Business news in brief

Posted: February 16, 2017 at 2:14 a.m.

Harps launches healthful-foods push

Harps Food Stores has started a pilot program designed to support the purchase of locally grown produce for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants.

The program, which began Wednesday and will run through March 15, will allow participants to purchase local produce at half-price at the Harps Food Store at 3100 Grand Avenue in Fort Smith. There is a maximum benefit of $20 per household per day during the pilot.

The program is part of a partnership with the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention and the Arkansas Department of Human Services. It also is being supported by the River Valley Regional Food Bank.

The pilot program is the first of its kind to be offered in an Arkansas grocery store, mirroring the Double Up Food Bucks program available at 18 Arkansas farmers markets.

-- Robbie Neiswanger

German grocer Lidl to open U.S. stores

NEW YORK -- Lidl, the German no-frills supermarket chain, is opening its first wave of stores in the U.S. this summer ahead of schedule, with plans to open up to 100 locations across the East Coast within a year.

The details of the expansion, announced Wednesday, come as Wal-Mart and traditional grocery chains already are seeing a stronger threat from German low-priced retailer Aldi, which has been aggressively expanding. Both offer low prices by focusing on store-label products rather than name brands. Aldi has also been adding items to include gluten-free products and fresh produce.

Lidl's first 20 U.S. stores will be opening in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, where the company established its first U.S. headquarters in 2015. Originally, it planned to open its first batch of U.S. stores no later than 2018. Lidl operates about 10,000 stores in 27 countries.

Both Lidl and Aldi have been aggressively expanding in Europe. In the United Kingdom, a price war has hurt Wal-Mart's Asda business as well as traditional local retailers.

Aldi, which opened its first store in the U.S. in 1976, now has more than 1,600 stores in the U.S. and plans to increase that to nearly 2,000 by the end of 2018. It announced earlier this month that it's spending $1.6 billion on remodeling more than 1,300 of them.

-- The Associated Press

Chesapeake to boost drilling budget, rigs

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Chesapeake Energy Corp. has announced plans to increase its drilling budget and rig count in 2017, saying that confidence is growing in the hard-hit energy market.

The Oklahoma City-based company said Tuesday that it would increase its capital expenditures to $1.9 billion to $2.5 billion this year. That's compared to 2016 numbers of $1.65 billion to $1.75 billion.

Chesapeake Chief Executive Officer Doug Lawler said in a statement that the move will "position Chesapeake for significant production and earnings growth" in 2018. Chesapeake said it plans to operate an average of 17 rigs in 2017, compared to an average of 10 rigs in 2016.

The company will release its fourth-quarter earnings report on Feb. 23. In November, Chesapeake reported a loss of $1.16 billion, or $1.54 per share, in its third-quarter results.

-- The Associated Press

February homebuilders gauge drops

Confidence among U.S. homebuilders dropped in February as rising interest rates damped the market's optimism, according to data Wednesday from the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo.

The builder sentiment gauge slipped to 65 from 67 in Jan.; readings above 50 indicate more respondents report good market conditions. The current sales measure dropped to 71 from 72.

After adjusting from a postelection jump, homebuilders continue to be pretty confident. With the Trump administration and Republican Congress vowing to cut regulation, developers are hopeful it will become easier to buy or build a home. While this mirrors enthusiasm in other sectors of the economy, a continued rise in mortgage rates would curb optimism.

"With much of the decline this month resulting from a decrease in buyer traffic, builders continue to struggle to minimize costs while dealing with supply side challenges such as a lack of developed lots and labor shortages," NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz said in a statement. "Despite these constraints, the overall housing market fundamentals remain strong and we expect to see continued growth this year as some of these concerns are addressed."

-- Bloomberg News

Analyst: CEO's Trump praise a mistake

Under Armour Inc.'s chief executive officer made a mistake praising President Donald Trump, and the move could take a toll on the athletic brand's reputation and stock price, according to a Susquehanna International Group analyst.

CEO Kevin Plank's recent comment that Trump was a "real asset" to the country drew rebukes from Under Armour's own celebrity endorsers, including NBA star Steph Curry. The controversy, along with broader concerns about Under Armour's valuation and slowing growth, led Susquehanna's Sam Poser to downgrade the stock to negative from neutral.

Plank's pro-Trump commentary makes it "nearly impossible to effectively build a cool urban lifestyle brand in the foreseeable future," Poser said in a report. He also cut his stock-price target to $14 from $24, putting him at the low end of Wall Street peers.

"At this point we don't believe Under Armour is in danger of losing Steph Curry," Poser said. "However, it simply cannot be good for business if the face of Under Armour spoke out so pointedly against the CEO's comments. Other Under Armour brand athletes such as Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Misty Copeland have also spoken out against Mr. Plank's comments."

Shares of Baltimore-based Under Armour rose 45 cents, or 2.3 percent, to close Wednesday at $19.86.

-- Bloomberg News

Boeing workers in S.C. vote against union

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Production workers at Boeing’s South Carolina plant voted Wednesday not to join the Machinists, maintaining Southern reluctance toward unionization.

Vote totals weren’t immediately available. Under National Labor Relations Board rules, workers must wait a year before another union vote. In a statement, Machinists organizer Mike Evans said the union was disappointed with the vote but vowed to stay in close touch with Boeing workers to figure out next steps.

“Ultimately it will be the workers who dictate what happens next,” Evans said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to talk with hundreds of Boeing workers over the past few years. Nearly every one of them, whether they support the union or not, have improvements they want to see at Boeing. Frankly, they deserve better.”

The vote among nearly 3,000 workers preceded by two days a visit by President Donald Trump to attend the rollout of the first Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner from the aircraft maker’s campus.

Only about 52,000 South Carolina workers have union representation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2016 figures. Other major manufacturers in the state, including BMW and Michelin, aren’t unionized or haven’t experienced major campaigns to do so.

The union vote also came after Trump blasted Boeing for the cost of building a new Air Force One.

— The Associated Press

Business on 02/16/2017