AP News

Business Highlights


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Ford shares down as 4Q profit eclipsed by Europe

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — Ford is posting record profits in North America, but it's not enough to quell unease about the company's prospects elsewhere.

Ford's shares dropped nearly 5 percent Tuesday after the company said it expects to lose more money in Europe this year and break even in Asia and South America. The final straw for investors: Ford said sales will increase next year but profits should remain about the same, dashing hopes that margins will continue to grow.

The No. 2 U.S. automaker posted record pretax profit of $8.3 billion in North America in 2012, the result of a six-year turnaround orchestrated by CEO Alan Mulally. It's reaching back into that playbook to fix its operations in Europe, where it lost $1.75 billion. The European restructuring plan announced in October was one reason Ford's stock has been trading at levels not seen since 2011.

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US consumers less optimistic after tax increase

WASHINGTON (AP) — An increase in Social Security taxes is leaving Americans with less take-home pay — and a more negative outlook for the U.S. economy.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its index of consumer confidence dropped 8.1 points in January from December to 58.6. That's the lowest reading in 14 months and the third straight decline.

Congress and the White House reached a deal in January to keep income taxes from rising on most Americans. But the agreement did not extend a temporary cut in Social Security taxes.

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Fed likely to stick to low-rate message this week

WASHINGTON (AP) — When the Federal Reserve meets this week, it's likely to affirm the message that it intends to help lift the economy, and consumers and businesses will be able to borrow cheaply well into the future — even after unemployment has dropped sharply.

Last month the Fed signaled for the first time that it will tie its policies to specific economic barometers. It said that as long as the inflation outlook is mild, it could keep short-term rates near zero until the unemployment rate dips below 6.5 percent from the current 7.8 percent.

That could take until the end of 2015, the Fed predicted last month.

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Adver-teasers: Super Bowl viewers get peek at ads

NEW YORK (AP) — Super Bowl advertisers are learning the art of the tease.

Supermodel Kate Upton appears in an online Mercedes-Benz video in a low-cut top. A man wakes up with his face covered in smeared lipstick and his hands bound in furry handcuffs in a Gildan Activewear clip. And "30 Rock" star Tracy Morgan seemingly curses in a spot for Kraft's Mio flavored drops.

Super Bowl advertisers no longer are keeping spots a secret until the Big Game. They're releasing online snippets of their ads or longer video trailers that allude to the action in the Game Day spot.

It's an effort to squeeze more publicity out of advertising's biggest stage by creating pregame buzz. Advertisers are shelling out $4 million to get their 30-second spots in front of the 111 million viewers expected to tune into the game. But they're looking for ways to reach even more people. About half of more than 30 super Bowl advertisers are expected to have teaser ads this year, up from 10 last year, according to Hulu, which aggregates Super Bowl ads on its AdZone Web site.

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Hostess set to announce bidder for Twinkies

NEW YORK (AP) — The indestructible Twinkie appears to be one step closer to a comeback.

Hostess Brands is close to announcing that it has picked two investment firms — C. Dean Metropoulos & Co. and Apollo Global Management — as the lead bidders for its Twinkies and other snack cakes, according to a source close to the situation who was not authorized to comment publicly on the talks.

The joint "stalking horse" bid would set the floor for an auction process that lets competitors make better offers. A judge would have to approve any final sale.

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US home prices accelerate in November

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices accelerated in November compared with a year ago, pushed higher by rising sales and a tighter supply of available homes.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 5.5 percent in November compared with the same month a year ago. That's the largest year-over-year gain in six years.

All but one of the cities in the index posted annual gains. The largest gain was in Phoenix, where prices jumped nearly 23 percent. It was followed by San Francisco, where prices rose 12.7 percent, and Detroit, where they increased 11.9 percent.

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3 months after Sandy, victims still waiting for relief

NEW YORK (AP) — Devon Lawrence neatly stacked bricks on the gas burner of his kitchen stove and turned up the blue flame, creating a sort of radiator that warmed the ice-cold room.

His two-story house in the Far Rockaway section of Queens hasn't had working heat since Superstorm Sandy's floodwaters destroyed the oil burner in the basement. Now mold is growing upstairs because the house has been cold and damp for so long.

Lawrence wakes early every morning to heat the bricks and light a kerosene space heater while his 75-year-old mother sits in bed in a hat and gloves.

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Pfizer 4Q net jumps on sale of nutrition business

Drugmaker Pfizer Inc.'s fourth-quarter results easily beat Wall Street expectations, driving up its stock, as profit more than quadrupled, due to tighter spending and a $4.8 billion gain from selling its nutrition business.

Those boosts offset competition from generic drugs hurting sales of Lipitor and other medicines.

The world's biggest drugmaker said Tuesday that its net income was $6.32 billion, or 85 cents per share, up from $1.44 billion, or 19 cents per share, a year earlier.

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Judge OKs $4 billion BP oil spill criminal settlement

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — BP PLC closed the book on the Justice Department's criminal probe of its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Gulf oil spill on Tuesday, when a federal judge agreed to let the London-based oil giant plead guilty to manslaughter charges for the deaths of 11 rig workers and pay a record $4 billion in penalties.

What the plea deal doesn't resolve, though, is the federal government's civil claims against BP. The company could pay billions more for environmental damage from its 2010 spill.

The judge noted that the company already has racked up more than $24 billion in spill-related expenses and has estimated it will pay a total of $42 billion to fully resolve its liability for the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Microsoft retools Office for touch screen, Web use

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Microsoft is selling a retooled version of its Office software to consumers as an online subscription service for the first time in an attempt to extend one of the company's key franchises beyond personal computers.

Tuesday's release comes six months after Microsoft previewed the new-look Office, which includes popular word processing, spreadsheets and email programs.

The revamped Office boasts touchscreen controls, just like the redesigned version of the Windows operating system that Microsoft Corp. released three months ago. The company, which is based in Redmond, Wash., is trying to ensure that its products retain their appeal at a time when people increasingly rely on smartphones and tablet computers instead of PCs.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 72.49 points to close at 13,954.42. The Standard and Poor's 500 rose 7.66 points to 1,507.84 points. The Nasdaq composite dropped less than a point to 3,153.66.

Benchmark oil for March delivery rose $1.13, or 1.2 percent, to close at $97.57 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose 88 cents to end at $114.36 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline rose 4 cents to finish at $2.97 per gallon. Natural gas lost 6 cents to end at $3.23 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil gained 5 cents to finish at $3.11 a gallon.


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