watchdog: Close North Korean banks

PARIS (AP) — The watchdog that monitors global and illicit misuse of funds has cited North Korea as a top source of "ongoing and substantial" money laundering and terrorist financing and urged countries to close North Korean banks. The Financial Action Task Force said in its report on Friday after a plenary session that North Korea has failed to address "significant deficiencies" in its system to combat the ills that pose a risk to the international financial system.

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Second judge says Trump can't keep stalling clean-air rules

WASHINGTON (AP) — A second judge has told the Trump administration it can't keep stalling clean-air rules for oil and gas production on federal lands. U.S. District Judge William Orrick of the Northern District of California ordered the Interior Department to reinstate the Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions. The ruling marked the second time a federal judge has rebuffed the Trump administration for failing to enforce the methane rule.

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The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 43.34 points, or 1.6 percent, to 2,747.30. The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 347.51 points, or 1.4 percent, to 25,309.99. The Nasdaq composite gained 127.30 points, or 1.8 percent, to 7,337.39. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks rose 19.20 points, or 1.3 percent, to 1,549.19.

Benchmark U.S. crude picked up 78 cents, or 1.2 percent, to settle at $63.55 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 92 cents, or 1.4 percent, to close at $67.31 a barrel in London. Heating oil gained 2 cents to $1.97 a gallon. Wholesale gasoline added 4 cents to $1.81 a gallon. Natural gas was little changed at $2.63 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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