Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Aug 19, 2011 6:18 PM
Business Highlights

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Stocks fall as traders worry over weekend

NEW YORK _ A growing belief that the country is headed toward recession gave the stock market its fourth straight week of losses.

The anxiety in the market was obvious Friday as the major indexes went from modest gains early in the day to another sharp loss. The Dow Jones industrial average had its 10th move of more than 100 points this month.

Investors began the week on a more confident note after last week's volatility, the worst the market had seen since the 2008 financial crisis. But on Thursday, a stream of bad economic news in the U.S. combined with worries about Europe's debt problems and sent the Dow down 419 points. On Friday, there was little news to help investors determine their next moves. And some traders did not want to take the chance of holding stocks if bad news came out of Europe over the weekend. So they began selling during the afternoon.

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Texting, grand theft auto style; alarms pose risk

SAN FRANCISCO _ Texting and driving don't go well together, though not in the way you might think.

Computer hackers can force some cars to unlock their doors and start without a key by sending specially crafted messages to the cars' anti-theft systems. Hackers also can snoop at where you've been by tapping your car's GPS system.

That is possible because car alarms, GPS systems and other devices are increasingly connected to cellular telephone networks and thus can receive commands through text messaging. That capability allows owners to change settings on devices remotely, but it also gives hackers a way in.

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BofA layoffs are the latest as an industry shrinks

NEW YORK _ Bank of America Corp. is cutting 3,500 jobs, the latest sign that the banking industry is becoming smaller, simpler and less profitable.

It's quite a transformation from the go-go days of five or six years ago. Then, big banks were reaping outsized profits from large bets on risky trading and complicated investments that eventually backfired, fueling the financial crisis that scorched them and the global economy in 2008.

The cuts confirmed Friday by Bank of America follow layoffs announced this summer at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Bank of New York Mellon Corp., State Street Corp. and other financial institutions.

And though banks also laid off thousands of workers in 2008 and 2009, analysts say it's different this time: Many of the banks are posting profits right now, so their layoffs indicate permanent structural changes rather than temporary cuts in response to a weak economy.

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Higher prices: The big trend for back-to-school

NEW YORK _ Stores are trying everything they can think of to disguise the fact that you're going to pay more for clothes this fall.

Some are using less fabric and calling it the new look. Others are adding cheap stitching and trumpeting it as a redesign. And the buttons on that blouse? Chances are you're not going to think it's worth paying several dollars more for the shirt just to have them.

Retailers are raising prices on merchandise an average of 10 percent across the board this fall in an effort to offset their rising costs for materials and labor. But merchants are worried that cash-strapped customers will balk at price hikes. So retailers are trying to raise prices without tipping off unsuspecting customers.

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Gold hits a new high as Wall Street swings wildly

NEW YORK _ Investors flocked to gold Friday, sending it to the latest of a series of records, as fears about recession in the world's major economies infected financial markets.

The metal soared as high as $1,881.40 an ounce. It's been on a tear this summer, rising more than 15 percent in August alone. In the same three weeks, the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index has fallen about 12 percent.

Gold logged its biggest weekly gain since February 2009, according to FactSet data.

As an investment, the metal has climbed because of investors' concern about the uncertain state of the global economy, diving stock markets and moves by central banks around the world to weaken their currencies.

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Unemployment in July rose in 28 states, fell in 9

WASHINGTON _ Unemployment rates rose in July in more than half the states for the second straight month, evidence that job growth remains weak nationwide.

The Labor Department said Friday that unemployment increased in 28 states, fell in nine and remained unchanged in 13. Those are nearly the same figures as in June, when unemployment rose in 28 states, fell in eight and was unchanged in 14.

Nationwide, hiring picked up slightly in July. The economy added 117,000 jobs, the government reported earlier this month. That was roughly double the net jobs created in each of the previous two months. And the unemployment rate dipped to 9.1 percent in July from 9.2 percent in June.

Still, hiring has slowed sharply this year _ from an average of 215,000 net jobs a month from February through April to an average of 72,000 in May through July.

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Hewlett-Packard overhaul exposes underdog status

SAN FRANCISCO _ Hewlett-Packard, one of the world's largest technology companies, finds itself the underdog as it ditches most of its consumer businesses to become more like the well-oiled, corporate-focused machines of rivals IBM and Oracle.

HP will no longer make smartphones and tablet computers and wants to leave the PC business after spending a decade assembling itself into a technology conglomerate by buying such companies as PC maker Compaq Computer for $19 billion in 2002 and smartphone pioneer Palm for $1.8 billion last year.

HP's stock plunged 20 percent on Friday, a day after the restructuring announcement. That's a strong signal that investors are doubtful about HP's ability to thrive without businesses that have helped set it apart from rivals. Even though the PC division that HP wants to sell or spin off is the company's least profitable, it accounts for nearly a third of revenue.

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Icahn seeks seat on Clorox board

NEW YORK _ Billionaire investor Carl Icahn will seek to install himself and 10 other directors on Clorox' board after the consumer products maker twice rejected his offer to buy the company.

In a filing with the SEC on Friday Icahn said he will nominate himself and 10 other directors to Clorox' 11-member board.

Icahn, Clorox's biggest shareholder, has offered twice since mid-July to buy the company, first at $76.50 per share and then at $80 per share, or about $10.7 billion. The company has rejected both offers, and Clorox CEO Don Knauss said earlier this month that Icahn's bids were not credible and undervalued the company.

Icahn has criticized the company's performance and suggested that it accept his bid, shop for competitive offers or take his higher bid to shareholders for a decision.

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Burger King retires mascot "The King"

Burger King Corp. on Friday said it is retiring "The King" mascot, a man with a regular physique who wears an oversized plastic head and in recent years has been shown in ads with a creepy grin peeping into people's windows and popping up next to them in bed.

The move is an effort by the struggling fast food chain to boost slumping sales by focusing its marketing on the freshness of its food rather than the funny-factor of its ads. It's rolling out a new campaign this weekend sans The King to tout new products like its California Whopper, which has guacamole.

The new focus is a departure for Burger King, which long has targeted its ads to young male teens who like to chomp its chargrilled burgers and gulp its milkshakes. At a time when the food industry is being criticized for contributing to America's expanding waistline, the move to dethrone The King character largely is seen as a push by the company to appeal to a broader customer base: Mothers and other healthier eaters.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones Industrial average lost 172.93, or 1.6 percent, and closed at 10,817.65. It was down 4 percent for the week. Since July 21, right before the market began its plunge, the Dow is down 15 percent.

The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index fell 17.12, or 1.5 percent, to 1,123.53. It was down 4.7 percent for the week. The Nasdaq composite fell 38.59, or 1.6 percent, to 2,341.84. It was down 6.6 percent for the week.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for September delivery fell 12 cents to finish at $82.26 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after earlier rising as high as $83.55 per barrel.

In other Nymex trading for September contracts, heating oil rose 2.97 cents to finish at $2.9045 per gallon and gasoline futures added 5.08 cents to end at $2.8412 per gallon. Natural gas rose 4.8 cents to finish at $3.940 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude rose $1.63 to end the day at $108.62 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.