Business Highlights

AP News
Posted: Oct 05, 2011 5:54 PM
Business Highlights


Lawmaker questions distributors on drug shortages

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ A Congressman investigating shortages of hospital drugs is demanding that secondary drug distributors reveal how they are getting scarce, life-saving medicines and explain the huge markups they charge.

Letters from a House committee cite an Associated Press report that the shortages are responsible for at least 15 patient deaths and that secondary distributors are selling drugs for chemotherapy, anesthesia and infections at hugely inflated prices. In extreme cases, they are asking 80 times the normal price.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has given five companies that hospitals say have been offering them hard-to-find drugs at dramatic markups two weeks to answer his questions. The questions cover where the distributors are buying these drugs, what their profits are and how much their executives are being paid.


Service sector layoffs suggest weaker job market

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two days before the government's much-anticipated jobs report, a snapshot of employment trends in the service sector flashed an ominous sign.

Hotels, restaurants, banks and other service companies, which employ 90 percent of Americans, reduced the size of their work forces in September, according to a survey of purchasing managers conducted by the Institute of Supply Management.

The Labor Department's monthly jobs report will be released Friday. The last time it showed a net loss of jobs was in September 2010 _ one month after the ISM's monthly survey signaled the same trend.


Costco fourth-quarter profit climbs; will hike membership fees

ISSAQUAH, Wash. (AP) _ Costco Wholesale Corp.'s fiscal fourth-quarter net income climbed 11 percent as the wholesale club operator made more money on membership fees and saw its sales rise.

The Issaquah, Wash., company also said Wednesday that it will raise annual membership fees starting next month.

Costco's net income rose to $478 million, or $1.08 per share, for the period ended Aug. 28. That's up from $432 million, or 97 cents per share, a year earlier.

Analysts polled by FactSet predicted earnings of $1.10 per share.


Monsanto reports fourth-quarter loss, will restate earnings

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Monsanto Co. reported a fiscal fourth-quarter loss that beat Wall Street expectations on Wednesday and said that it must restate the last two years' earnings because of a federal investigation into its herbicide sales.

Investors focused on Monsanto's stronger corn seed sales, which rose 58 percent from last year, and on its pledge Wednesday to deliver earnings growth in the mid-teens.

The world's biggest seed company said that a probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission prompted it to restate earnings due to incentives it paid dealers of its Roundup Herbicide. The investigation is ongoing, and Monsanto is making the changes voluntarily.

The earnings restatement news came as Monsanto said sales of its corn and soybean seeds have been strong. Farmers are willing to pony up more money for Monsanto's newer, more expensive lines of genetically altered seeds that contain several patented traits that kill pests and boost yields.


Marriott posts third-quarter loss on charges

BETHESDA, Md. (AP) _ Marriott International Inc. posted a loss for its third-quarter as the hotel operator was dragged down by special charges.

The company, based in Bethesda, Md., posted a loss of $179 million, or 52 cents for the quarter that ended Sept. 9. That is down from net income of $83 million, or 23 cents per share, in the same quarter last year.

After adjusting for special items, the company's net income rose 25 percent to $104 million, or 29 cents per share, meeting analyst expectations.

Marriott's total revenue rose 9 percent to $2.87 billion, beating the $2.81 billion that analysts polled by FactSet expected.

The operator of the Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and other hotels said Wednesday that it expects to $1.48 to $1.68 per share in 2012. Analysts expect $1.68 per share.


Friendly's files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

NEW YORK (AP) _ The parent of the Friendly's restaurant chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Wednesday and said that it has already closed 63 of its stores. Each store employed about 20 people, so about 1,260 jobs were lost.

The 76-year-old company known for its ice cream and hamburgers is the latest restaurant chain to file for bankruptcy, as consumers continue to eat out less _ a trend that began during the recession _ and food costs remain high.

Other companies that have sought bankruptcy protection this year include Perkins & Marie Callender's; Real Mex, which operates El Torito Restaurant and Chevys Fresh Mex, and SSI Group Holding Corp., which operates Souper Salad and Grandy's restaurant.

Friendly's said the economic downturn coupled with higher costs and high rents drove it to file for bankruptcy protection.


Bank of America website woes enter 6th day

NEW YORK (AP) _ Bank of America customers have had trouble signing into their accounts for six days. The bank still offered no reason Wednesday for the site's slowness.

A message on its home page said most of the website was working normally, but customers may experience "occasional delays."

A spokeswoman for Bank of America Corp., Tara Burke, says the company doesn't disclose the causes for website problems and noted that online banking was now available. She declined to say how many customers may still be experiencing slowness signing in.

Bank of America Corp., based in Charlotte, N.C., is the largest U.S. bank by deposits and has 29 million online customers.

The website delays mean customers who normally bank online may have had to head to a branch or ATM to access their accounts in recent days.


UBS co-heads of equities department resign

GENEVA (AP) _ The co-heads of UBS's global equities department resigned on Wednesday, the latest high-profile departures following the trading scandal that cost the Swiss bank $2.3 billion.

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Carsten Kengeter, chief executive of UBS Investment Bank, accepted the resignations of Francois Gouws and Yassine Bouhara, the bank said in a statement.

Kweku Adoboli, the 31-year-old trader who was arrested in London on Sept. 15 on charges of fraud linked with the unauthorized trades, worked within that department. It will now by headed by Mike Stewart, who joined UBS from Bank of America Merrill Lynch in July.


Ford, GM may qualify for higher credit ratings

NEW YORK (AP) _ Credit rating agencies are looking to upgrade the credit worthiness of both General Motors and Ford, citing the stability and cost savings they expect the automakers' new labor contracts to bring.

Moody's Investors Service said Wednesday that it's reviewing its ratings for Ford Motor Co., after the Dearborn, Mich., automaker reached a deal with the United Auto Workers for a new four-year contract.

The automaker's ratings under review include "Ba2" for corporate family and probability of default, and "Ba3" for senior unsecured debt, both of which are so-called junk status. They also include "Baa3" for secured bank debt, the lowest level of investment grade.

Investment grade debt ratings allow companies to borrow money at lower interest rates.


Hola, Hulu! Univision telenovelas come online

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Univision, the nation's No. 1 Spanish-language broadcaster, is bringing its popular telenovelas and other prime-time TV programming to online video service Hulu.

The deal announced Wednesday gives Hulu a way to sell advertising to a growing Hispanic population and entice it to pay for subscriptions that unlock more content. Univision gets a chance to make the kind of money from reruns that English-language programs have long enjoyed.

Hulu's paying subscribers will get the majority of Univision's prime-time offerings the day after airing on regular TV. Hulu says more than 1 million people pay $8 a month for Hulu Plus, which lets them watch shows on devices other than a computer and access a deeper library than the free version.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 131.21 points, or 1.2 percent, to close at 10,939.95. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 20.09, or 1.8 percent, to 1,144.04. The Nasdaq composite jumped 55.69, or 2.3 percent, to 2,460.51.

Benchmark crude rose $4.01, or 5.3 percent, to finish at $79.68 per barrel in New York, while Brent crude rose $2.94, or 3 percent to end at $102.73 in London.

In other energy commodities trading, heating oil rose 5.32 cents to finish at $2.7766 per gallon and gasoline futures rose 8.08 cents to end at $2.5692 per gallon. Natural gas lost 6.8 cents to finish the day at $3.5700 per 1,000 cubic feet.