ECONOMY

Wholesale prices increased in December

U.S. wholesale prices rose a slight 0.1 percent in December as a jump in the cost of energy was offset by falling food prices.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that the December increase in its producer price index, which measures inflation pressures before they reach the consumer, followed no change in November.

Energy prices were up 1.5 percent, more than double the 0.6 percent November gain, with gasoline costs up 3.7 percent and heating oil up 7.7 percent, the biggest monthly gain in two years.

Food costs were down 0.2 percent, the first drop since August, with the biggest drop in beef prices in more than two years offsetting a jump in the price of chicken.

For the year, wholesale prices are up a modest 1.3 percent, down from a 2.6 percent gain in 2018. The 1.3 percent increase for 2019 was the smallest annual gain since wholesale prices fell 1.1 percent in the 12 months ending in December 2015.

Core prices, which exclude food and energy, were up 0.1 percent in December and a modest 1.1 percent for the year.

RETAIL

Target sales slid during holiday season

Comparable store sales at Target fell well below those of the previous year, joining a growing list of retailers reporting meager performances during the critical holiday shopping season.

The company on Wednesday cut its expectations for same-store sales growth for the quarter.

Target experienced weaker-than-expected sales of electronics, toys and home goods. Comparable sales climbed 1.4 percent in the November-December period, compared with a very strong 5.7 percent increase a year earlier.

Digital sales rose 19 percent, also down from last year’s jump of 29 percent.

Target said it foresees fourth-quarter comparable sales growth in line with the 1.4 percent increase it experienced during the holiday period. It had previously forecast a rise of between 3 percent and 4 percent.

Neil Saunders, managing director of research firm GlobalData Retail, said Target’s disappointing electronics and home sales were affected by the timing of Black Friday.

Also in Business

Citigroup has narrowed the pay gap between men and women in its global workforce in the last year, the company said. Female employees now make 27 percent less than men do, an improvement from 29 percent a year ago, according to a memo to employees from Sara Wechter, the bank’s head of human resources. The company also found that, among its U.S. employees, people of color now earn 6 percent less than their white colleagues, an improvement from 7 percent a year ago.

Bank of America said Wednesday that its fourth-quarter profits fell 4 percent from a year ago, as the bank was affected by the rapid decline of interest rates in late 2019. The Charlotte-based bank said Wednesday that it earned a profit of $6.99 billion, or 74 cents a share, down from a profit of $7.29 billion, or 70 cents per share a year ago. The bank bought back about 900 million shares between 2018 and 2019, which is why the per-share earnings rose while the bank’s overall profit fell.

Goldman Sachs said its fourth-quarter profits dropped by 24 percent from a year earlier, as the bank had to set aside money to cover its looming settlement with U.S. authorities over its role in a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund scandal. The investment bank said Wednesday that it earned a profit of $1.72 billion in the quarter, or $4.69 a share, down from a profit of $2.32 billion, or $6.11 per share, a year earlier.

Navinder Singh Sarao, the British trader blamed for helping cause the 2010 Flash Crash from his bedroom, should serve no additional jail time, U.S. authorities said before his Jan. 28 sentencing in Chicago. The government cited Sarao’s “extraordinary cooperation,” his autism diagnosis and the fact that he lost most of the $58.5 million he made trading to fraudsters, according to a memo filed with the court Tuesday. He spent four months in a London jail, and the Justice Department said an additional term wouldn’t deter other traders and would pose serious risks to Sarao’s mental health.

Coming today

8:30 a.m.: Commerce Department releases retail sales data for December.

10 a.m.: Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates.

Earnings: CSX.