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Wall Street notches best day in 10 years in holiday rebound

Stocks rocketed on Wednesday in Wall Street’s best day in 10 years, snapping a stomach-churning, four-day losing streak and giving some post-Christmas cheer to a market that has been battered this December.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average shot up more than 1,000 points — its biggest single-day point gain ever — rising nearly 5 percent as investors returned from a one-day Christmas break. The broader S&P 500 index also gained 5 percent, and the technology-heavy Nasdaq rose 5.8 percent.

But even with the rally, the market remains on track for its worst December since 1931, during the depths of the Depression, and could finish 2018 with its steepest losses in a decade.

“The real question is: Do we have follow-through for the rest of this week?” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist for CFRA.

Technology companies, health care stocks and banks drove much of the broad rally. Retailers also were big gainers, after a holiday shopping season marked by robust spending. Amazon had its biggest gain in more than a year.

Energy stocks also rebounded as the price of U.S. crude oil posted its biggest one-day increase in more than two years.

But what really might have pushed stocks over the top was a signal from Washington that President Donald Trump would not try to oust the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

In recent days, Trump’s tweet attacks on the Fed and chairman Jerome Powell for raising interest rates stoked fears about the central bank’s independence, unnerving the market.

The partial government shutdown that began over the weekend also weighed on the market, as did personnel turmoil inside the Trump administration, trade tensions with China, the slowing global economy and worries that corporate profits are going to slip sooner or later.

The Dow lost 1,883 points over the prior four trading sessions and is still down 2,660 for December.

Wednesday’s gains pulled the S&P 500 back from the brink of what Wall Street calls a bear market — a 20 percent tumble from an index’s peak. Another day of heavy losses would have marked the end of the longest bull market for stocks in modern history — a run of nearly 10 years.

The S&P is now down 15.8 percent since its all-time high on Sept. 20.

All told, the S&P 500 rose 116.60 points Wednesday, or 5 percent, to 2,467.70. The Dow soared 1,086.25 points, or 5 percent, to 22,878.45. The Nasdaq gained 361.44 points, or 5.8 percent, to 6,554.36. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks picked up 62.89 points, or 5 percent, at 1,329.81.

Trading volume was lighter than usual following the holiday. Markets in Europe, Australia and Hong Kong were closed.

Among tech stocks, Adobe rose 8.7 percent. Credit card company Visa climbed 7 percent, and Mastercard was up 6.7 percent.

Big retailers were among the gainers. Amazon climbed 9.4 percent to $1,470.90. Kohl’s gained 10.3 percent to $65.92. Nordstrom picked up 5.8 percent to $46.75.

Homebuilders mostly rebounded after an early slide following a report indicating that annual U.S. home price growth slowed in October. PulteGroup climbed 4.7 percent to $25.85.

Most economists expect growth to slow in 2019, though not by enough to cause a full-blown recession. Unemployment is at 3.7 percent, the lowest since 1969. Inflation is tame. Pay has picked up. Consumers boosted their spending this holiday season.

Fed chairman

The market apparently got a lift Wednesday when Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that the Fed chairman is in no danger of being fired.

The president could help restore some stability to the market if he “gives his thumbs a vacation,” Stovall said. “Tweet things that are more constructive in terms of working out an agreement with Democrats and with China. And then just remain silent as it relates to the Fed.”

Benchmark U.S. crude climbed 8.7 percent to settle at $46.22 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 7.9 percent to $54.47 a barrel in London.

The pickup in oil prices helped boost energy stocks. Marathon Petroleum rose 4.8 percent to $56.93.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.79 percent from 2.75 percent Monday.

The dollar strengthened to 111.36 yen from 110.41 Monday. The euro weakened to $1.1351 from $1.1404.

Gold edged up 0.1 percent to $1,273 an ounce and silver gained 2 percent to $15.12 an ounce. Copper gained 1.5 percent to $2.70 a pound.

The partial U.S. government shutdown that started Saturday is unlikely to hurt the economy much, although it may deprive the financial markets of data about international trade and gross domestic product. The Bureau of Economic Analysis said Wednesday that it’s required to suspend all operations until Congress approves funding, which means that the government might not release its fourth-quarter report on gross domestic product as scheduled for January 30.

Season’s cleanings
City bracing for garbage, recycling volume to spike after Christmas
 Phillip Ericksen  / 

City officials are bracing for an influx of trash and recyclables brought on by the holidays.

This time of year, a time of cardboard boxes, wrapping paper and Christmas trees, always brings plenty of work for city solid waste workers, officials said.

“For the holidays this season, my husband and the grandparents just happened to go a little bit overboard at Christmas,” said Meghan Taylor, who dropped off Christmas boxes and bags at the Cobbs Recycling Center on Wednesday.

She recycles “a ton” through curbside pickups every other week and makes monthly trips to the center, Taylor said. This time, it was boxes that previously held Barbie and “PAW Patrol” toys.

Jason Embry, the city solid waste safety, training and outreach coordinator, said the holiday season brings a consistent spike each year.

“Our tonnage will definitely go up on the curb,” Embry said. “And our tonnages will be bigger. I’ve noticed on some of the products we take at Cobbs, our tonnage is down a little bit, but the reason it’s down is because our curbside is up.”

This week is a “green week,” meaning yard waste in green bins will be collected the same day as residents’ trash pickup day. Next week, a “blue week,” blue bins expected to be filled with Amazon boxes, plastic bottles and containers and aluminum and steel cans will be collected on trash days.

Also on the list of recyclables: non-glitter and non-photo greeting cards and envelopes; and clean aluminum to-go containers.

Wrapping and tissue paper, bubble wrap, Styrofoam, packing peanuts, plastic silverware, unwanted ornaments, gift bows and food scraps that come along with holiday cheer should be placed in the trash.

People with proof of Waco residency can take batteries, cooking oil, motor oil and glass bottles to the recycling center at 2021 N. 44th St.

Plastic bags should not be recycled with the city because of their minuscule density, Embry said. Walmart and H-E-B accept plastic bags at their stores, and the nonprofit Caritas also takes donations of plastic bags.

Chipping of the Green, a city-sponsored event, gives residents a chance to have their Christmas trees mulched and bagged free of charge. It will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 5 at Paul Tyson Field, 1901 Lake Air Drive.

Bruce Huff, a retired trucking company owner who started the Group W Bench Litter Patrol volunteer trash pickup group, said he does not see any more litter around the holidays than the rest of the year. There’s still lots of litter though, he said.

“I still see a lot of the fast-food stuff, Styrofoam cups, single-use water bottles, straws, balloons, same old thing, over and over again,” Huff said.

Top 10 stories of 2018: Authorities continue battle on human trafficking
 Kristin Hoppa  / 

Editor’s note: Today the Tribune-Herald continues its countdown of 10 of the most memorable and significant stories we’ve covered in 2018.

McLennan County law enforcement and local activists continued to bring the issue of human trafficking to light early this year with the arrest of dozens of men suspected of paying for sex, including a police officer, well-known restaurateurs, a pastor and a teacher.

But by summer, McLennan County Sheriff’s Office had shifted its focus to labor trafficking with a raid on a Chinese restaurant whose owners were accused of holding workers against their will.

Detectives spent three months investigating Vegas Buffet, 505 N. Valley Mills Drive, before a raid on June 1 that led to the arrest of two operators and the rescue of 19 workers from Guatemala and China.

Among those arrested were a married couple that ran the restaurant: Zi “Jimmy” Lin, 31, and Yali Yang, 30. Additional investigation also prompted officers to arrest Zhi Lin’s brother, Peng Li, 36, and Sheng Weng, 41, by the end of July.

A McLennan County grand jury indicted all four subjects in September. Detectives stated the couple brought the workers from Guatemala to the country illegally and forced them to work and pay off their smuggling debt by working in the restaurant.

Sheriff Parnell McNamara said that before the buffet investigation, detectives over the last four years had focused efforts on the commercial sex buying business. He said the Vegas Buffet investigation brought attention to suspected indentured servitude in Central Texas.

More difficult cases

Detective Joseph Scaramucci, the sheriff’s office human trafficking specialist, said labor trafficking cases can be more difficult to investigate than sex trafficking.

“Human trafficking is exploiting people for forced labor and sex slavery for commercial exploitation,” Scaramucci said. “Although labor trafficking is much more prevalent than sex trafficking, sex trafficking seems to be more easily identifiable. Labor cases are a lot more complex, and typically most victims do not self-identify.

“The Vegas Buffet was unique to us, in that we had a victim who was willing to come forward and participate in the investigation.”

In the meantime, local human trafficking activists watched with concern this fall as the misdemeanor prostitution cases from earlier in the year gathered dust in the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office. Susan Peters, founder and executive director of the UnBound ministry, said in September that inaction on those cases could set back the progress Greater Waco has made in the fight against human trafficking.

UnBound, along with local courts and law enforcement, won recognition as Waco Today magazine’s Persons of the Year for their teamwork in fighting human trafficking.

Post-Christmas shopping has local merchants excited after strong season
 Mike Copeland  / 

The weather outside was frightful Wednesday, the day after Christmas. The skies rumbled and dumped rain. It likely would take more than Rudolph’s shiny nose to navigate local streets.

Yet Target on Bosque Boulevard was bustling. Tom Ward, 36, an assistant philosophy professor at Baylor University, was striding purposefully through the store, past 50-percent-off signs and employees stocking shelves.

Ward was out to pick up a bench vise marked down 20 percent at Harbor Freight that would help him tackle construction of a dollhouse for his 8-year-old daughter, Edith.

His wife got wind of his plans and prepared a short shopping list. It took him to Target, making him among the seven in 10 Americans who would visit stores immediately after Christmas, according to a National Retail Federation survey.

“Believe me, I did not intend to spend today shopping,” Ward said with a smile. “And for the record, I got out before the rain started.”

Nationwide, sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 increased 5.1 percent to $850 billion, the biggest increase in the past six years, according to a Mastercard Spending- Pulse report released Wednesday.

Apparel sales increased 7.9 percent, home improvement sales increased 9 percent and home furnishing sales increased 2.3 percent, but electronics and appliance sales fell 0.7 percent after increasing 7.5 percent last holiday season, according to the report.

Richland Mall manager Rosie Bean said she had not yet tallied foot traffic through Christmas.

“But I can tell you the crowds have been excellent,” Bean said.

The big-box retailers were not alone in touting this year’s bargain hunting.

Brent Bankston, who owns the Bankston’s collectibles, comic book and novelty shop on South Valley Mills Drive, said he has rarely seen a Christmas shopping season like this year’s.

“I would say my business was up 40 percent from the day before Christmas last year,” Bankston said. “My gosh, we were covered up on Monday. Saturday was big, too. As I’ve said before, we realize we’re not No. 1, 2 or even 3 on people’s list of places to shop. We’re for those needing a stocking stuffer or something for that strange uncle. About 10 days ago, this was shaping up to be a modest season, but that changed right before Christmas.”

Last-minute shopping

He said he believes life for many has become so hectic that budgeting time for shopping has become a luxury few can afford. Their good intentions devolve into procrastination, and then they scramble to make last-minute purchases.

“My son and I went to Target at about 4 Sunday afternoon, and there were hundreds and hundreds of people there,” Bankston said. “Being a 48-year-old male, I took the path of least resistance and made a mad dash through the socks and underwear to avoid the mass of humanity in the main aisles.”

Savage Finds Antiques at 324 S. Sixth St. may not appear to be the traditional stop for holiday shopping, before or after the big day. But proprietor Joey MacArthur said the store was hopping Wednesday.

“Waco has become a travel destination. It’s travel oriented,” MacArthur said. “People from around the country really do come here to spend time with their family. Today, the day after Christmas, they may be heading back home soon, so they stop by here to buy something for the road.”

He and his wife, Tami, moved to Waco from Washington state about two years ago.

“We owned a shop about 20 minutes outside Seattle, travel all over the country buying things. We visited Waco while on vacation, and my wife fell in love with it,” he said. “I made video games for years and lived for a time in Austin. I took Tami to Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Galveston, all the larger cities, but she liked Waco the best. True story. On a whim, we walked into Dichotomy, the coffee shop, and asked about where we might find space if we wanted to move to Waco and open an antique shop.”

He said the owner replied, “I have a warehouse nearby.”

MacArthur said the shop carries an eclectic collection of merchandise, an estimated 3,300 items, from antiques to Navajo-made turquoise jewelry.

“We’re planning a trip to Louisiana in a couple of weeks,” he said. “We try to offer items not available anywhere else in Waco.”

Other retailers

Managers at several local big-box retailers said shoppers packing gift cards were in abundance Wednesday, as were those making exchanges.

Shelia Gilliam, of Hewitt, said she started her day at the Kirkland’s seasonal and housewares store in Central Texas Marketplace. Shopping for Christmas decorations the day after Christmas has become a tradition.

A relative has vowed to place a festive tree in every room in her house next season, and she stared executing the plan this week, Gilliam said.

Hannah Watson, 24, of Waco, an employee at Georgio’s Bridal, visited the James Avery jewelry store to have charms placed on her bracelet.

“I also made some returns,” Watson said, pushing a cart through Joanna Gaines’ Hearth & Hand housewares collection at Target as the threatening weather started to make its presence felt.

Despite the conditions, “It’s been crowded everywhere,” she said.