Business news in brief

J.B. Hunt rolls out Marketplace platform

J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. announced the public launch of its Marketplace platform and a five-year, $500 million investment in the company's information technology at its annual shareholders meeting Thursday.

Marketplace, which has been in the works for about three years, uses artificial intelligence and real-time data to automatically match loads and carriers. It is already used internally by company employees and is now available to any shipper and to carriers that pass the company's vetting.

Chief Executive Officer John Roberts said that about 100 offers are now being accepted per week, "without people making phone calls in or out."

Roberts said that unlike younger technology companies entering the freight brokerage space, J.B. Hunt has the experience to back up the technology.

He said his team has been told, "These companies that are trying to build these technology services in Silicon Valley, all they have is the software. We have the customers, we have the carriers, we have the assets, so we believe by putting that brand online, we can really make a difference."

Additionally, a stockholder proposal to publicize involvement with third-party trade organizations failed at the meeting.

-- Emma N. Hurt

LR port's March cargo tops 47,000 tons

The Port of Little Rock handled more than 47,000 net tons of cargo in March, the Little Rock Port Authority said in a news release.

Logistic Services Inc., the company that loads and unloads the barges, handled 32 barges last month. In February, Logistic Services handled 30 barges and almost 50,000 net tons.

"Barge activity on the Arkansas River continues to remain steady," Bryan Day, the Port Authority's executive director, said in the release. "We are expecting a slight uptick in total tonnage over the next sixty days due to the fertilizer season."

Overall, 1.1 million tons of cargo was shipped along the 448-mile McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The system runs between the Mississippi River and 15 miles east of Tulsa.

-- Noel Oman

Jobless claims rise; rolls at 17-year low

Filings for U.S. unemployment benefits rose last week while total benefit rolls dropped to the lowest in 17 years, indicating the job market remains tight, a Labor Department report showed Thursday.

Unemployment claims increased by 10,000 to 244,000 (forecast was 240,000) in the week that ended Saturday. The number of people continuing to receive benefits fell by 49,000 to 1.98 million in the week ended April 8.

Filings are hovering near a four-decade low as managers hold staff levels steady or increase them to keep up with an expanding economy. Analysts will look at the latest claims data for clues to the April change in payrolls, because last week coincides with the survey week for the monthly employment report due May 5. At the same time, year-to-year variation in the timing of the Easter holiday may affect the data.

Unemployment claims have been on a general downtrend during the expansion and broke below the 300,000 level in March 2015.

-- Bloomberg News

Mortgage rates lowest since November

U.S. mortgage rates dropped for a fifth week, sending home-loan costs down to their lowest point since the week after the presidential election.

The average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 3.97 percent, down from 4.08 percent last week and the lowest since November, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. said in a statement Thursday. The average 15-year rate decreased to 3.23 percent from 3.34 percent, the McLean, Va.-based mortgage-finance company said.

Yields for the Treasuries that guide mortgage costs have dropped on investor expectations that an economy under President Donald Trump won't be as robust as anticipated, according to Guy Cecala, publisher of the newsletter Inside Mortgage Finance.

The decrease in mortgage rates may encourage homeowners to refinance in the short term as buyers take advantage of lower borrowing costs. An improving job market is increasing demand for real estate as supply of homes for sale tightens. Listings of existing homes for sale are scarcer than they've ever been, and bidding wars are becoming more common again in hot markets like the San Francisco Bay Area, Denver and Boston.

-- Bloomberg News

Wells Fargo board wins Buffett's votes

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is voting all of its Wells Fargo & Co. shares to support the re-election of the bank's board.

Berkshire, Wells Fargo's largest investor, with a stake of about 10 percent, has already voted most of the holding, Debbie Bosanek, an assistant to Buffett, said in an email Thursday. Buffett, 86, is also voting shares he personally owns, she said.

The board of the San Francisco-based bank is under pressure after proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. urged that investors oppose the re-election of 12 of 15 directors at Tuesday's annual meeting in Florida.

Reuters reported earlier that Buffett was likely to vote his shares in favor of the board.

-- Bloomberg News

Business on 04/21/2017

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