Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Jun 14, 2011 6:25 PM
Business Highlights

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Retail sales fell for first time in 10 months

Americans bought fewer cars in May, pulling retail sales down for the first time in nearly a year.

Sales among U.S. retailers fell 0.2 percent last month, the Commerce Department said. It was the first decline after 10 straight increases.

Auto sales dropped 2.9 percent, the largest decline since February 2010. But excluding the weak car sales, retail sales rose 0.3 percent.

The slump in retail sales was the latest report signaling that the economy has lost momentum. Consumers are struggling to deal with high gasoline prices and a slowdown in hiring. While the surge in gas prices eased in May, pump prices are still significantly higher than a year ago.

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Wholesale prices rise at slowest pace in 10 months

Wholesale prices rose at the slowest pace in 10 months in May, as food costs fell and gas prices rose by the smallest amount in eight months. The figures suggest U.S. consumers could see some relief from rising prices soon.

The Producer Price Index, which measures price changes before they reach the consumer, increased 0.2 percent in May, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That's down sharply from a 0.8 percent rise in April and a 0.7 percent increase in March.

Over the past 12 months, the index has risen 7.3 percent. That's the largest such increase since the 12-month period that ended in September 2008.

Excluding volatile food and energy, the so-called "core" index also increased 0.2 percent. The gain was driven by higher prices for plastics, clothing and new cars. The core index has risen 2.1 percent in the past year.

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New rules to cut confusion on sunscreen claims

Help is on the way if you're confused by the maze of sun protection numbers and other claims on sunscreens.

Starting next summer, you can start looking for SPF 15 and above bottles and tubes with the label "broad spectrum" and feel confident they're lowering your risk of skin cancer.

Under new rules published Tuesday, sunscreens will have to filter out the most dangerous type of radiation to claim they protect against skin cancer and premature aging. "Broad spectrum" is the new buzzword from the Food and Drug Administration to describe a product that does an acceptable job blocking both ultraviolet B rays and ultraviolet A rays.

If a sunscreen doesn't protect against both, or the sun protection factor is below 15, then it has to carry a warning: "This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging."

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Google invests $280 million to spur home solar

NEW YORK (AP) _ Google is making its largest investment yet in clean energy in an effort to help private homeowners put solar panels on their rooftops.

The $280 million deal with installer SolarCity is the largest of its kind. SolarCity can use the funds to pay for a solar system that it can offer to residents for no money down. In exchange, customers agree to pay a set price for the power produced by the panels.

Google earns a return on its investment by charging SolarCity interest to use its money and reaping the benefits of federal and local renewable energy tax credits.

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Business stockpiles rose for 16th month in April

Businesses added to their stockpiles for a 16th consecutive month in April. But their sales grew at the slowest pace in 10 months, supporting other data that show the economy weakened this spring.

Supply levels grew 0.8 percent in April and sales rose for a 10th straight month, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. But the 0.1 percent sales increase was the smallest since sales fell 0.5 percent in June of last year.

Economists said the decline in sales growth was not a concern because the ratio of inventories to sales remains at historically low levels. It would take only 1.26 months to exhaust current stockpiles at the April sales pace. That compares with a high of 1.48 months hit in early 2009 when sales were plunging during the recession and businesses were caught with unwanted stockpiles.

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Survey: CEOs expect hiring, spending to grow

NEW YORK (AP) _ More than half of the chief executives of large U.S. companies said they expect to spend and hire more over the next six months despite slower economic growth.

The Business Roundtable said Tuesday that 51 percent of CEOs polled expect to increase hiring. Last quarter's level of 52 percent had been the highest since the trade group began surveying its members in 2002.

The survey began in mid-May and ended on June 3, the day the government released a May jobs report, which showed a steep pullback in hiring by employers. The unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent.

The survey drew responses from 135 CEOs.

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Nokia, Apple settle drawn-out patent dispute

HELSINKI, Finland (AP) _ Nokia Corp. on Tuesday notched a valuable win against rival Apple Inc., with the U.S. company agreeing to pay the Finnish handset maker a one-time sum to settle long-standing patent disputes as well as royalties for current licenses.

Espoo-based Nokia said that the deal "will result in settlement of all patent litigation between the companies, including the withdrawal by Nokia and Apple of their respective complaints to the US International Trade Commission."

The companies have been locked in a long-running legal battle over patent claims, with each side accusing the other of infringing on patents that cover features such as swiping gestures on touch screens and the built-in "app store" for downloading updated programs.

Market watchers say Tuesday's settlement is crucial for Nokia, which has been trying to restrict unlawful use of its innovation base as it struggles amid stiff competition in the smart phone sector, including from Apple's iPhone, RIM's Blackberry and Asian manufacturers.

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J.C. Penney names Apple retail executive as new CEO

NEW YORK (AP) _ J.C. Penney Co. is looking to bite into the magic of Apple.

The department store chain has named Ron Johnson, who pioneered Apple Inc.'s retail stores, its next CEO. He will succeed Myron Ullman III in November, the retailer said Tuesday.

During his 11 years at Apple, Johnson led Apple's retail stores and has been credited with developing the popular Genius Bar, where customers can get hands-on technical support for their Mac, iPad or other devices.

Johnson, 52, will report to Ullman, who will become executive chairman. Johnson will also join J.C. Penney's board of directors in August.

Ullman has been CEO and chairman since December 2004.

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Best Buy 1st quarter net income falls

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ A renewed focus at Best Buy on hot-selling gadgets and a larger presence in China pushed the retailer's first-quarter results beyond what Wall Street had expected, vaulting shares as much a 7 percent higher Tuesday.

Yet even as industry analysts lauded the nation's largest specialty electronics store for its ability to keep costs down and maintain its financial outlook, they also see a threat to margins going forward, with consumers increasingly heading online or to discount stores for the best deals.

Mainstays like flat screen televisions and DVDs are no longer selling like they once did, and Best Buy has shifted quickly to capitalize on consumer favorites like smart phones and the iPad2 to draw them back in, either in stores or to the company website.

Yet the company has had to spend more to promote its top products and while revenue climbed, profits are under pressure.

Net income fell 12 percent to $136 million, or 35 cents per share, compared with $155 million, or 36 cents per share, last year. That bested consensus estimates by 2 cents, according to analysts polled by FactSet.

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Avis, Budget brands to unite worldwide in $1 billion deal

DETROIT (AP) _ Car rental company Avis Budget Group Inc. said Tuesday it will take over Avis Europe in a $1 billion deal, raising the possibility that Avis Budget may back away from a bidding war for U.S. rival Dollar Thrifty.

The move reunites Avis Europe, which separated from Avis in the 1980s, combines the Avis and Budget brands worldwide, and creates what the company said is the largest publicly traded rental car business in the world.

Avis Budget has been in a tug-of-war for more than a year with rival Hertz to buy Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Inc., and the European acquisition is an indication that Avis Budget is moving away from the pursuit.

In a statement announcing the deal, Avis Budget said it has made progress with U.S. anti-trust regulators in talks about the Dollar Thrifty acquisition, but the European deal would be the company's priority.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 123.14 points, or 1 percent, to close at 12,076.11.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 16.04, or 1.3 percent, to 1,287.87. The Nasdaq composite index rose 39.03, or 1.5 percent, to 2,678.72.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for July delivery gained $2.07, or 2.1 percent, to settle at $99.37 per barrel, rebounding from Monday's decline on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other Nymex trading for July contracts, heating oil added 2 cents to settle at $3.1258 per gallon, while gasoline futures gained 6.78 cents to settle at $3.0646 per gallon. Natural gas lost 6.5 cents to settle at $4.581 per 1,000 cubic feet.