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Posted at 1:10 PM, Feb 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-20 13:10:48-05

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks edge higher

NEW YORK (AP) — Stock indexes are edging higher, extending modest gains from a day earlier, as investors review the latest batch of company earnings reports.

Gains in technology, materials and energy companies outweighed losses in health care and real estate stocks.

Garmin, maker of fitness trackers and navigation technology, rose after reporting better sales. CVS Health slumped after the pharmacy operator gave a 2019 outlook that fell short of Wall Street's expectations.

Despite the solid profit growth in the last quarter, investors are cautious about business conditions going forward as signs of weakness in the global economy emerge. Europe and China have both reported slower growth.

Investors also had their eye on Washington for any hints of progress in the latest round of trade talks between the U.S. and China. Uncertainty over the costly trade dispute between the world's largest economies has clouded the outlook for company profits.

CVS HEALTH-RESULTS

CVS Health beats 4Q expectations, 2019 forecast falls short

CVS Health is topping fourth-quarter earnings forecasts, but the annual outlook from the nation's second-largest drugstore chain is far short of Wall Street expectations.

The company said Wednesday that it expects adjusted earnings to range between $6.68 and $6.88 this year. FactSet says analysts expect earnings of $7.35 per share.

In the final quarter of 2018, CVS Health posted adjusted earnings of $2.14 per share, as revenue jumped more than 12 percent to $54.24 billion.

Analysts expected earnings of $2.09 per share and $54.61 billion in revenue, according to FactSet.

CVS Health Corp., based in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, runs more than 9,900 retail locations and processes over a billion prescriptions annually as a pharmacy benefit manager.

It also has largely completed a roughly $69-billion acquisition of the insurer Aetna.

PAYLESS-COURT

Failing Payless to honor gift cards, store credit into March

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The failing Payless ShoeSource chain will honor gift cards and store credit until March 11 as the company liquidates all operations.

The Topeka, Kansas, company, which filed for bankruptcy protection this week, will allow returns and exchanges of non-final sale items through the end of this month for goods bought before Feb. 17.

Payless said Wednesday that it received court approval to support the orderly closing of about 2,500 stores in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada, as well as its e-commerce business. It also received authorization to pay employee wages and benefits, as well as claims from critical vendors.

Retail operations outside of North America, including company-owned stores in Latin America, are separate entities and are not included in the bankruptcy filing.

SOUTHWEST-LABOR

Southwest blames mechanics' union for surge in cancellations

DALLAS (AP) — Southwest Airlines is lashing out at the union representing its mechanics, suggesting that they are purposely grounding planes in order to gain leverage in new contract negotiations.

Southwest had canceled more than 400 flights — 10 percent of its schedule — by midmorning Wednesday.

Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven says the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association has a history of work disruptions and says the airline is considering all options to fix its operations.

The union says that Southwest is "scapegoating" mechanics, and warned that the conflict "does not bode well" for safety at one of the nation's biggest airlines.

Southwest has tangled with the union before — it has two pending lawsuits against it.

TESLA-EXECUTIVE DEPARTURE

Tesla's top lawyer leaves after only 2 months on the job

Tesla's top lawyer is leaving the company after only two months on the job.

Tesla said in a prepared statement Wednesday that General Counsel Dane Butswinkas (But-SWIN-kiss) will return to a legal practice in Washington, D.C. He'll continue to work for Tesla as outside counsel. No reason for the departure was given.

He'll be replaced by Jonathan Chang, an eight-year company veteran who had been vice president of legal.

Butswinkas says he has tremendous confidence in Chang and the management team.

He is the latest in a long line of top executives to depart the Palo Alto, California, electric car and solar panel company.

Last month Tesla Inc. announced that Chief Financial Officer Deepak Ahuja would retire, his second attempt at doing so.

GERMANY-MONEY LAUNDERING

Germany seizes millions in Russian money laundering probe

BERLIN (AP) — German authorities say they've seized properties worth 40 million euros ($45 million) and millions more in cash in an investigation linked to a big Russian money laundering scheme.

Federal investigators and Munich prosecutors said in a statement Wednesday the seizures of properties in central and southern Germany came after three years of investigating three individuals, whose identities weren't released. Some 6.7 million euros was also seized from German banks and another 1.2 million euros from a Latvian bank.

Prosecutors allege "income from money laundering in connection with the so-called Russian Laundromat was invested in high-value real estate" in Germany.

They say the scheme involved moving some $22 billion from Russia into Europe through banks in Moldova and Latvia using fictitious companies.

Neither police nor prosecutors were available for further details.

EUROPE-MICROSOFT

Microsoft detects hacking targeting Europe democracy groups

LONDON (AP) — Microsoft says it has detected hacking attacks aimed at European democratic institutions including think tanks and non-profit groups ahead of elections on the continent in May.

The company said Tuesday that a group called Strontium targeted email accounts for more than 100 people in six European countries working for the German Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institutes in Europe and the German Marshall Fund.

Microsoft said in a blog post that it is continuing to investigate but is confident many of the attacks originated from Strontium, a group that others call Fancy Bear or APT28. U.S. authorities have tied the group to Russia's main intelligence agency, known as the GRU.

Microsoft said the attacks occurred from September to December, and that it notified the organizations after discovering they were targeted.

JAPAN-GHOSN-LAWYER

Nissan ex-boss Ghosn's new lawyer questions handling of case

TOKYO (AP) — The newly appointed star defender for former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn says he believes the case against his client does "not meet international standards."

Junichiro Hironaka also said Wednesday that he believed Ghosn's trial on charges of falsifying financial reporting and breach of trust might not begin until after the summer.

Speaking to reporters at a conference room in downtown Tokyo, Hironaka said the defense team was still working out its strategy. That could mean months more of detention for Ghosn, who headed Nissan for almost two decades before his arrest on Nov. 19.

Hironaka refused to say if Ghosn will try, for a third time, to gain release on bail. He said he viewed the case as a chance to improve Japan's legal system and human rights.

VENEZUELA-POLITICAL CRISIS

Venezuelan oil chief blames fire on opposition

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's oil minister is blaming a fire at an important oil pumping station on opponents of President Nicolas Maduro.

Maj. Gen. Manuel Quevedo says Tuesday's fire at the Ero Station in Venezuela's Orinoco belt region was extinguished without human injuries.

On Wednesday, he blamed the blaze on the "opposition right" and noted it occurred hours after a "warlike" speech by U.S. President Donald Trump warning Venezuelan soldiers to abandon Maduro and back challenger Juan Guaido.

Venezuelan officials have frequently blamed fires or outages in oil or electrical installations on sabotage. Critics of the socialist government say most are caused by a lack of maintenance.

The Trump administration has recently slapped PDVSA with sanctions, attempting to deprive Maduro's government of billions and force him from power.

COBO CENTER-NAMING RIGHTS

Detroit center to remove name of ex-mayor with racist past

DETROIT (AP) — Officials say Detroit's Cobo Center will change its name, removing the surname of a former mayor known for his racist policies.

The Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority announced Wednesday that it has sold Cobo Center's naming rights to Detroit-based Chemical Bank in a 22-year deal that will generate $1.5 million annually.

The new name will be announced later this year, after Chemical Bank's holding company acquires another financial institution .

Authority Chairman Larry Alexander says he sees the move as "killing two birds with one stone" — making a smart financial decision that saves taxpayers' money while removing "negative history and connotation."

Albert Cobo, who served as mayor from 1950 to 1957, sought to keep blacks out of predominantly white neighborhoods. The convention center opened downtown in 1960.

CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT

Caesars Entertainment has held talks with Icahn

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Caesars Entertainment says it's held discussions with billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who began pushing for fundamental changes this week after revealing a 10 percent stake in casino and resort.

Icahn says he wants to put the company on the block and is pushing for leadership changes.

Caesars said Wednesday that it is evaluating Icahn's ideas.

Shares of the Las Vegas company jumped more than 5 percent Tuesday on news of Icahn's involvement.

Caesars emerged from an $18 billion bankruptcy in late 2017. It reports fourth-quarter earnings results Thursday.