Business Highlights

AP News
Posted: Mar 04, 2011 5:55 PM
Business Highlights


Unemployment dips to 8.9 pct., 192K jobs added

Employers hired in February at the fastest pace in almost a year, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent _ nearly a two-year low.

The economy added 192,000 jobs. Factories, professional and business services, education and health care were among the sectors that hired. Retailers, though, trimmed jobs. State and local governments, squeezed by budget gaps, slashed 30,000 jobs, the most since November. Federal government hiring was flat.

Private employers added 222,000 jobs last month, the most since April. That shows companies are feeling more confident about the economy and their own prospects. The job gains bolstered hopes that businesses will hire aggressively through the rest of the year and strengthen the economic recovery.

The unemployment rate is now at its lowest point since April 2009. It's been falling for three months, down from 9.8 percent in November, marking the sharpest three-month drop since 1983.


Factory orders up in January, helped by airplanes

Businesses ordered more manufactured goods from U.S. factories in January, but excluding a big surge in demand for airplanes, the rise in demand was the smallest in three months.

Excluding the volatile transportation category, orders rose 0.7 percent in January, the weakest showing since October, the Commerce Department reported Friday. And a key category that serves as a proxy for business investment plans fell by the largest amount in two years.

Helped by the surge in demand for commercial aircraft, total business orders rose 3.1 percent in January, the biggest gain in more than four years. That pushed total orders up to $445.6 billion, a level that economists view as healthy and 26.3 percent above the recession low hit in March 2009.


Oil settles at highest level since Sept. 2008

NEW YORK (AP) _ Oil prices rose past $104 a barrel to end the week at a 29-month high, as fighting in Libya intensified and the world's largest petroleum consumer, the U.S., reported that employers added nearly 200,000 new jobs in February.

The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate dropped to 8.9 percent in February. While that's positive news for the economy, the report also suggests that more people are driving to work at a time when world oil supplies are under pressure because of unrest in Libya and the Middle East.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for April delivery gained $2.51 to settle at $104.42 per barrel in New York, the highest level since Sept. 26, 2008.

Gasoline prices have shot up an average of 35 cents per gallon since an uprising in Libya began in mid-February. A gallon of regular gained another 4.4 cents to a new national average of $3.471 per gallon on Friday, according to AAA, Wright Express and the Oil Price Information Service.

Pump prices are soaring much faster than analysts expected as rebellions sweep across North Africa and the Middle East. Prices should peak between $3.50 and $3.75 per gallon this spring, according to Tom Kloza, OPIS chief oil analyst.


US food, farm exports could have record year

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Federal officials are expecting a record year for U.S. agriculture exports.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says farm and food products are expected to reach a record $135.5 billion in fiscal year 2011, which ends in September.

Vilsack told The Associated Press that U.S. agriculture may have its best export year ever. Compared to fiscal 2010, export value is expected to grow 25 percent.

Vilsack spoke Friday in Tampa, Fla., at the Commodity Classic, a large convention and trade show for the U.S. corn, soybean, wheat, and sorghum industries that draws some 4,500 farmers from around the nation.


S&P cuts long-term rating on Toyota to AA-

TOKYO (AP) _ Standard & Poor's cut Toyota's credit rating on Friday to AA- because profitability at Japan's top automaker is not recovering as quickly as at its rivals.

Toyota Motor Corp. has been plagued by defects in a range of models and has recalled more than 14 million vehicles globally since late 2009. Continuing recalls are making Toyota's road to complete recovery a challenge.

In announcing its decision, S&P said it reflected the view that Toyota's profitability in the next one to two years is unlikely to recover to the level appropriate for its earlier AA rating.

S&P also cited the tough business environment, including higher prices for raw materials and gasoline.

The decision lowers Toyota's long-term corporate credit rating one notch to the fourth-highest rank of AA-.


Prosecutor: Galleon founder got tips about Goldman

NEW YORK (AP) _ At the trial of a one-time billionaire hedge fund founder next week, the government plans to show that a former Goldman Sachs board member conspired with him, feeding him inside tips within minutes of learning about them during the 2008 economic crisis, including word that Goldman would lose money for the first time, a prosecutor said Friday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Streeter told a federal judge in Manhattan that then-Goldman board member Rajat Gupta called Galleon fund founder Raj Rajaratnam twice to give him tips. Rajaratnam then traded hundreds of thousands of shares of Goldman Sachs stock.

Gupta has not been charged criminally in what prosecutors have called the largest hedge fund insider trading case in history. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges against him this week, accusing him of tipping Rajaratnam seven minutes before the stock markets closed on Sept. 23, 2008, that the Goldman Sachs board had approved an offer from Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway to invest $5 billion in the banking giant.


UBS CEO to forgo bonus due to share price drop

GENEVA (AP) _ The chief executive of Swiss bank UBS will forgo his bonus for the second year in a row because the share price did not increase during 2010, the company said Friday.

Oswald Gruebel, who helped UBS return to a profit last year for the first time since the start of the financial crisis, will not draw on bonus payments he was entitled to for 2010. His base annual salary is the same as when he joined the company in February 2009, at 3 million Swiss francs ($3.22 million), UBS said.


FDA warns of birth defects with Topamax

The Food and Drug Administration is warning women of child-bearing age that the epilepsy drug Topamax can increase the risk of birth defects around the mouth.

Regulators said Friday that data collected from a registry of pregnant women showed a higher rate of cleft lip and cleft palate in babies whose mothers were taking the drug during the first trimester. Infants who were exposed to the drug had a 1.4 percent rate of mouth defects, which was more than three times greater than that seen with other seizure medications. The frequency of the defects in mothers not taking any epilepsy medication is .07 percent.


Pork board swaps `White Meat' for `Be Inspired'

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ "The Other White Meat" has another slogan.

The National Pork Board on Friday replaced the decades-old ad campaign with a new message: "Pork: Be Inspired."

Board officials said after nearly 25 years, it was time to move on from the old message that compared pork to chicken and instead try to increase sales by focusing on the estimated 82 million Americans who already eat pork.

Pork sales totaled about $117 per person in 2010. Pork consumption averages about 50 pounds per person per year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Snyder said research done by the Pork Board shows 28 percent of U.S. households make up nearly 70 percent of the nation's at-home consumption of fresh pork. The new campaign is aimed at getting existing pork consumers to think more about how they can incorporate it into their meal planning.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 88.32 points, or 0.7 percent, to 12,169.88. The Dow had been down as much as 178 points earlier.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 9.82, or 0.7 percent, to 1,321.15. The Nasdaq composite index fell 14.07, or 0.5 percent, to 2,784.67.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for April delivery gained $2.51 to settle at $104.42 per barrel in New York.

In other Nymex trading for April contracts, heating oil added 4 cents to settle at $3.0893 per gallon and gasoline futures gained 2.02 cents to settle at $3.0464 per gallon. Natural gas picked up 3.1 cents to settle at $3.809 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude rose $1.18 to settle at $115.97 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.