AP News

Business Highlights


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Facebook unveils social search feature

MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a new search feature on Tuesday in the company's first staged event at its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters since its May initial public offering.

Called "graph search," the new service lets users search their social connections for information about people, interests, photos and places. It'll help users who, for instance, want to scroll through all the photos their friends have taken in Paris or search for the favorite TV shows of all their friends who happen to be doctors.

Until now Facebook users were unable to search for friends who live in a certain town or like a particular movie. With the new feature, people can search for friends who, say, live in Boston who also like the film "Zero Dark Thirty".

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Wal-Mart to hire vets, buy American

NEW YORK (AP) — Why wait on Washington to fix the economy when there's Wal-Mart?

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer and the biggest private employer in the U.S. with 1.4 million workers here, said Tuesday that it is rolling out a three-part plan to help jumpstart the sluggish U.S. economy.

The plan includes hiring more than 100,000 veterans in the next five years, spending $50 billion to buy more American-made merchandise in the next 10 years and helping its part-time workers move into full-time positions sooner.

The move comes as Wal-Mart attempts to bolster its reputation, which has been hit in the past year by an alleged bribery scandal in Mexico and a deadly fire at a Bangladesh factory that supplies clothes to the company. Wal-Mart, which often is criticized for its low-paying jobs and buying habits in the U.S., said it's plan aims to highlight career opportunities in the retail industry, which supports one in four jobs in the country. The company's plan could have an impact on the U.S. economy. With $444 billion in annual revenue, if Wal-Mart were a country, it would rank among the largest economies in the world.

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US retail sales rose 0.5 percent in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumers increased their spending at retail businesses in December, buying more autos, furniture and clothing. Steady job growth and lower gas prices kept consumers shopping for the holidays, despite worries about potentially tax increases.

Retail sales rose 0.5 percent in December from November, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That's slightly better than November's 0.4 percent increase and the best showing since September.

Sales of autos and auto parts rose 1.6 percent to lead all categories. Car companies closed out their best sales year since 2007.

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Falling food, gas costs lower US wholesale prices

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. wholesale prices fell for the third month in a row last month, pushed down by falling food and gas costs. The drop is the latest evidence inflation is tame.

The producer price index dropped 0.2 percent in December, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That follows a decline of 0.8 percent in November.

The index measures price changes before they reach the consumer. Wholesale prices rose 1.3 percent in 2012, much lower than the 4.7 percent increase in 2011.

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US businesses increased stockpiles 0.3 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. companies increased their stockpiles at a steady pace in November from October, responding to a solid increase in sales.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that business inventories grew 0.3 percent in November, matching the October gain.

Sales rose 1 percent in November, the best showing since a 1.2 percent rise in September. In October, sales fell 0.3 percent, reflecting in part disruptions caused by Superstorm Sandy.

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Banks say new agency's oversight is slow, costly

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bankers and financial industry leaders are criticizing the early efforts of the government's new consumer finance watchdog, saying a slow and inefficient oversight process has slowed lending and made it more difficult for them to do business.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's team that examines banks is understaffed, inexperienced and takes months to tell banks how they scored on routine audits, Consumer Bankers Association CEO Richard Hunt said Tuesday. For some bank examiners, it is their first job out of college, he said.

Hunt said that CFPB Director Richard Cordray is aware of the problems with the examination program and hopes to do better in the agency's second year.

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USDA offers loans to farmers who grow for locals

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — With interest in locally grown food soaring, the federal government said Tuesday that it created a small loan program to help community farmers who might not be able to borrow money from banks.

Call it seed money.

The low-interest "microloans" of up to $35,000 are designed to aid startup costs, bolster existing family-run farms and help minority growers and military veterans who want to farm. Over the last three years, there has been a 60 percent increase in local growers who sell directly to consumers or farmers markets, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

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South Africa mine threatens closure, loss of 14,000 jobs

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The world's largest platinum producer said Tuesday that it will close some operations, sell one mine in South Africa and cut 14,000 jobs, just months after mining strikes turned violent, killing dozens of people.

Anglo American Platinum said a nearly yearlong review found that four mine shafts needed to be closed and one mine sold because of unprofitable operations. The government's minister of mines and the National Union of Mineworkers, NUM, expressed surprise and shock at the announcement.

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Alibaba founder Jack Ma stepping down as CEO

BEIJING (AP) — One of the world's most successful Internet entrepreneurs, Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, announced Tuesday that he is stepping down as CEO.

In a letter to employees Ma said he would no longer be CEO after May 10 but will remain active as executive chairman. He said a successor will be named by May but gave no indication who it will be.

Alibaba Group's business-to-business Alibaba and consumer-oriented Taobao and Tmall platforms are among the world's busiest e-commerce outlets. The group manages Yahoo Inc.'s China arm.

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ConocoPhillips selling some assets for $1.05 billion

HOUSTON (AP) — ConocoPhillips is selling some properties in North Dakota and Montana to a subsidiary of Denbury Resources Inc. for $1.05 billion.

The oil and natural gas company said Tuesday that the Cedar Creek Anticline properties span about 86,000 net acres in southwestern North Dakota and eastern Montana. Net production from the properties averaged 13,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day through November.

The sale doesn't include any of ConocoPhillips' Bakken Formation assets. The company owns 626,000 net acres there.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average ended the day up 27.57 points at 13,534.89. The Standard and Poor's 500 rose 1.66 points to 1,472.34, a five-year high. The Nasdaq composite index fell 6.72 points to 3,110.78.

Benchmark crude dropped 86 cents to finish at $93.28 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, dropped $1.58 to end at $110.30 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline fell 5 cents to finish at $2.71 a gallon. Natural gas rose 8 cents to end at $3.46 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil fell 5 cents to finish at $3.01 a gallon.


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