Alexander urges end of costly steel tariffs

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told his Senate colleagues Wednesday that eliminating trade tariffs among different countries is the best approach to aiding U.S. manufacturers, especially Tennessee's automotive industry.

In a hearing on an impact of a zero tariff policy, Alexander voiced support for ending tariffs, especially the steel tariffs which are pushing up production costs in the United States.

"Zero tariffs is the right policy," Alexander said, noting that one third of Tennessee's manufacturing jobs are in the automotive industry with Volkswagen, Nissan and General Motors all having major assembly plants in the Volunteer State. "The wrong policy is this piling tariffs on top of tariffs that we're seeing right now."

Nissan estimates that 70 percent of the weight of a Nissan vehicle made in Tennessee is steel and the price of that steel has gone up 40 percent since January when President Trump imposed new import duties on steel imports from Asia and elsewhere.

"You're going to see a several thousand dollar increase on what it costs to buy a car or a light truck before very long," Alexander said. "We need to get rid of the steel tariffs and the aluminum tariffs and move step by step toward a zero tariff policy like the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has been in place now for more than 20 years and is basically a zero tariff policy. And it is one of the main reasons Tennessee's auto industry has done so well over the last several years."


Storm misses refineries; gas prices remain stable

Although gasoline futures temporarily rose on Tuesday due to the threat from Tropical Storm Gordon, concerns of a gas price hike from Tropical Storm Gordon abated Wednesday after the storm failed to damage refineries in the Gulf region where 45 percent of America's gasoline is refined.

Wednesday afternoon, gasoline prices on the NYMEX traded nearly 10 cents below Tuesday's peak. Crude oil prices are also trending lower, with WTI declining nearly $2 per barrel from Tuesday's highs.

"Refineries dodged a bullet, but are not out of the woods just yet," said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for the AAA – The Auto Club Group. "This year's hurricane season is far from over. If a major storm moves into the Gulf of Mexico, refineries will go back on alert and pump prices will face renewed upward pressure."

But as summer ends this month, it appears fuel prices are already slipping. The national average price for a gallon of regular is $2.84 per gallon and $2.60 per gallon, on average, in Tennessee, AAA surveys show.


Judge OKs settlement by Wells Fargo Bank

A federal judge in San Francisco has signed off on a $480 million settlement in a class-action shareholder lawsuit over Wells Fargo's unauthorized-accounts scandal.

The deal, granted preliminary approval late Tuesday, would compensate Wells Fargo & Co. shareholders for losses they suffered after the bank in 2016 acknowledged it had created perhaps millions of accounts without customers' authorization.

Shareholders, including lead plaintiff Union Asset Management, sued for securities fraud, arguing that executives had inflated the bank's stock price by claiming for years that Wells Fargo was a leader in so-called cross-selling — getting customers to sign up for numerous accounts and services.

Executives continued to tout the practice, the defendants argued, even after it became clear that aggressive sales goals and quotas were "corrupting, rather than reinforcing, Wells Fargo's purported corporate values and cross-selling business model."

The company and plaintiffs reached a settlement deal in May. Wells Fargo at the time said it had set aside funds to pay the settlement though it denied shareholders' allegations and said it agreed to the deal "to avoid the cost and disruption of further litigation."


Opioid maker backs overdose antidote

A company whose prescription opioid marketing practices are being blamed for sparking the addiction and overdose crisis says it's helping to fund an effort to make a lower-cost overdose antidote.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma announced Wednesday that it's making a $3.4 million grant to Harm Reduction Therapeutics, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, to help develop a low-cost naloxone nasal spray.

The announcement comes as lawsuits from local governments blaming Purdue and other companies in the drug industry for using deceptive marketing practices to encourage heavy prescribing of the powerful and addictive painkillers. Last week, the number of lawsuits against the industry being overseen by a federal judge topped 1,000.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that drug overdoses killed a record 72,000 Americans last year. The majority of the deaths involved opioids. But a growing number of them are from illicit synthetic drugs, including fentanyl, rather than prescription opioids such as OxyContin or Vicodin.


Charter launches wireless plan as cable companies diversify

NEW YORK (AP) — Cable company Charter is launching its own wireless service as cable companies try to diversify to offset slowing traditional cable TV revenue.

Charter and Comcast agreed last year to cooperate on back-end operations for mobile networks, including leasing Verizon's cellular network, but they're offering their services separately. Comcast launched its mobile plan called Xfinity Mobile in 2017; it costs $45 a month for unlimited data.

Charter's Spectrum Mobile will also cost $45 a month for unlimited data. Charter is also offering a plan that charges $14 per gigabyte of data; that's enough for roughly one hour of video. Service is available only to those who have Charter's internet service.

Bigger rivals are Verizon and AT&T, which are able to offer TV, internet and home phone services, along with wireless.