Business Roundup for Friday, March 21.

New York Stock Exchange (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)



NEW YORK (AP) — An early surge on the stock market evaporated Friday, as health care stocks tugged major indexes down. Biotech companies were especially hard-hit after U.S. lawmakers questioned the pricing of a Hepatitis C drug made by Gilead Sciences. The Standard & Poor's 500 index raced past an all-time high in early trading, then lost steam in the afternoon. It still finished with a solid weekly gain, up 1.4 percent. It might sound surprising that the stock market is trading near an all-time high with all the uncertainty surrounding China's slowing growth and simmering tensions between Russia and the West. Last week, those concerns were credited with knocking the S&P 500 index down 1.9 percent, its worst weekly loss in nearly two months. This week investors seemed to return their focus to the basics. "There are always bad things going on in the world, but they don't all matter to the ultimate direction of markets," said Douglas Coté, chief market strategist at ING U.S. Investment Management. "The only thing that matters is the following: corporate earnings, manufacturing and the consumer. And they've all been solid." The S&P 500 slipped 5.49 points, or 0.3 percent, to close at 1,866.52 Friday. It traded as high as 1,882 earlier in the day, four points above its record high reached March 7. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 28.28 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,302.70. The Nasdaq composite dropped 42.50 points, or 1 percent, to 4,276.79. Health care stocks fell the most in the S&P 500 index. Gilead lost $3.46, or 5 percent, to $72.07. Biogen Idec fell $28.51, or 8 percent, to $318.53.

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's President Vladimir Putin has ordered the country's central bank to help clients of Rossiya, a Russian lender hit by U.S sanctions. Rossiya and another Russian lender, SMP, say Visa and MasterCard have stopped providing services to them. U.S. officials describe Rossiya as a personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation. Putin denies he has an account there but says he's now opening one and will have his salary transferred there.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court has handed a defeat to a coalition of retail groups that challenged the Federal Reserve's cap on how much banks can charge businesses for handling debit card transactions. The U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia overturned a lower court's decision that favored the merchants who said the cap on so-called "swipe fees" was too high. The fee cap averages 24 cents per transaction. Before the cap, fees averaged 44 cents per swipe.

NEW YORK (AP) — Tiffany & Co. is reporting a loss in its fiscal fourth quarter despite improved sales during the holiday season. Tiffany's earnings were dragged down by a hefty charge tied to an unfavorable arbitration ruling. But even without the charge, its adjusted earnings missed Wall Street expectations. Still, analysts are expecting the company to do better than it's forecasting, and Tiffany shares are higher in afternoon trading.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Media General is buying fellow TV broadcaster LIN Media in a deal worth about $1.6 billion in cash and stock. The combined company would own and operate or service a combined 74 stations across 46 markets. The companies say the deal is worth about $27.82 per share and represents an 87 percent premium over LIN's Thursday closing stock price.


WASHINGTON (AP) — The president of the Federal Reserve's Minneapolis bank says the Fed should keep its key interest rate at a record low until unemployment falls below 5.5 percent. Narayana Kocherlakota was the lone dissenter on this week's policy decision. The Fed's policy statement dropped any reference to a specific unemployment rate that might lead the Fed to eventually to raise short-term rates. Kocherlakota says that will foster uncertainty.

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian stocks are down about 2 percent today as another credit rating agency put the country on notice of a possible downgrade and Visa and MasterCard stopped serving two Russian banks. Russia's economic outlook is suffering after the country moved to annex Crimea this week, prompting the U.S. and other European nations to impose sanctions. The Russian stock market has lost than more 10 percent this month.

UNDATED (AP) — Fitch Ratings has concluded a review of the United States' credit rating and affirmed that it deserves the highest rating. The credit rating firm started the review in October amid another debt-ceiling crisis, warning it might downgrade the U.S. debt rating. However, Fitch says the U.S. rating remains at "AAA" and the Washington drama over the nation's borrowing limit does not appear to have affected the country's ability to borrow. Fitch also notes that U.S. deficits are expected to fall.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — WellPoint shares have been trading above its all-time high today, after the nation's second largest health insurer raised its 2014 earnings forecast. WellPoint had said in January that it expected earnings to be greater than $8 per share. It's upped that by 20 cents. Analysts are forecasting even better. WellPoint is selling coverage on several state-based health insurance exchanges created by the health care overhaul.

HONG KONG (AP) — International stock markets bounced back today as upbeat U.S. economic data helped shake off worries about future increases in U.S. interest rates. The dollar edged ahead against the euro with the dollar dipped against the yen. Benchmark crude oil fell to just above $98.50 a barrel.

MOSCOW (AP) — The consequences of Russia's Crimea policy may be extending beyond the condemnations and individual sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union. Fitch is the second credit rating agency in as many days to put Russia on warning that it may be downgraded. Russia's stocks took a pounding today.

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union wants to clamp down on tax fraud and tax evasion. And member states have agreed on a sweeping policy to do just that. It comes after tiny Luxembourg dropped its reservations to new rules which render its secretive banking culture more transparent. The EU is proposing an automatic exchange of data on bank deposits that would allow nations to identify and pursue tax evaders.

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey is blocking access to Twitter over wiretapped recordings that appear to incriminate the Turkish leader and other top officials in high-level corruption. The block began after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to "rip out the roots" of the social media network. A top European official calls the ban "cowardly."

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