Business Highlights

Last Updated: Tue, Feb 12, 2013 22:45 hrs


U.S. economy focus of State of the Union

The U.S. economy, the expected focus of Tuesday night's State of the Union speech, is much healthier than it was four years ago. Yet growth remains slow and unemployment high.

In early 2009, the nation's economy was in trouble following the collapse of the housing bubble and the disintegration of mortgage-backed investments. Companies were slashing jobs. The unemployment rate was surging. Auto sales reached a 26-year low.

The recovery has been agonizingly slow, but now companies are hiring modestly but steadily. Home prices are finally rebounding as sales and housing starts have recovered. And Americans are buying cars again.


Apple CEO: Shareholder lawsuit is "silly sideshow"

Apple CEO Tim Cook is calling a shareholder lawsuit against the company a "silly sideshow," even as he said he is open to looking at shareholder proposals for sharing more cash with investors.

Investor David Einhorn sued Apple Inc. last week, saying a proposal slated for a vote at the company's annual meeting in two weeks will make it more difficult to enact his plan to reward shareholders by distributing a new class of shares.

Cook said Apple's proposal puts more power in the hands of shareholders, making it difficult to understand why a shareholder would fight it. Cook also said that the company is "seriously" looking at ways to hand out more cash to shareholders.


January surplus shrinks 2013 US budget deficit

The federal government reported a rare surplus for January and is on track to run the lowest annual deficit since President Barack Obama took office.

The Treasury Department said Tuesday that the government took in a surplus of $2.9 billion in January, helped by nearly $9 billion more in Social Security taxes. Last month Congress and the White House allowed a temporary cut in Social Security taxes to expire.

Through the first four months of the 2013 budget year, the deficit has grown $290.4 billion. That's nearly $60 billion lower than the same period a year ago.


G7 seeks to defuse currency war fears

The Group of Seven leading industrial nations, which includes the U.S., Japan and Germany, warned Tuesday that volatile movements in exchange rates could adversely hit the global economy.

There have been increasing concerns around the world that countries might manipulate their exchange rates through their domestic economic policies in order to gain an edge. The process could spark a "currency war" — where countries compete against one another to get the lowest exchange rates.

The G-7 finance ministers and central bankers insisted they remained committed to exchange rates driven by the market — not government or central bank policies — and will consult closely when it comes to sharp movements in foreign currency markets.


Likely Treasury chief Lew faces early budget tests

The to-do list that awaits Jacob Lew, President Barack Obama's choice to be Treasury secretary, is daunting.

Bridge disputes in Congress on taxes and spending. Shrink budget deficits. Manage tense economic ties with China. Press Europe to reduce debts while fighting a recession. Defend the U.S. financial overhaul law. Prevent a global currency war.

And those are just the obvious challenges.


Comcast to buy GE's 49 pct. stake in NBCUniversal

Comcast says it's buying General Electric's 49 percent stake in NBCUniversal joint venture for $16.7 billion.

Comcast Corp. had bought a majority stake in the television and movie company in 2011. It had planned to take a larger stake in it over time.


Coca-Cola's profit climbs but obstacles loom

Coca-Cola is facing a tough time: People are drinking less soda in the U.S. and Europe and uncertain economic conditions around the world weigh on the world's biggest drinks maker.

The Atlanta-based company said Tuesday that its profit rose in the fourth quarter, as it benefited from growth in emerging markets and a shift in the calendar that resulted in two extra selling days for the period. But sales volume fell in China and Europe, reflecting a pullback in consumer spending.

In North America, its biggest market by revenue, volume rose just 1 percent, boosted by its Powerade sports drinks and bottled teas. The company sold 2 percent less soda.


S&P parent expects to beat gov't ratings lawsuit

Standard & Poor's is prepared to spend years beating back a federal lawsuit that accuses the company of giving falsely high ratings to mortgage investments that helped trigger the financial crisis, executives said Tuesday.

The government may seek up to $5 billion — several years' worth of profits for McGraw-Hill, it said in a civil complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court last week. The company believes the charges lack merit, but the case is likely to drag on for three or more years, general counsel Ken Vittor said on the call.

Despite what the company called "an outstanding year," analysts on the call focused on its ability to fend off the lawsuit and maintain growth in the Standard & Poor's Rating Services division.


CEO of scandal-ridden U.K. bank sets new tone

Be honest. Or be gone. That's the message from the new chief executive at Barclays, the British bank that paid a $453 million fine for manipulating a key global interest rate. As he tried to put a brave face on 3,700 new job cuts and growing financial losses, CEO Anthony Jenkins said Tuesday that ethics matter as much as a given quarter's bottom line.

"Barclays is changing," Jenkins told reporters at a news conference in London. "There will be no going back to the old ways of doing things."

Jenkins has good reason to embrace the high road. Even though Barclays avoided a government bailout during the global financial crisis— unlike British peers like Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds — the lender has faced a string of scandals that are costing it billions of pounds.


Another major Dell shareholder opposes $24.4B sale

A shareholder rebellion against Dell's proposed $24.4 billion sale to its founder and other investors is gaining more support, fueling a belief that the struggling personal computer maker will have to wrangle a higher price to get the deal done.

Mutual fund firm T. Rowe Price joined the opposition Tuesday. Price and another shareholder, Southeastern Asset Management, believe that founder and CEO Michael Dell and the investment firm Silver Lake are seizing control and ending Dell Inc.'s 25-year history as a publicly held company on the cheap.

T. Rowe Price and Southeastern are the two largest independent shareholders and own nearly 13 percent of the company combined. Michael Dell has committed his 14 percent stake toward the deal. He is the only investor who owns more stock than either of the two.


Intel working on TV set-top box to replace cable

Intel Corp. said Tuesday that it will sell a set-top box that brings Internet-delivered movies and shows to a TV set this year.

There are various boxes today that bring Internet content to TV sets, with popular ones made by Roku and Apple. But Intel wants to go further and make its box and streaming service a replacement for cable.

Rumors of an Intel set-top box and video service emerged last year. Intel didn't say what the box and service would cost, or when this year such a device be available.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones Industrial average closed up 47.46 to 14,018.70, putting it within 1 percent of the record close of 14,164.53 set in October 2007.

The Standard & Poor's 500 gained 2.42 points to 1,519.43, also close to its record.

The Nasdaq composite was down 5.51 points at 3,186.49.

Benchmark oil gained 48 cents to finish at $97.51 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 53 cents to end at $118.66 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline rose 3 cents to finish at $3.05 a gallon.

Natural gas fell 5 cents to end at $3.23 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Heating oil rose less than a cent to finish at $3.24 a gallon.

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