Congress passes bill to avoid government shutdown

The House and Senate both passed a bill Thursday extending government funding through Dec. 22, acting to avoid a federal shutdown this weekend. The government is now funded through midnight Friday and would partially shut down Saturday without a new bill. The bill now moves to President Donald Trump to sign, which he is expected to do within the next day. The bill buys Trump and congressional leaders more time to hammer out a longer deal. Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

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Investors Bancorp to cut workforce by 5%, close 6 branches

Investors Bancorp Inc. said late Thursday it was laying off about 5% of its workers and closing six of its branch offices. The Short Hills, N.J.-based bank has 155 branches and reported having 1,829 employees at the end of 2016. Investors Bancorp said the cuts will reduce annual operating expenses by about $10 million to $12 million. Shares of Investors Bancorp were flat at $14.17 after hours.Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

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Sears stock rallies after shareholder lambasts short sellers, but S3 says don’t blame the shorts

Shares of Sears Holdings Corp. rallied 6.8% in active trade Thursday, after a shareholder urged the department store chain’s board to take action “alarming” and “excessive” short-selling activity, and to consider a going-private deal. Memento, the investment manager of the Elarof Trust, which owns nearly 2 million Sears shares, said it was concerned about “several occasions” over the past two years that it found evidence of more shorted shares than shares outstanding. That implies “naked shorting”–selling a stock short without first borrowing the shares–which would violate SEC rules (Reg SHO). But Ihor Dusaniwsky, head of predictive analytics at financial analytics firm S3 Partners, said investors shouldn’t blame short sellers for the stock’s fall. He said short interest can technically be larger than shares outstanding, as shares borrowed for one short sale can end up in an hedge fund’s long account, then be lent to settle another short trade. He said using margined shares to settle deliveries is “a daily normal occurrence for every broker dealer.” Sears’ stock has tumbled 52% year to date, while the S&P 500 has gained 18%. Sears has reported net quarterly losses for 18 of the past 20 quarters, according to FactSet.Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

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United Continental to buy back $3 billion more in shares

United Continental Holdings Inc. shares ticked higher in the extended session Thursday after the airline operator said it would buy back an additional $3 billion in shares. United Continental shares rose 1.5% to $64.50 after hours, following a gain of 2.2% during the regular session. The company said it expects to complete a separate $2 billion share repurchase plan, initiated back in July 2016, by the end of December. United has about 296 million shares outstanding, down from about 330 million shares outstanding at the end of 2016, according to FactSet data. The price of United shares have fallen nearly 13% on the year.Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

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House passes bill to avoid government shutdown

The House passed a bill extending government funding through Dec. 22, acting to avoid a federal shutdown this weekend. The government is now funded through midnight Friday and would partially shut down Saturday without a new bill. The Senate is expected to take up the measure next. The bill buys President Donald Trump and congressional leaders more time to hammer out a longer deal. Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

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Silicon Labs to acquire Sigma Designs

Silicon Laboratories Inc. has inked an agreement to acquire Sigma Designs Inc. for $282 million in a cash transaction, Silicon Labs said late Thursday. Silicon Labs stock is flat after hours. Silicon Labs said that it will pay $7.05 a share, or a 26% premium on Sigma’s closing share price of $5.60 on Dec. 6. Sigma makes technology related to smart homes as well as media connectivity and smart TV tech. “By adding Z-Wave technology to Silicon Labs’ connectivity portfolio, we will be better positioned to serve this fast-growing market,” Silicon Labs Chief Executive Tyson Tuttle said in a statement. “Ecosystem providers and developers will have a one-stop shop for wireless connectivity solutions for the home.” Silicon Labs said that it planned to divest or wind down the smart TV business in the future, and is in “active discussions” to sell the media connectivity unit. Silicon Labs stock has gained 39% this year, as the S&P 500 index rose 17%.Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

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Gilead Sciences to buy Cell Design Labs for $567 million

Gilead Sciences Inc. said late Thursday it will acquire privately held cellular therapy company Cell Design Labs Inc. for $567 million. The company said it will acquire the 12.2% of Cell Design shares held by recently acquired Kite Pharma Inc.. The deal includes an upfront payment of about $175 million and additional milestone payments of up to $322 million to be paid to Cell Design Labs shareholders other than Kite, Gilead said. Emeryville, Calif.-based Cell Design Labs develops biotech to re-engineer cells for use in cancer treatments. Shares of Gilead rose 0.3% to $72.92 after hours.Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

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