Trumps scuttle plan for hotels

In the early months of the Trump administration, with the president no longer running his family business, his eldest sons embarked on a plan to roll out two new hotel lines in dozens of U.S. cities. Now, in a striking reversal, the Trump Organization is no longer pursuing the signature initiative, according to company officials.

Plans for the two hotel chains, Scion and American Idea, are to be shelved indefinitely. As a practical matter, that means calling off just one agreement, in Mississippi. The retrenchment comes as the company faces growing scrutiny from prosecutors and congressional investigators.

Lax management of student loans

An audit released by the Education Department on Thursday described its slipshod oversight of federal student loan servicers that were regularly let off the hook for mistakes, driving up costs for taxpayers and for borrowers already owing more than $1 trillion in debt.

The department failed to track many mistakes by servicers, the contractors hired to send out monthly bills, keep track of what borrowers owe and help them navigate repayment options. And when serious problems were discovered, the department rarely invoked its contractual right to dock servicers’ pay, the department’s inspector general said in its report.

Republicans show tax refund data

The Trump administration defended itself Thursday amid criticism from taxpayers who are disappointed they are receiving smaller tax refunds after the 2017 Republican tax cuts. The refunds, which are down about 8.7 percent from the same period a year ago, have been seized on by opponents of the tax cuts as proof that the tax law did little to help average Americans.

On Thursday, the administration rolled out fresh data to try to explain to taxpayers that their 2018 refunds were smaller because they received most of their tax cut in the form of bigger paychecks last year.

Weak retail sales; stocks mixed

U.S. stock indexes clawed most of the way back from an early slide Thursday to finish mostly lower, ending a four-day winning streak for the S&P 500 index.

Losses in banks and retailers and consumer products makers offset gains in health care stocks, technology companies and elsewhere in the market as investors weighed new data showing retail sales slumped in December amid a disappointing holiday shopping season.

The Commerce Department reported that December retail sales posted their biggest drop since 2009. And the National Retail Federation issued figures showing U.S. holiday season sales were weaker than expected.

— Bulletin wire reports