Business Highlights

AP News
Posted: Apr 13, 2012 5:26 PM
Business Highlights


Hybrid and electric cars see record sales in March

DETROIT (AP) _ Americans are buying record numbers of hybrid and electric cars as gas prices climb and new models arrive in showrooms, giving the vehicles their greatest share yet of the U.S. auto market.

Consumers bought a record 52,000 gas-electric hybrids and all-electric cars in March, up from 34,000 during the same month last year.

The two categories combined made up 3.64 percent of total U.S. sales, their highest monthly market share ever, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. The previous high was 3.56 percent in July 2009, when the Cash for Clunkers program encouraged people to trade in old gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient cars.

And while their share of the market remains small, it's a big leap from the start of the year, when hybrids and electrics made up 2.38 percent of new car sales.


Bank reports point to a healing housing market

NEW YORK (AP) _ Earnings reports from two major banks Friday painted a picture of a healing housing market, with more Americans taking out mortgages, paying them on time and taking advantage of low interest rates to refinance.

At JPMorgan Chase, the biggest bank in the United States, income from new home loans set a record from January through March. The bank issued 6 percent more mortgages than a year ago and got 33 percent more applications.

Wells Fargo, which issues the most home loans, booked the most mortgage fees since 2009. It issued 54 percent more mortgages than a year ago and took 84 percent more applications.


JPMorgan Chase earns $5.4 billion in 1Q, beats Street

NEW YORK (AP) _ JPMorgan Chase, which holds the most assets of any bank in the country, said Friday that it issued more mortgage loans in the first three months of the year and turned a bigger profit than Wall Street expected.

The bank said it earned $5.4 billion for the first quarter, or $1.31 per share. Analysts expected $1.16 per share. Revenue and profit declined at most of JPMorgan's businesses, including investment banking.

As the nation's largest bank, JPMorgan is a barometer of the economy and the financial industry. It is also the first major bank to report its results for the quarter.


Wells Fargo beats earnings expectations

NEW YORK (AP) _ Wells Fargo's profit jumped 13 percent in the first three months of the year, thanks to strong mortgage lending and a drop in delinquent loans, the bank said Friday.

Net income available to common shareholders climbed to $4.02 billion from $3.57 billion a year ago. On a per-share basis, earnings were 75 cents, beating the 73 cents expected by analysts polled by FactSet. The bank also beat on revenue, bringing in $21.6 billion instead of the predicted $20.4 billion.

The San Francisco-based bank, the country's fourth-largest, has fared better than many of its peers throughout the global economic meltdown, muscling its way to become both the biggest mortgage lender and servicer as rival Bank of America dramatically scaled back its own mortgage business. Nearly a third of mortgages made in the U.S. now come from Wells, according to Guy Cecala of Inside Mortgage Finance.


US inflation mild as gas prices rise more slowly

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Rising gas prices slowed in March, keeping overall U.S. inflation mild.

The consumer price index rose 0.3 percent in March, the Labor Department said Friday, compared with February's 0.4 percent rise.

Excluding food and gas, so-called "core" prices increased 0.2 percent in March.

Inflation has eased since last fall and is expected to stay tame. In the 12 months that ended in March, prices rose 2.7 percent. That's below last year's peak year-over-year rate of 3.9 percent.

Core prices have risen 2.3 percent in the past 12 months, close to the Federal Reserve's inflation target of 2 percent.


China's economic growth falls to near 3-year low

BEIJING (AP) _ China's declining economic growth fell to its lowest level in nearly three years in the first quarter, but analysts said it should rebound in coming months.

The world's second-biggest economy grew by a still-robust 8.1 percent in the three months ending in March, down from the previous quarter's 8.9 percent, data showed Friday. It was the weakest expansion since the second quarter of 2009 but above the government's 7.5 percent target for the year.

China's rapid growth has fallen steadily since 2010 as a slump in global demand battered its exporters and Beijing tightened lending and investment curbs to cool an overheated economy and surging inflation.


Bernanke defends Fed response to financial crisis

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Chairman Ben Bernanke said Friday that the Federal Reserve was left with few good options when it stepped in to shore up the largest U.S. financial institutions during the 2008 crisis.

Bernanke defended the central bank's actions to support insurance giant American International Group and help with the sale of investment bank Bear Stearns, during a speech to a New York conference examining the crisis.

While there were risks associated with that support, Bernanke said that the billions of dollars in loans the Fed provided were backed by adequate collateral and taxpayers did not lose money. And he noted that the Fed and other U.S. regulators are better positioned to deal with a crisis because Congress passed an overhaul of financial regulations in 2010.


Goldman Sachs CEO Blankfein paid $16.1 million

NEW YORK (AP) _ Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein received total compensation of $16.1 million in 2011, a 14 percent increase from the year before.

In a regulatory filing posted Friday morning, the New York investment bank detailed Blankfein's compensation for last year. Goldman paid its chairman and CEO a salary of $2 million, a bonus of $3 million and stock awards worth $10.7 million.

Blankfein's total pay included $9,800 in matching payments to his retirement plan, $51,467 for a car and driver and $258,701 for security services. The amount Goldman paid for his security more than doubled from the year before.


Gulf sheen smaller; source may be natural seepage

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A federal agency says natural seepage of oil and gas from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico may be the source of an oil sheen off the Louisiana coast.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said Friday that the sheen is near an area where seepage is known to occur. The bureau said an investigation by Royal Dutch Shell, which has operations in the area, indicates oil and gas are being released from the seep area.

The sheen was initially measured as about 10 miles long and a mile wide when it was spotted Wednesday.

The Coast Guard said that by Thursday night it was about five miles long and 100 yards wide and is breaking up, about 130 miles southeast of New Orleans.


Procter & Gamble raises dividend by 7 percent

NEW YORK (AP) _ Consumer products maker Procter & Gamble Co. is raising its quarterly dividend by 7 percent to 56.2 cents.

The Cincinnati company had been paying a quarterly dividend of 52.5 cents. It pays dividends on common shares and certain preferred shares. Its next dividend is payable May 15 to shareholders of record as of April 27.

Procter & Gamble makes Tide laundry detergent, Crest toothpaste, Pampers diapers, and other products.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 136.99 points to close at 12,849.59, a loss of 1.1 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 17.31 points, or 1.3 percent, to 1,370.26. The Nasdaq composite fell 44.22 points, 1.5 percent, to 3,011.33.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell by 81 cents to end at $102.83 per barrel on Friday in New York. Brent crude lost 31 cents to end at $121.21 per barrel in London.

In other energy trading, natural gas stayed near 10-year lows, nearly unchanged, to finish at $1.981 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil was up less than a cent to finish at $3.1746 per gallon and gasoline futures lost 1.06 cents to end at $3.3461 per gallon.