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Business Highlights

Source : AP
Last Updated: Wed, Dec 26, 2012 23:15 hrs

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Stores look to week after Christmas for sales

Bargain-hungry Americans will need to go on a post-Christmas spending binge to salvage this holiday shopping season.

Despite the huge discounts and other incentives that stores offered leading up to Christmas, U.S. holiday sales so far this year have been the weakest since 2008, when the nation was in a deep recession.

So stores now are depending on the days after Christmas to make up lost ground: The final week of December can account for about 15 percent of the month's sales, and the day after Christmas is typically one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

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Fees undermine fliers' ability to compare fares

WASHINGTON (AP) — For many passengers, air travel is only about finding the cheapest fare.

But as airlines offer a proliferating list of add-on services, from early boarding to premium seating and baggage fees, the ability to comparison-shop for the lowest total fare is eroding.

Global distribution systems that supply flight and fare data to travel agents and online ticketing services like Orbitz and Expedia, accounting for half of all U.S. airline tickets, complain that airlines won't provide fee information in a way that lets them make it handy for consumers trying to find the best deal.

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US economy could handle short fall over 'cliff'

WASHINGTON (AP) — The economic threat that's kept many Americans on edge for months is nearing reality — unless the White House and Republicans cut a budget deal by New Year's Day.

Huge tax increases. Deep cuts in domestic and defense programs. The likelihood of sinking stock prices, reduced consumer spending and corporate layoffs. The risk of a recession within months.

Still, the start of 2013 may turn out to be far less bleak than feared. For one thing, the two sides may strike a short-term agreement before New Year's that postpones spending cuts until spring. President Barack Obama and members of Congress return to Washington Thursday.

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Starbucks cups to come with a political message

NEW YORK (AP) — Starbucks is using its coffee cups to jump into the political fray in Washington.

The world's biggest coffee chain is asking employees at cafes in the Washington, D.C., area to scribble the words "Come Together" on cups for drink orders on Thursday and Friday. CEO Howard Schultz says the words are intended as a message to lawmakers about the damage being caused by the divisive negotiations over the "fiscal cliff."

It's the first time employees at Starbucks cafes are being asked to write anything other than customers' names on cups.

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US home prices rise in October from previous year

WASHINGTON (AP) — US home prices rose in most major cities in October compared with a year ago, pushed up by rising sales and a decline in the supply of available homes. Higher prices show the housing market is improving even as it moves into the more dormant fall and winter sales period.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller national home price index released Wednesday increased 4.3 percent in October compared with a year ago. That's the largest year-over-year increase in two and a half years, when a homebuyer tax credit temporarily boosted sales.

Prices rose in October from a year ago in 18 of 20 cities. Phoenix led all cities with a 21.7 percent gain, followed Detroit, where prices increased 10 percent. Prices declined in Chicago and New York.

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US Treasury to take steps to avoid borrowing limit

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Treasury Department will begin taking steps to delay hitting the government's $16.4 trillion borrowing limit on Dec. 31.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in a letter Wednesday to congressional leaders that the department will use accounting measures to save approximately $200 billion, which could keep the government from reaching the limit for about two months.

The move comes as President Barack Obama and the GOP congressional leadership are locked in negotiations over how to avoid a series of tax increases and spending cuts, known as the "fiscal cliff," that are scheduled to take effect in the new year.

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Ticket rush: Film fans hand Hollywood record cash

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The big deal for Hollywood is not the record $10.8 billion that studios took in domestically in 2012. It's the fact that the number of tickets sold went up for the first time in three years.

Thanks to inflation, revenue generally rises in Hollywood as admission prices climb each year. The real story is told in tickets, whose sales have been on a general decline for a decade, bottoming out in 2011 at 1.29 billion, their lowest level since 1995.

The industry rebounded this year, with ticket sales projected to rise 5.6 percent to 1.36 billion by Dec. 31, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com. That's still well below the modern peak of 1.6 billion tickets sold in 2002, but in an age of cozy home theater setups and endless entertainment gadgets, studio executives consider it a triumph that they were able to put more butts in cinema seats this year than last.

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Settlement reached in Toyota acceleration cases

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday it has reached a settlement worth more than $1 billion in a case involving hundreds of lawsuits over acceleration problems in its vehicles.

The company said in a statement that the deal will resolve cases involving motorists who said the value of their vehicles was adversely affected by previous recalls stemming from sudden acceleration problems.

Lawyer Steve Berman, a plaintiffs' attorney, said the settlement is the largest settlement in U.S. history involving automobile defects.

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Berkshire Hathaway sells 2 short-line railroads

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Warren Buffett's company has sold two short-line railroads it recently discovered it owned to satisfy regulators who might have reviewed Berkshire Hathaway's 2010 acquisition of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.

Berkshire told the Transportation Department's Surface Transportation Board earlier this month that it had completed the sale of both short-line railroads ahead of schedule.

If Berkshire had reported owning those railroads when it bought BNSF, the Surface Transportation Board would have had to scrutinize the deal. Berkshire first disclosed owning the railroads to the Surface Transportation Board in September.

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Bristol-Myers, Pfizer's Eliquis approved in Japan

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Regulators in Japan have approved sales of an anticlotting drug called Eliquis, developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Pfizer Inc., that's a potential blockbuster in a new category of medicines to prevent strokes and heart attacks. But that's only if it can win U.S. approval, as two rival drugs have done.

Pfizer and Bristol-Myers said Wednesday that Japan approved use of Eliquis for treating the most common type of irregular heartbeat, atrial fibrillation, in patients at risk for strokes or dangerous clots called systemic embolisms. Already approved for sale in Canada and the European Union, Eliquis has twice been rejected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

About a quarter of all people aged 40 and older develop atrial fibrillation, a condition in which the heart's two upper chambers contract irregularly and don't pump blood efficiently. This can persist for years or only happen occasionally. It increases the risk of a stroke fivefold, and strokes caused by atrial fibrillation are more severe than other strokes, with half of patients who suffer them dying within a year if not treated.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 24.49 points to 13,114.59. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 6.83 to 1,419.83 and the Nasdaq composite lost 22.44 to 2,990.16.

U.S. benchmark crude jumped $2.37, or 2.7 percent, to finish at $90.98 per barrel. In London, Brent crude, used to price a various kinds of foreign oil, rose $2.27 to end at $111.07 per barrel.

Heating oil rose 5 cents to finish at $3.05 a gallon. Wholesale gasoline rose 7 cents to end at $2.82 a gallon. Natural gas rose 5 cents to finish at $3.39 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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