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Business Highlights: California almonds, retail sales data

August 17, 2021 GMT

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California drought takes toll on world’s top almond producer

FIREBAUGH, Calif. (AP) — A deepening drought threatens California’s $6 billion almond industry, which produces about 80% of the world’s almonds. As water becomes scarce and expensive, some growers have stopped irrigating their orchards and plan to tear them out years earlier than planned. After decades of expansion in California’s agricultural Central Valley, almond production is expected to decline. That could lead to higher prices for consumers who have embraced the popular nut. As the drought drains reservoirs and forces restrictions on water use, critics say the thirsty crop isn’t sustainable at current levels in California. The state is becoming hotter and drier because of climate change.

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Wall Street slips as retail sales post steep drop in July

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks closed lower on Wall Street Tuesday, ending a five-day winning streak by the S&P 500, as investors turned cautious amid more signs that the coronavirus pandemic is still holding back the U.S. economy. The S&P 500 index fell 0.7%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.8% and the Nasdaq composite fell 0.9%. Retail sales fell 1.1% in July, a much larger drop than Wall Street analysts had expected. Shares of Home Depot fell 4.3% after the company told investors that sales were slowing compared to last year, when locked-down Americans undertook home improvement projects.

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South African activists slam J&J for exporting vaccines

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Health activists in Africa have slammed Johnson & Johnson for exporting vaccines produced in South Africa to countries in Europe, which have already immunized a large proportion of their populations and often have a surplus of vaccines. The J&J doses were exported from South Africa, where they had been assembled, despite the pressing need for vaccines across the continent where less than 3% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated. The South African activists on Tuesday called for a full disclosure of the South African government’s contracts with Johnson & Johnson and other vaccine manufacturers and threatened legal action to get the information.

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Americans spent less in July as COVID-19 cases surged

NEW YORK (AP) — Americans cut back on their spending last month as a surge in COVID-19 cases kept people away from stores. Retail sales fell a seasonal adjusted 1.1% in July from the month before, the U.S. Commerce Department said Tuesday. It was a much larger drop than the 0.3% decline Wall Street analysts had expected. The report is the first glimpse into whether a surge in COVID-19 cases in July has kept people from heading out to shop. According to Tuesday’s report, spending fell at stores that sell clothing, furniture and sporting goods.

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US factory production rebounds at fastest pace in 4 months

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WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. factory production in July posted the strongest gain in 4 months, reflecting a surge in production at auto plants that are still confronting major supply chain problems. The Federal Reserve reported Tuesday that manufacturing output increased 1.4% in July following a decline of 0.3% in June. It was the best showing for factory output since a 3.4% gain in March. Overall, industrial production — which includes manufacturing, utilities and mining — posted a 0.9% increase, the best performance since a 2.8% surge in March.

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Fed’s Powell: There’s no returning to pre-pandemic economy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell says the U.S. economy has been permanently changed by the COVID pandemic and it’s important that the central bank adapt to those changes. Powell said Tuesday at a Fed virtual town hall for educators and students that the Fed needs to understand the ways that the economy has changed and what the implications are for the central bank’s monetary policy. He said that it is not clear if the delta variant will have important effects on the economy. But he added that the country has already seen significant changes since the pandemic began shutting the country down in March 2020.

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Walmart boosts outlook as back-to-school sales return

NEW YORK (AP) — Walmart is raising its outlook for the year as Americans, coming out of hibernation, returned to shopping for back-to-school clothes and travel goods during the fiscal second quarter. Still, concerns are mounting over spending in the months ahead as the delta variant of COVID-19 surges across the U.S. and mask mandates are reinstated. Home Depot, the nation’s largest home improvement retailer, said Tuesday that sales continued to rise, but the DIY frenzy may be cooling. And the government reported that retail sales in July fell a seasonal adjusted 1.1% in July from the month before the surge of new cases kept people away from stores.

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Home Depot sales climb again, but DIY frenzy may be cooling

ATLANTA (AP) — Home Depot’s sales continued to surge, though same-store sales appeared to come back to earth after a year in which the home improvement chain outperformed expectations repeatedly. For the three months ended August 1, sales climbed to $41.12 billion from $38.05 billion. Chairman and CEO Craig Menear said in a statement on Tuesday that this was the first time in its history that the chain surpassed sales of more than $40 billion in a quarter.

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The S&P 500 fell 31.63 points, or 0.7%, to 4,448.08. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 282.12 points, or 0.8%, to 35,343.28. The Nasdaq lost 137.58 points, or 0.9%, to 14,656.18. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies shed 26.24 points, or 1.2%, to 2,177.17.