Global Glance: Anthem-Cigna merger rejected; Labor secretary nominee addresses conflicts of interest

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Here are today’s top headlines from across the nation and world:

Anthem-Cigna health insurance merger rejected by judge

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Predicting diminished competition and likely higher costs, a federal judge rejected Anthem Inc.’s bid to buy rival health insurer Cigna Corp. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Wednesday said the merger would significantly reduce competition in the already concentrated insurance market, particularly for large national employers. Cigna and Anthem are two of just four insurers selling to companies with 5,000 employees spread across multiple states, and they compete aggressively for business, the judge wrote. Read more

Labor secretary nominee addresses conflicts of interest

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of labor has proposed avoiding conflicts of interest by resigning as CEO of his fast food empire, selling off hundreds of holdings and recusing himself from government decisions in which he has a financial interest, according to his ethics filings with the government. “I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter in which I know that I have a financial interest directly and predictably affected by the matter” without a waiver from government ethics officials, Andrew Puzder wrote in the nine-page filing, dated Tuesday and obtained by The Associated Press. Puzder is CEO of CKE Restaurants Inc., which owns such chains as Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. Puzder’s intent, spokesman George Thompson said, is to recuse himself from all matters involving CKE or its parent companies. Read more

Retail group: Sales to grow 3.7 percent to 4.2 percent

NEW YORK (AP) — Despite a bumpy holiday season, chains like The Limited shutting down and department stores such as Macy’s closing stores, the largest retail trade group says it’s still optimistic that sales will grow this year – especially online. In issuing its forecast Wednesday, the National Retail Federation did caution that shoppers will remain hesitant until there’s more certainty around issues like health care and taxes under President Donald Trump. It estimates retail sales will rise 3.7 percent to 4.2 percent this year, which could surpass last year’s 3.75 percent. Online sales and other non-store business, which are included in the overall number, are expected to be stronger and rise between 8 percent and 12 percent. Read more

Big utilities try to tilt solar energy market in their favor

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s energy utilities want state lawmakers to pass a law that critics say would muscle out smaller companies from the emerging solar energy market. Solar power provides only about 1 percent of the country’s energy, but the industry is growing rapidly, with figures showing it employed 208,859 workers in 2015. That amounts to a 125 percent increase since 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. But much of the growth has been in residential and commercial installation, including homes and stores. That could eventually raise costs and eat away at the business of the big utilities – in Indiana they are Duke Energy, Vectren and Indiana Michigan Power – which have a powerful voice and donate handsomely to the political campaigns of lawmakers. Read more

7 months in, expanded Panama Canal still faces challenges

COCOLI, Panama (AP) — A little over seven months after authorities launched a much-ballyhooed, $5.25 billion canal expansion to accommodate many of the world’s largest cargo vessels, they have yet to fully work out a significant kink: With little margin for error, ships are still scraping the walls and prematurely wearing out defenses designed to protect both the vessels and the locks themselves. Even before the canal opened in late June, tugboat pilots had expressed concern about what they said was insufficient training for maneuvers that are now required – and that are a radical departure from the previous system. Read more

Whole Foods rethinks expansion as sales keep falling

NEW YORK (AP) — Whole Foods is hitting the brakes on its ambitious expansion plans as sales keep dropping at existing stores. The grocer reported its sixth straight quarter of falling sales at established locations on Wednesday, as organic and natural products have become more widely available at traditional supermarkets. The company said it no longer sees potential for 1,200 locations, up from the roughly 470 it has in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. It said it will close nine stores in the current quarter, while opening only six new stores, including two relocations. The company noted that it still has dozens of stores in the pipeline and that it will continue to grow, but that it will be more careful about signing new leases. Read more

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