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The Associated Press October 28, 2011, 6:35PM ET

Business Highlights


Incomes stall as interest on savings dwindles

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Americans are making a little more money and spending a lot more.

A closer look at some new government figures suggests people are saving less because they're earning almost nothing in interest.

Critics say the Federal Reserve is punishing those who play by the rules -- those careful enough to set aside money for savings or people who built up a nest egg and are living on fixed incomes that depend on interest.

Americans spent 0.6 percent more in September than a year earlier, three times the increase in August, the government said Friday. Spending was especially strong on durable goods -- things like cars, appliances and electronics.

At the same time, overall income rose just 0.1 percent. After deducting taxes and adjusting for inflation, it actually fell for a third straight month.

So to make up the difference, many have cut back on savings


Whirlpool to cut 5,000 jobs to reduce costs

NEW YORK (AP) -- Appliance maker Whirlpool Corp. plans to cut 5,000 jobs, about 10 percent of its workforce in North America and Europe, as it faces soft demand and higher costs for materials.

The world's biggest appliance maker also on Friday cut its 2011 earnings outlook drastically and reported third-quarter results that missed expectations, hurt by higher costs and a slowdown in emerging markets. Shares fell 12 percent in midday trading.

The company, whose brands include Maytag and KitchenAid, has, like other appliance makers, been squeezed by soft U.S. demand since the recession and rising costs for materials such as steel and copper.

Due to its size, Whirlpool's performance provides a window on the economy because it indicates whether consumers are comfortable spending on big-ticket items.


Merck third-quarter profit soars, beats analysts' views

Drugmaker Merck & Co. said Friday that its third-quarter profit soared from a year ago -- a weak quarter weighed down by huge acquisition and legal charges. But, compared to the second quarter, prescription drug sales were flat and total revenue was down 1 percent.

The latest results beat Wall Street estimates. Total revenue of $12.02 billion was up 8 percent from a year ago, largely due to a 5 percent boost from favorable currency exchange rates, but was down from $12.15 billion in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, research spending was reduced 16 percent from a year ago, and Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., said it plans to cut total 2011 research spending to about $7.9 billion, down $400 million from its February forecast.


NYSE price mix-up causes headaches

NYSE Euronext released incorrect price information on more than 1,000 stocks and other securities late Thursday, causing some shares to show price swings that hadn't really happened.

One example was Precision Castparts Corp., which at one point on Friday was supposedly down as much as 9.6 percent. But that was based on an incorrect closing price. In reality, its shares fell about 2.2 percent from their correct Thursday close.

The problem started at 7:27 p.m. Thursday when NYSE's Arca platform sent incorrectly coded share price information. An email sent to traders on Friday said the problem involved prices from aftermarket trades on Thursday that were incorrectly coded as if they had happened during regular trading that day. The email says the mix-up potentially affected the closing price on some shares that trade on the New York Stock Exchange as well as its Arca platform.

The impact was on some stocks, exchange-traded funds, and mutual funds that started with the letters A though T. Symbols starting with U through Z were not affected.


Chrysler CEO says 2-class wage structure has to go

The head of Chrysler said Friday that the carmaker's two-class wage system has to go, potentially setting the stage for a fight over wages when all three U.S. automakers and their largest union head back to negotiating tables in 2015.

Sergio Marchionne said Chrysler eventually needs to transition to a one-wage structure and wants to make that happen in its next contract with the United Auto Workers union.

Marchionne said the current system creates two classes of workers, which as more bottom-tier workers are hired will only serve to divide the automaker's blue collar ranks. New workers in the bottom tier make about half as much money as longtime UAW members.


Program urges smokers switch to smokeless tobacco

In the smoker-heavy state of Kentucky, a cancer center is suggesting something that most health experts won't and the tobacco industry can't: If you really want to quit, switch to smoke-free tobacco.

The James Graham Brown Cancer Center and the University of Louisville are aiming their "Switch and Quit" campaign at the city of Owensboro. It uses print, radio, billboard and other advertising to urge smokers to swap their cigarettes for smokeless tobacco and other products that do not deliver nicotine by smoke.

Supporters say smokers who switch are more likely to give up cigarettes than those who use other methods such as nicotine patches, and that smokeless tobacco carries less risk of disease than cigarettes do.


Obama takes more steps alone to help businesses

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pushing a campaign to act without Congress, President Barack Obama moved unilaterally Friday to boost private business.

He signed executive orders aimed at spurring economic growth, capping a week in which he sought to employ the power of his office as he struggles to make headway on his jobs bill on Capitol Hill.

Obama directed government agencies to shorten the time it takes for federal research to turn into commercial products in the marketplace. The goal is to help startup companies and small businesses create jobs and expand their operations more quickly.

On the other front, Obama called for creation of a centralized online site, to be known as BusinessUSA, for companies to easily find information on federal services. The site, a recommendation of the president's jobs council, is to be up and running within 90 days and will be designed with input from U.S. businesses.


White House to review Energy Department loans

WASHINGTON (AP) -- On the defensive over a half-billion-dollar loan to a now-bankrupt solar company, the White House on Friday ordered an independent review of similar loans made by the Energy Department, its latest response to rising criticism over Solyndra Inc.

The announcement came as House Republicans prepared for a possible vote next week to subpoena White House documents related to the defunct California company.

White House officials said the review would assess the health of more than two dozen other renewable energy loans and loan guarantees made by the Energy Department program that supported Solyndra. Congressional Republicans have been investigating the company's bankruptcy amid embarrassing revelations that federal officials were warned it had problems but nonetheless continued to support it, and sent President Barack Obama to visit the company and praise it publicly.


Clear Channel cuts jobs in regional reorganization

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Clear Channel Communications Inc. said Friday that it dismissed some on-air and off-air staff earlier this week. The company is reshaping its regional and local programming to help attract advertisers focused on areas wider than a single market.

Company spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg said the moves took effect on Wednesday, but she declined to specify the number of employees affected. The company operates about 850 radio stations and has 12,000 employees.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the San Antonio-based company dismissed dozens of local disc jockeys at small stations from Syracuse, N.Y., to Spokane, Wash.


Target announces midnight opening for Black Friday

NEW YORK (AP) -- As the run-up to holiday shopping intensifies, Target Corp. said Friday that its stores will open at midnight on Thanksgiving Day for the first time.

That's four hours earlier than last year.

The stores will stay open for 23 hours and close at 11 p.m. Friday, November 25. Target spokeswoman Susan Kahn said the change was a response to customers' demands.

Retailers have expanded their Black Friday hours each year recently.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 23 points, or 0.2 percent, to finish at 12,231.11. The S&P 500 rose less than a point to 1,285.09. The Nasdaq composite fell 1.48, or 0.1 percent, to 2,737.15.

Benchmark crude fell 64 cents to end the day at $93.32 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price foreign oil, lost $2.17 to finish at $109.91 per barrel in London.

In other energy trading, heating oil lost 4 cents to end at $3.0592 per gallon, while gasoline futures fell 6 cents to finish at $2.6822 per gallon.

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