Morning Read 5/19: Jared and Ivanka get Rabbinic pass to fly on Shabbos

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner will be flying aboard Air Force One to Saudi Arabia with President Donald Trump on Friday [US Air Force]
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner will be flying aboard Air Force One to Saudi Arabia with President Donald Trump on Friday [US Air Force]
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner will be flying aboard Air Force One to Saudi Arabia with President Donald Trump on Friday [US Air Force]

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INTERNATIONAL


Trump says he hasn’t ruled out Netanyahu joining him at Western Wall

US President Donald Trump, who is scheduled to visit Israel next week, has not ruled out inviting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join him as he visits Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

“We have not yet made a final decision about my visit to the Western Wall,” Trump told the Israel Hayom newspaper in an interview Thursday. “We have great respect for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the decision to have the rabbi [of the Western Wall] accompany us was primarily because that is the custom at the site. It could still change.”

Trump also told the daily that he “honestly, truly” thinks he can broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, and was non-committal on the question of moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, the White House announced that Trump would not be accompanied by any Israeli officials when he visits the holy site next Tuesday.

“No Israeli leaders will join President Trump to the Western Wall,” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters at a press briefing where he outlined Trump’s schedule for his upcoming four-stop trip to the Middle East and Europe. [ToI]

For now, Trump rules out moving embassy to Jerusalem

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump has indefinitely postponed moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, White House officials said Wednesday, indicating Washington did not want to inflame tensions in the region.

A senior administration official told The Times of Israel that a decision to relocate the embassy “wouldn’t be immediate” and that “a final decision hadn’t been made.”

The statement came just two days before Trump is set to embark on his first foreign trip. It will include a visit Israel and the West Bank from May 22 to 23 — just before Jerusalem Day, when Israel will commemorate 50 years since The Six Day War — after a stop in Saudi Arabia [ToI]

Syria, Russia Criticize U.S.-Led Strikes Near Jordanian Border

BEIRUT—The Syrian regime and its Russian allies condemned the U.S.-led coalition on Friday for a rare attack on a Syrian army post near the Jordanian border a day earlier.

The coalition launched airstrikes on Syrian forces and their allies as they approached U.S.-backed rebels in an area along the border known as al-Tanf, according to U.S. officials. The strike marked an escalation of hostile U.S. action toward the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“The blatant attack on one of the Syrian Arab army’s positions that was carried out by the so-called international coalition exposes its fake claims that is fighting terrorism,” Syrian state news agency SANA quoted a military source as saying.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov echoed the criticism, according to Interfax. [WSJ]

Chinese jets intercept U.S. radiation-sniffing plane, U.S. says

Two Chinese SU-30 aircraft carried out what the U.S. military described as an “unprofessional” intercept of a U.S. aircraft designed to detect radiation while it was flying in international airspace over the East China Sea.

“The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels,” said Air Force spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Lori Hodge.

Hodge said the U.S. characterization of the incident was based on initial reports from the U.S. aircrew aboard the WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft “due to the maneuvers by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft.”

“Distances always have a bearing on how we characterize interactions,” Hodge said, adding a U.S. military investigation into the intercept was underway.

She said the WC-135 was carrying out a routine mission at the time and was operating in accordance with international law.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying declined to comment on the specific incident and referred questions to the defense ministry which has yet to comment. [REUTERS]

Sweden Ends Probe Against WikiLeaks Founder Assange

Swedish prosecutors said Friday they have decided to discontinue a probe into alleged case targeting Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012.

The U.K. Home Office said that since the investigation had been dropped by the Swedish authorities, the European arrest warrant under which he was first arrested would be withdrawn in the U.K. courts.

However, London’s Metropolitan Police said it would still be obliged to arrest Mr. Assange on a lesser charge related to his skipping bail.

The Swedish decision comes about six months after Mr. Assange was questioned by Swedish prosecutors at the embassy over allegations he raped a woman during a visit to Sweden in 2010.[WSJ]

Putin’s ex-wife linked to multi-million-dollar property business

The former wife of Russian president Vladimir Putin helped create and now supports a foundation that owns a historic Moscow property generating millions of dollars from tenants, a Reuters examination of property records has found.

The building was renovated with help from associates of Putin, and the rental income is paid to a private company owned by a person whose name is the same as the maiden name of Putin’s former wife, corporate records show.

The rent comes from Volkonsky House in central Moscow, which was an aristocrat’s home in pre-Soviet times and is now owned by The Center for the Development of Inter-personal Communications (CDIC). Lyudmila Putina helped set up the non-commercial foundation, according to a report in state newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta and two sources who worked with the center. Lyudmila was Putin’s wife from 1983 until their divorce, which was announced in 2013.

The foundation was created in 2002, and in September 2006 Rossiiskaya Gazeta described Lyudmila as a “trustee” of the organization. In an interview with the newspaper that year, she used the term “we” when discussing the foundation, and three sources currently familiar with the foundation’s work said Lyudmila supports a literary prize and publishing arm that the foundation runs.

The tenants pay rent to a company called Meridian, which is 99 per cent owned by a company called Intererservis, corporate and property records reviewed by Reuters in early May showed. Intererservis, according to a state register of corporate entities, has been wholly owned since 2014 by a woman called Lyudmila Alexandrovna Shkrebnyova – which is the maiden name of Putin’s former wife. [REUTERS]


NATIONAL


Lieberman Is a Finalist for F.B.I. Director, Trump Says

President Trump, 24 hours from his self-imposed deadline for picking a new F.B.I. director, told reporters on Thursday that he was “very close” to choosing a successor to James B. Comey, and he named Joseph I. Lieberman, the former Democratic senator and vice-presidential nominee, as a finalist.

But members of Mr. Trump’s staff — alarmed by his rapid embrace of Mr. Lieberman, a charming 75-year-old political operator with no federal law enforcement experience — have quietly urged him to take more time to make such a critical hire. By late Thursday, the president appeared increasingly likely to leave Friday for a nine-day foreign trip without picking a new director, according to three senior administration officials speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Mr. Lieberman, who served three terms in the Senate as a Democrat and one as an independent, would be an atypical choice to lead the F.B.I., whose agents prize the bureau’s independence as one of Washington’s few apolitical institutions. Judges and former prosecutors, not elected officials, have frequently been chosen.

Administration officials described the search as fluid and said the president and his team were keeping the decision-making process closely held to avoid the leaks that Mr. Trump believes are endemic to the West Wing. [NYT]

Trump Aims to Balance Budget

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump next week will propose the U.S. can balance the federal budget over 10 years with substantial cuts to safety-net programs such as food stamps and other anti-poverty efforts, combined with a tax and regulatory overhaul that speeds up the nation’s economic growth rate, a senior White House budget official said.

The president’s budget, due for release Tuesday, will spare the two largest drivers of future spending—Medicare and Social Security—leaving trillions in cuts from other programs. That includes discretionary spending cuts to education, housing, environment programs and foreign aid already laid out by the administration, in addition to new proposed reductions to nondiscretionary spending like food stamps, Medicaid and federal employee-benefit programs.

The budget release, which will be unveiled while Mr. Trump is visiting Europe and the Middle East, shows how his economic policy team is trying to forge ahead on his agenda even as distracting political controversies, such as the recent firing of FBI director James Comey, swirl around Washington.

On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified on Capitol Hill, his first such appearance since his February confirmation, where he expressed confidence Congress could advance a revamp of the tax code this year. House Republicans held their first hearing on the proposed tax overhaul, following a series of meetings between lawmakers and top administration officials Wednesday. [WSJ]

New Orleans removing last of four statues linked to pro-slavery era

New Orleans will remove a statue on Friday of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee, the last of four monuments the city is taking down because they have been deemed racially offensive, officials said.

Since May 11, crews have removed monuments to Jefferson Davis, president of the pro-slavery Confederacy and P.G.T. Beauregard, a Confederate general.

Last month, a monument was taken down that commemorated an 1874 attack on the racially integrated city police and state militia by a white supremacist group called the “Crescent City White League”.

Crews will remove the statue of Robert E. Lee, who was the top military leader in the Confederacy, on Friday sometime after 9 a.m., the city said in a statement.

Earlier this month, dozens of supporters of the monuments clashed with hundreds of demonstrators near the site of the Robert E. Lee statue.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is expected to give a speech marking the removal of the last of the four monuments on Friday afternoon. [REUTERS]


LOCAL


One Killed After Car Hits Pedestrians in Times Square

An 18-year-old woman was killed and 22 people were injured when a car plowed through a crowded sidewalk in Times Square around midday Thursday, the New York Police Department said.

Richard Rojas, a 26-year-old U.S. citizen who served in the Navy, was apprehended by police and civilians after the car he was driving crashed into a stanchion, NYPD Assistant Chief of Manhattan South William Aubry said. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said police weren’t treating the incident as an act of terrorism.

A lawyer for Mr. Rojas couldn’t be reached for comment.

Mr. Rojas, who has two previous arrests for drunken driving, was driving a 2009 Honda Accord south on 7th Avenue when he made a quick U-turn at 42nd Street, Chief Aubry said.

Mr. Rojas tested negative for alcohol, but drug tests were pending, officials said. A senior law-enforcement official said Mr. Rojas was driving with a valid driver’s license.

Mr. Rojas’ car mounted the westside sidewalk at 42nd and 7th Avenue and drove for three and a half blocks, striking the 23 people.

Between 42nd Street and 43rd Street, his vehicle hit Alyssa Elsman of Michigan, who was killed, Chief Aubry said. Her 13-year-old sister was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

After Mr. Rojas’ car struck the stanchion near 45th Street, an NYPD traffic agent and patrol officers took the man into custody, Chief Aubry said. [WSJ]

New York City to Require Calorie Counts on Prepared Food at Chain Stores

Supermarkets and large chain retailers in New York City will soon be required to post calorie counts for prepared foods under an expansion of the city health code.

The new rules, announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration late Thursday, would apply to food retailers with at least 15 locations nationwide.

Beginning Monday, businesses like 7-Eleven and Whole Foods will be required to post calorie counts for standard menu items. They will also be required to make nutritional information about those meals available upon request.

The expansion of the city’s health code is the latest measure in a decade-long push to improve New Yorkers’ health that began under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and has continued under Mr. de Blasio.

The city began requiring calorie counts at chain restaurants in 2008. In late 2015, it began requiring them to post a symbol of a salt shaker on the menu beside items that contain at least 2,300 milligrams of sodium.

New York adopted the newest rules in 2015, but hasn’t implemented them until now because of a delay in the adoption of similar rules under consideration at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. On Thursday, city officials said they would move forward anyway.

“Every day that we delay is denying New Yorkers something that could improve their health,” Dr. Barbot said. [WSJ]

Developer who won NYCHA bid to build apartment tower is big de Blasio donor

The developer who got a sweet deal from the city to build a half-market-rate, half-affordable Upper East Side apartment tower is a big donor to Mayor de Blasio, records show.

Since 2011, Harold Fetner and his family have written eight checks totaling $39,150 for de Blasio, including seven donations to his 2013 and 2017 election campaigns and one to the mayor’s transition committee.

Months after arriving at City Hall, de Blasio appointed Fetner to the nonprofit Mayor’s Fund for the Advancement of New York, a plum assignment the mayor has doled out to multiple deep-pocketed donors.

NYCHA announced on Wednesday it had picked Fetner’s company, Fetner Properties, over three other bidders to build a 47-story tower on what is now NYCHA land in the Holmes Towers development on E. 91st St.

Under the deal, Fetner gets a 99-year lease and will build and manage a 344-unit tower. He will also qualify for $13 million in taxpayer subsidies and will pay no property taxes because the building will sit on NYCHA land.

NYCHA and Fetner refused to release any information regarding the amount of money Fetner expects to make in annual rent. Fetner will pocket rent from all apartments, both market rate and affordable.

On Thursday a Fetner spokesman said, “It would be absurd to imply that this (campaign donations) has anything to do with our selection for the project. We were selected because our proposal was carefully crafted to best meet the needs of the NYCHA community and provide much-needed recreational space, good jobs and affordable housing.” [DN]

Skelos’ lawyers argue evidence used to convict shouldn’t count

Lawyers for fallen ex-state Sen. Dean Skelos argued for a new trial Thursday, saying that a Manhattan federal jury convicted him on evidence that no longer counts as bribery — thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The jury was not “given the proper tools” to convict, lawyer Alexandra Shaprio told a three-judge federal appeals panel.

She cited as evidence a Supreme Court decision last year that significantly narrowed the definition of public corruption by, among other things, nixing mere meetings as being a favor an official can dole out in exchange for a bribe.

It’s the same ruling that helped save Mayor de Blasio from prosecution following a months-long probe into his fundraising.

The judges expressed skepticism, however, that Skelos’ many meetings with companies who paid his son Adam for no-show jobs were all that innocent.

“Here, Mr. Skelos took these meetings as part of the larger scheme to facilitate payments to his son,” Judge Reena Raggi said.

Judge Raggi also knocked arguments that Skelos’ son, Adam, is innocent because he was in the dark about favors his powerful dad was providing companies giving him no-show jobs.

Judge Raggi cited testimony from a former supervisor who said he was threatened for insisting Adam show up for work. The judge called it “insubordinate behavior that would have gotten anybody fired” — except for the son of a powerful state Senator. [NYP]


POLITICS


5 things to watch on Trump’s foreign trip

President Donald Trump departs today for his first foreign trip, a nine-day voyage that will take him across the Middle East and Western Europe. Although the trip will be shadowed by Trump’s growing problems at home, it could shape his foreign policy in important and lasting ways.

Here are five things to watch:

1. Which he say “radical Islamic terrorism”?
During his first stop in Saudi Arabia, Trump will give a speech focused on Islam and terrorism. He might come in with rhetorical guns blazing. Trump once said that Saudi Arabia “blew up the World Trade Center” and has accused it and other Gulf Arab states of supporting terrorism. He said in March 2016 that “Islam hates us.”

But fans of Trump’s tough talk may be disappointed. His Saudi hosts, and the Muslim leaders who will gather in Riyadh for a summit while Trump is there, would be infuriated by such rhetoric from their guest. They will be expecting a more temperate message in the vein of Trump’s predecessors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who argued that Islam is a religion of peace and that the United States is not at war with the world’s Muslims. In a briefing last week, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Trump’s speech would be “respectful.”

2. Will he play Middle East peacemaker?
Trump’s second stop will be in Israel. The visit itself will draw an implicit contrast with Obama, who had testy relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and who did not stop in Israel during his first visit to the Middle East in 2009. Despite the controversy over whether Trump shared classified intelligence provided by Israel with Russian officials in the Oval Office last week, a bigger focus of his visit will be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump insists he wants to broker a historic agreement between the two sides, despite decades of failed efforts to reach one—and despite wariness among Israeli officials that Trump might want a deal more than they do.

3. Does he really support NATO?
Trump spent much of the 2016 campaign criticizing NATO. Many European leaders were relieved to hear Trump say in an April press conference with Italy’s prime minster that the 28-member military alliance is “no longer obsolete.” But Trump said that in response to what he says is NATO’s new attention to terrorism, which in fact remains a secondary mission for the alliance.

What Trump has still not done as president is affirm NATO’s role as a guarantor of European security—particularly against Russia, the country NATO was formed to defend against. Trump has also not committed to observe the part of the treaty that commits every member to defend one another against aggression. During the campaign, Trump suggested that the United States might not come to the defense of a NATO member that had not met its budgetary commitments to the organization. (Most NATO members spend less on defense than they have pledged.)

4. Can he stick to a script?
Longtime Trump watchers are keen to see how he’ll handle the many opportunities to stray from the script prepared for him by McMaster and other national security professionals. A shoot-from-the-hip president on a long and tiring first trip out of the country is a recipe for multiple missteps, gaffes and comments that could send confusing messages about U.S. policy. Distracted by a barrage of controversies at home, including Wednesday’s appointment of a special prosecutor to probe Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, Trump has had little time to focus on the briefing materials his staff has prepared for him. Events like G7 and NATO meetings are typically choreographed affairs in which everyone knows what everyone else will say in advance, but no one is sure just what to expect from Trump.

5. Can he change the subject?
Presidents have long savored the opportunity to skip town at times of domestic trouble and drag a captive White House press corps through foreign meetings where the commander-in-chief is treated like a potentate. Regardless of a president’s approval ratings at home, foreign officials always welcome an American leader with camera-friendly pomp and circumstance.

But presidents often find that a change of scenery isn’t enough. “You can’t really change the subject,” said one former senior Obama White House official who recalled long trips abroad in which White House reporters cared less about Obama’s interactions with foreign leaders than about controversies brewing back in Washington. Obama and his aides spent much of a November 2012 trip to Asia, for instance, fielding questions about a looming fiscal crisis in Washington that overshadowed his diplomatic message. On another Asia trip in the fall of 2015, Obama parried tough questions about GOP criticism of his policy towards the Islamic State and Muslim refugees. (It is unclear how often Trump will field questions from the reporters traveling with him—or whether he will at all.) [POLITICO]

Trump fires back as Russia probe intensifies

President Trump showed Thursday he is prepared to fight hard against allegations he interfered with a federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

He vehemently denied during a news conference at the White House that he asked FBI Director James Comey to drop the bureau’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a central player in the Russia inquiry.

“No, no,” Trump said when asked whether he told Comey to back off Flynn, then demanded the reporter move on to the “next question.”

Trump denounced the appointment of a special counsel to lead the probe, repeatedly calling it an unprecedented “witch hunt” that “hurts the country.”

“Well, I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt,” Trump said, standing alongside Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. “I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things.”

The president reiterated that he never colluded with the Russians in their alleged effort to influence the November election.

“There is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign,” he said. “But I can always speak for myself and the Russians. Zero.” [THEHILL]

Mike Pence’s disappearing act

It’s hard for a vice president of the United States to disappear from sight. After all, you are the second most powerful person in the country and all that.

Despite those challenges, Vice President Mike Pence has been nearly invisible for the last 48 hours or so — even as the Trump Administration has been buffeted by a slew of negative stories that have occasioned a special counsel to be named to oversee the ongoing Russia probe.

Pence was spotted Tuesday by the eagle-eyed Kate Benett at a working lunch meeting with Turkish President Erdogan. (The tweet containing that photo was deleted minutes after it went up and reposted hours later.)

On Wednesday, Pence was nowhere to be seen for most of the day. His staff said that he was working on a series of speeches; Pence is set to deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame on Sunday. Pence’s one public event was to honor Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders late in the day.

What we did hear from Pence on Thursday was via a statement, reacting to a New York Times report that Flynn had warned transition officials that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey.

“The vice president stands by his comments in March upon first hearing the news regarding General Flynn’s ties to Turkey and fully supports the President’s decision to ask for General Flynn’s resignation,” an unnamed Pence aide told CNN. [CNN]

Rosenstein knew Comey would be fired before writing memo, Dem senators say

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein knew that FBI Director James Comey would be removed before he penned a now-famous memo that was cited by the White House as rationale for the firing, Democratic senators said Thursday after a briefing with the senior DOJ official.

Rosenstein, who a day earlier named a special counsel to oversee the Russia probe that Comey was helping lead before his ouster, briefed all U.S. senators on Capitol Hill Thursday.

Coming out of that briefing, lawmakers said Rosenstein revealed that President Trump’s decision preceded his letter.

“He knew that Comey was going to be removed prior to him writing his memo,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also said Rosenstein learned on May 8 that Trump “was going to terminate Comey.”

Rosenstein wrote the memo on May 9. [FOXNEWS]

Probe by U.S. special counsel is a criminal investigation

The special counsel appointed to look into links between Russian officials and U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign is conducting a criminal investigation, including whether there was any obstruction of justice, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said on Thursday.

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was named on Wednesday as a special counsel to lead the probe, is conducting an investigation “of criminal allegations that are extremely serious, including possible obstruction of justice,” Blumenthal told reporters after senators met Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. [REUTERS]


CULTURE


Ivanka and Jared get a rabbinical pass to fly Air Force One

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner will be flying aboard Air Force One to Saudi Arabia with President Donald Trump on Friday, after receiving a rabbinical dispensation to travel on the Jewish Sabbath, according to a White House official.

As practicing Orthodox Jews, Trump’s daughter and son-in-law typically observe the weekly Shabbat holiday, unplugging from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. But they have made exceptions, on a few occasions, for their jobs.

On Inauguration Day, they received the same kind of rabbinical pass to travel by car, an activity that is typically prohibited for observant Jews on the Sabbath. The rules can be broken in life-threatening situations, or if there is a safety concern, according to Jewish law. It was not clear on what grounds the exception was made to accompany the president on his first international trip.

During the 2016 campaign, Kushner also broke Shabbat during the worst crisis to engulf Trump. He huddled with his father-in-law in Trump Tower after the release of the damaging “Access Hollywood” tape in October of 2016 that showed Trump bragging about kissing and groping women without their consent.

Trump’s first stop on his nine-day, five-country tour will be Saudi Arabia, a leg of the trip that Kushner has been deeply involved in organizing.

In her new book, “Women Who Work,” Ivanka Trump writes about how her family observes the weekly Jewish holiday. “From sundown Friday to Saturday night, my family and I observe the Shabbat,” she wrote. “During this time, we disconnect completely — no emails, no TV, no phone calls, no Internet. We enjoy uninterrupted time together and it’s wonderful.” She added: “It’s enormously important to unplug and devote that time to each other. We enjoy long meals together, we read, we take walks in the city, we nap, and just hang out.” [POLITICO]


FINANCE


BofA opens debate on lowering mortgage down payments

The head of Bank of America Corp, the United State’s fourth-biggest mortgage lender, said on Thursday banks would be able to supply a bigger share of funding for home purchases if the standard down payment for buyers was cut to 10 percent from 20 percent.

The vast majority of mortgages are underwritten to strict standards set by the U.S. government or quasi-government entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. While down payment requirements can vary, they offer fairly little latitude to lenders that do not want to take all the risk themselves. As a result, many prospective homebuyers who cannot come up with a 20 percent down payment are unable to get a loan.

“Our goal – going back to regulatory reform – is should you move the down payment requirement from 20 percent to 10? It wouldn’t introduce that much risk but would actually help a lot of mortgages get done,” Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan told CNBC in an interview Thursday.

Bank of America was the top U.S. mortgage lender ahead of the 2008 mortgage crisis, causing it to face greater losses, both from defaults and litigation, than any other bank. Under Moynihan, who took the helm at the start of 2010, the bank has tightened lending standards and executives regularly use the motto “responsible growth” in public speeches. [REUTERS]

WAL-MART SEES ONLINE SALES SURGE, MORE SHOPPERS AT STORES

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Wal-Mart saw online sales surge as it changed up its shipping offers, and drew more shoppers to its stores as well in the most recent quarter even as retail overall is more competitive.

The world’s largest retailer said Thursday that sales at established stores rose for the eleventh straight quarter, and customer traffic rose for the tenth quarter in a row. That’s a contrast with many rivals that saw both those figures drop.

Online sales at Walmart.com rose 63 percent, dramatically up from the 29 percent growth in the previous quarter. Though the company has been buying up smaller internet retailers, Wal-Mart said a majority of the increase was through Walmart.com and was fueled by changes in its shipping strategy and a discount for shoppers who pick up their online orders.

Wal-Mart’s report stood out amid a largely gloomy environment for retailers, after chains like Macy’s, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney and Target saw declines in comparable-store sales. Even off-price retailer TJX Cos., which has done better than many as customers hunt for bargains, missed forecasts for that sales measure. And it underscores Wal-Mart’s efforts to narrow the gap between itself and online leader Amazon, and widen the distance between itself and other competitors. [AP]

Cammeby’s taps Suffolk Construction for Coney Island’s tallest tower

Suffolk will serve as construction manager at 532 Neptune Avenue, a planned 40-story mixed-use tower at the site of the Trump Village Shopping Center, representatives for Cammeby’s confirmed on Thursday. The tower is part of the developer’s Neptune/Sixth redevelopment, which also includes a seven-story office and retail building at 626 Neptune Avenue.

Cammeby’s filed plans for the 430-foot-tall tower at 532 Neptune in January 2015, calling for 544 apartments, 90,000 square feet of retail and another 15,521 square feet for community facilities. Last week, the company announced that Russian grocery chain NetCost Market will take 38,000 square feet on the ground floor of the building. Cammeby’s also landed a $54 million loan package for 626 Neptune Avenue. [TRD]

05/19/2017 10:45 AM by David Kinzer
Tags: Morning Read

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