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Nebraska beef, pork exports up in 2017

Last year was a good one for livestock exports in Nebraska.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Global Agricultural Trade System, beef exports from the state increased 12 percent in 2017 over the previous year, while pork exports were up 20 percent.

Nebraska’s 2017 total beef exports were $1.26 billion, making it the largest beef exporting state in the U.S. for the second year in a row. It also was the fourth year in a row that the state had more than $1 billion in beef exports.

Earlier this month, the USDA reported that Nebraska had 6.8 million cattle at the start of 2018, up 5 percent over last year and the largest number since 1984. The report also showed that Nebraska was the top state for cattle on feed, with 2.8 million.

Total pork export value in 2017 was $479 million, ranking Nebraska fifth in the country.

“We are seeing steady gains in the beef trade and even larger gains in pork growth,” Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said in a news release. "Consumers around the world expect high-quality ag products from Nebraska, and the increase in export numbers show that Nebraska producers are exceeding expectations.”

Among the factors that helped boost exports last year were strong economic conditions in Nebraska's five biggest export nations — Canada, China, Japan, Mexico and South Korea — as well as China's decision to reopen its markets to U.S. beef imports.

Beef exports to China, while small, could present a big growth opportunity going forward. Nebraska exported $17.5 million in beef products to China in just more than six months, which was nearly 57 percent of the total amount exported from the United States.


Some fries, valentine? Fast food chains aim for sweethearts

NEW YORK — Is that love in the air or french fries? White Castle, KFC and other fast-food restaurants are trying to lure sweethearts for Valentine's Day.

It's an attempt to capture a bit of the $3.7 billion that the National Retail Federation expects Americans to spend on a night out for the holiday. Restaurant analyst John Gordon at Pacific Management Consulting Group says it appeals to people who don't want to splurge on a pricier restaurant. And some customers enjoy it, ironically.

White Castle, which has been offering Valentine's Day reservations for nearly 30 years, expects to surpass the 28,000 people it served last year. Diners at the chain known for its sliders get tableside service and can sip on its limited chocolate-and-strawberry smoothie. KFC is handing out scratch-and-sniff Valentine's Day cards that give off a fried chicken aroma to diners who buy its $10 chicken share meals or a bucket full of popcorn nuggets.

Panera Bread wants couples to get engaged at its cafes; those who do can win food for their weddings from the soup-and-bread chain. And Wingstop sold out of its $25 Valentine's Day kit, which came with a gift card and a heart-shaped box to fill with chicken wings. The company says 1,000 of the kits were gone in 72 hours.


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New tax law boosts NRC Health profit

The recently passed tax cuts helped to boost earnings at NRC Health.

The Lincoln-based health care performance measurement and management company said Tuesday that it earned $6.5 million in the fourth quarter, up from $5.7 million in the same period a year ago.

That result was boosted by an estimated $1.1 million reduction in income tax expense, thanks to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which reduced the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

NRC Health also said that it chose to repatriate some foreign earnings, although it did not say how much. The new tax law also significantly lowered the tax rate for repatriation of deferred foreign profits.

The company said it incurred an additional $500,000 in expenses during the quarter for its planned stock recapitalization, which will eliminate the dual-class stock structure it instituted in 2013.


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Lincoln grain prices Tuesday

Range of cash grain prices paid to farmers by country elevators in the Lincoln area as of 4 p.m. Tuesday:

Wheat No. 2: 3.61

Corn No. 2: 3.52

Milo: 3.24

Soybeans: 9.84


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Wells Fargo closing Nebraska branches; extent unknown

Wells Fargo has made plans to close at least two branch bank locations in Nebraska this year so far.

The bank, which is the third-largest in the U.S. and second-largest in Nebraska based on deposit numbers, said last month that it plans to close nearly 1,000 branches nationwide by 2020.

That includes at least 250 branch locations this year, said Wells Fargo spokeswoman Julie Fogerson.

Wells Fargo had previously revealed in a regulatory filing that it plans to close a branch in McCook, and the Grand Island Independent reported Monday that the bank plans to close its main branch in the city's downtown area.

Fogerson said she could not comment on any other potential branch closings.

According to its website, Wells Fargo has 38 bank branch locations in Nebraska, including eight in Lincoln.

Fogerson said decisions on branch closings are made based on "customer trends, market factors and economic changes."

Wells Fargo has faced a number of challenges over the past couple of years as scandals have come to light, including the revelation in 2016 that bank employees opened up more than 2 million checking and credit card accounts in customers' names without their knowledge or permission.

That scandal led to the resignations of then-CEO John Stumpf and Carrie Tolstedt, a Nebraska native who was head of community banking during the time the fake accounts were created.

That scandal, along with others involving mortgages and auto loans, led the Federal Reserve to slap a regulatory order on the bank earlier this month that prohibits it from growing its assets beyond what it held at the end of 2017.

Still, Wells Fargo Chief Financial Officer John Shrewsbury told Bloomberg in an interview Monday that he expects expects the bank's consumer loan portfolio to grow this year, and new CEO Tim Sloan said at a conference Tuesday that the Fed order's effect on its customers has been "nonexistent."