AP News

Business Highlights


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Stores try to make holiday shopping cheap and easy

NEW YORK (AP) — This holiday season, Burger King won't be the only place where you can have it your way.

It used to be enough for stores to promise discounts of up to 70 percent to lure shoppers during the busy holiday period. But the ease of ordering online and the sluggish economy changed that. Americans are no longer impressed by discounts alone. Now they want their shopping just like their fast food: not only cheap, but convenient too.

That means they're no longer afraid to walk away from the cashmere sweater with the perfect fit if the store is crowded. They're unwilling to buy those suede pumps in just the right shade of blue if shipping costs extra. And they cringe at the prospect of carrying around paper coupons; they'd rather pull them up electronically on smartphones.

Retailers from Wal-Mart to Macy's are doing everything they can to make it easier for more finicky shoppers to spend during the holidays. Several are opening on Thanksgiving Day. Some are offering free layaway and shipping. Many are matching in-store prices with cheaper online deals. Others are allowing shoppers to buy online and pick up their merchandise in stores.

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Economy makes for tougher Thanksgiving journeys

CHICAGO (AP) — Millions of Americans piled their families into cars, hopped on buses and waited out delays at airports Wednesday as they set off on Thanksgiving treks that many said required financial sacrifice, help from relatives to come up with airfare and hours searching online for deals.

Accepting that the road out of the recession will be long, many said they've become savvier or at least hardier travelers — resilient enough to brave a daylong drive with the kids or a long haul by bus instead of flying. Others adjusted their travel schedules to try to save money, flying on less popular days or to airports that were a bit farther from their destination.

The weather, along with the economy, handed setbacks to some. Heavy fog shrouded Chicago, causing more than 1,600 delays or cancellations in and out of its two airports and sending ripples around the nation. The effects of Superstorm Sandy added to the hassle for travelers on the East Coast.

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Drivers pay more for gas, but still give thanks

Many drivers are giving more at the pump than a year ago but they still have reason to be thankful. Prices in many parts of the country have fallen recently, and AAA says gas prices could end the year lower than where they started.

The national average Wednesday was $3.43, down 44 cents from mid-September although still 8 cents higher than a year earlier. Gas started the year at $3.28 a gallon. AAA says it should be between $3.10 and $3.30 when 2012 ends.

Still, because the price was so high for so much of the year, Americans are likely to spend a record amount for gas in 2012. Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service estimates that Americans will spend about $483 billion on fuel this year, eclipsing last year's record of $471 billion. And that's even as Americans use less gas by taking shorter trips or driving more fuel-efficient cars.

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Expert sees a gathering storm for top fund manager

NEW YORK (AP) — The arrest of a former hedge fund portfolio manager in what prosecutors are calling one of the most lucrative insider trading schemes ever indicates that prosecutors may be setting their sights higher — toward a wealthy business leader the suspect's firm was connected to, an expert says.

Mathew Martoma made an arrangement to obtain secret, advance results of tests on an experimental Alzheimer's drug that netted more than $276 million for his fund and others, according to charges filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

He was arrested Tuesday on allegations that he used the information to advise other investment professionals to buy shares in the companies developing the drug, then later to dump those investments and place financial bets against the companies when the tests returned disappointing results.

Martoma's trades helped reap a hefty profit from 2006 through July 2008, while he worked for CR Intrinsic Investors LLC of Stamford, Conn., an affiliate of SAC Capital Advisors, a firm owned by Steven A. Cohen, one of the nation's wealthiest hedge fund managers.

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Hostess gets OK to begin winding down business

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — A bankruptcy court judge on Wednesday approved a request by Hostess Brands Inc. to begin winding down its operations.

The ruling came after the maker of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread failed in last-ditch negotiations to end a strike by its second-largest union.

Hostess now has the green light to terminate the jobs of its 18,000 workers without risking legal action, and to sell off its brands.

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Fewer seek US jobless aid as storm distorts data

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to a seasonally adjusted 410,000, though the figure was elevated for the second straight week by Superstorm Sandy.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that applications dropped by 41,000 from the previous week, when the storm drove applications to their highest level in 18 months. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose by 9,500 to 396,250.

Sandy could distort the data for another week, department officials say. The storm caused nearly 44,000 people in New York and 31,000 in New Jersey to seek benefits two weeks ago, according to the latest state data available.

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Rate on US 30-year mortgage hits record 3.31 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell to record lows this week, a trend that is boosting home sales and aiding the housing recovery.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Wednesday that the average rate on the 30-year loan dipped to 3.31 percent, the lowest on records dating back to 1971. That's down from 3.34 percent last week, the previous record low.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage also dropped to 2.63 percent. That's down from 2.65 percent last week and also a new record.

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Measure of future US economic activity up 0.2 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — A measure of the U.S. economy intended to signal future activity rose only slightly last month, suggesting growth could stay weak.

The Conference Board said Wednesday that its index of leading indicators increased 0.2 percent in October after a 0.5 percent gain in September. The index is intended to anticipate economic conditions three to six months out.

The strength in October came from lower interest rates, a drop in applications for unemployment benefits, and an increase in demand for large manufactured goods.

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Deere has downbeat 2013 outlook, and shares fall

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Tractor maker Deere & Co. is taking a cautious view of 2013, as drought and economic uncertainty hold back spending in some of the world's biggest farm economies.

Also, its most recent quarterly profit missed analysts' expectations. Deere shares fell $3.16, or 3.7 percent, to close at $82.83 Wednesday.

Deere is the world's largest maker of agricultural equipment, like the bright green tractors and combines that prowl farm fields during planting and harvest seasons. Its fortunes rise and fall with those of farmers.

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Reckitt to buy vitamin company Schiff for $1.4 billion

Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC said Wednesday that it will buy vitamin and nutrition supplement maker Schiff Nutrition International Inc. for $1.4 billion, topping an earlier bid by Bayer AG.

The British consumer goods company said the deal will build on its health care business in the U.S., where it already sells brands such as Muxinex, Delsym and Durex. Schiff products include Tiger's Milk nutrition bars and Airborne immune system health supplements.

Reckitt first made the $42-per-share offer earlier this month only weeks after Bayer offered $34 dollars per share for the Salt Lake City-based company. The German drugmaker later said it did not want to engage in a bidding war for the company.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 48.38 points to 12,836.89. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 3.22 points to 1,391.03. The Nasdaq composite index rose 9.87 points to 2,926.55.

Benchmark oil rose 63 cents to finish at $87.38 a barrel. Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose $1.03 to end at $110.86 a barrel in London.

Heating oil gained 3 cents to finish at $3.07 a gallon. Wholesale gasoline rose 4 cents to end at $2.75 a gallon. Natural gas gained 7 cents to finish at $3.90 per 1,000 cubic feet.


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