Business Highlights

AP News
Posted: Oct 28, 2010 5:39 PM
Business Highlights


AP survey: Only slight economic gains seen in 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The new Congress that begins in January will confront an economy and a job market that will improve only slightly next year, according to an Associated Press survey of leading economists that found them gloomier than they were three months ago.

Unemployment will dip only a bit from the current 9.6 percent to a still-high 9 percent at the end of 2011, in their view. In fact, some economists now think unemployment won't drop to a historically normal 5.5 percent to 6 percent until at least 2018 _ several years later than previously envisioned.

The latest quarterly AP survey shows economists are pushing back their estimates of when key barometers of health _ hiring, spending, economic growth _ will signal strength.


Higher energy prices boost Big Oil profits

NEW YORK (AP) _ The major oil companies racked up significant gains in net income for the third quarter by charging more for oil than they could a year ago, and making money refining it.

The companies also earned more from producing natural gas, but a couple have signaled that the current low price for gas could force a change in strategy.

Both oil and gas increased in price when compared with the average price from last year. Oil prices rose about 12 percent while natural gas increased 23 percent. As a result, Exxon Mobil Corp. on Thursday reported 55 percent higher profits for the third quarter, while on Wednesday, ConocoPhillips said profit doubled.


GM moves to shore up finances ahead of stock sale

DETROIT (AP) _ General Motors Co. has moved to strengthen its finances ahead of an initial public stock sale, announcing plans on Thursday to cut debt and pension obligations by $11 billion.

The automaker, whose IPO is expected next month, will lighten its debt load by paying back money owed to taxpayers, company retirees and a health care trust. It will pay for the moves mainly with its stockpile of cash, which now totals about $24 billion.

The $11 billion reduction includes paying back $2.1 billion owed to U.S. taxpayers. It also includes paying $2.8 billion to a United Auto Workers health care trust and putting $6 billion in stock and cash toward its pension plans, which are underfunded by roughly $27 billion.


Unemployment claims drop sharply to 434K

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week than in any week since July, a hopeful sign that the job market is improving.

Still, economists cautioned that the trend would have to continue for several more weeks before a solid conclusion could be drawn that hiring is picking up.

Applications for jobless benefits dropped by 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 434,000 in the week that ended Oct. 23, the Labor Department said Thursday.


Stocks give up early gains; 3M, Apple disappoint

NEW YORK (AP) _ Stocks struggled to a mixed finish Thursday after weak earnings news from 3M and other companies weighed on the market.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 12 points, but broader indexes posted slight gains. The market had risen steadily in the opening moments of trading following a surprise drop in first-time claims for unemployment benefits, pushing the Dow up as high as 53.

3M Co. set a negative tone with a downbeat view on the economy and a lower forecast for full-year earnings. 3M's dim assessment of the U.S. and European economies was a sobering reminder that growth in many developed nations remains weak. The maker of everything from Post-It notes to Scotch Tape called growth in those regions "uninspiring." Its shares fell 6.4 percent.

Apple Inc. fell about 1 percent after warning in a regulatory filing that profit margins might narrow next year.


Microsoft fiscal 1Q net income rises 51 percent

REDMOND, Wash. (AP) _ Microsoft Corp. said Thursday that its net income in the latest quarter rose 51 percent, boosted by higher sales of Windows and Office software.

In last year's quarter, Microsoft deferred some revenue from Windows sales. Had it not done so, net income would have been only 16 percent higher this year in comparison.

For the fiscal first quarter, which ended in September, net income rose to $5.4 billion, or 62 cents per share, from $3.6 million, or 40 cents per share, in the same period last year.

Revenue increased 25 percent to $16.2 billion, from $12.9 billion a year ago.

Microsoft beat Wall Street's expectations on both counts.


3M calls growth in US and Europe 'uninspiring'

NEW YORK (AP) _ 3M Co. said Thursday that growth in the U.S. and Western Europe is "uninspiring," and it continues to shift more of its business to faster moving emerging markets.

3M also said it doesn't see signs of a broad double-dip recession.

"More than a year ago we forecast economic growth would slow in 2010 in some of our markets," CEO George Buckley said in a conference call. "Some folks disagreed with us, thinking that perhaps we were being too conservative. But I think things have played out largely the way we anticipated and the trend is no longer a surprise."


Foreclosure activity up across most US metro areas

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The foreclosure crisis intensified across a majority of large U.S. metropolitan areas this summer, with Chicago and Seattle _ cities outside of the states that have shouldered the worst of the housing downturn _ seeing a sharp increase in foreclosure warnings.

California, Nevada, Florida and Arizona remain the nation's foreclosure hotbeds, accounting for 19 of the top 20 metropolitan areas with the highest foreclosure rates between July and September, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

Those states saw housing values surge during the housing boom years. When the boom ended, values collapsed and foreclosures soared.

But the latest data show that many of the metro areas in those states saw a decline in the number of households receiving foreclosure-related filings, while many cities in other states saw a spike in foreclosure activity.


FCC fines Verizon Wireless $25M for spurious fees

NEW YORK (AP) _ Verizon Wireless has agreed to pay a fine of $25 million and at least $52.8 million in refunds to customers who inadvertently racked up data charges on their phones over the last three years, federal regulators said Thursday.

The Federal Communications Commission said the fine is the largest in its history.

To forestall action by the FCC, Verizon Wireless said earlier this month that it would issue refunds, mostly of $2 to $6, to about 15 million subscribers. It didn't give a total value for the refunds.


New claims made against Toyota in defects case

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Toyota Motor Corp. bought back cars from drivers who reported sudden acceleration defects, but the company didn't tell federal regulators about the problem, according to court documents filed in the sprawling litigation against the automaker.

Plaintiffs' lawyers contend the Japanese company compelled the owners to sign confidentiality agreements that prevented them from speaking publicly about the issues they encountered.

By The Associated Press

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 12.33, or 0.1 percent, to close at 11,113.95. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1.33 point to 1,183.78, while the Nasdaq composite rose 4.11, or 0.2 percent, to 2,507.37.

Benchmark crude for December delivery added 24 cents to settle at $82.18 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Natural gas rose 12.7 cents to settle at $3.890 per 1,000 cubic feet on the Nymex. In other energy trading, heating oil gained 0.52 cent to settle at $2.2435 per gallon. Gasoline picked up 1.19 cents to settle at $2.1139 per gallon.

In London, Brent crude rose 35 cents to $83.58 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.