Business Highlights

AP News
Posted: May 01, 2012 5:32 PM
Business Highlights


Stronger Toyota helps boost US auto sales in April

DETROIT (AP) _ Toyota is back. It's putting a year of earthquake-related shortages behind it and grabbing sales from stumbling General Motors and Ford.

Toyota's sales rose 12 percent in April, and its share of the market returned to levels it hasn't seen since before the March 2011 earthquake in Japan. Its sales outpaced the industry as a whole, which saw growth of 2.3 percent last month, according to Autodata Corp.

Toyota snatched buyers from General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. All saw sales fall in April, according to trade-in data from auto research site Toyota also got a boost from the updated Camry sedan and two new versions of the Prius hybrid.


US factory growth shows economy more resilient

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. manufacturing grew last month at the fastest pace in 10 months, suggesting that the economy is healthier than recent data had indicated.

New orders, production and a measure of hiring all rose. The April survey from the Institute for Supply Management was a hopeful sign ahead of Friday's monthly jobs report and helped the Dow Jones industrial average end the day at its highest level in more than four years.

The trade group of purchasing managers said Tuesday that its index of manufacturing activity reached 54.8 in April, the highest level since June. Readings above 50 indicate expansion.


UK lawmakers: Rupert Murdoch unfit to lead company

LONDON (AP) _ A committee of British lawmakers called Rupert Murdoch unfit to run his global media empire.

The finding reflects just how deeply the phone hacking scandal born of his defunct News of the World has shaken the relationship between the press and politics in the U.K.

The divisive ruling Tuesday against Murdoch, his son James and three of their executives also exposed the waning influence of the media tycoon, and could jeopardize his control of a major British broadcaster.


Chesapeake's McClendon to give up chairman post

NEW YORK (AP) _ Chesapeake Energy founder Aubrey McClendon was stripped of his chairmanship role Tuesday following shareholder complaints that his personal business interests could conflict with those of the company he runs.

McClendon will remain CEO. The company's board said it is searching for an independent chairman.

The board has been feeling the heat from shareholders after reports surfaced that McClendon took out more than $1 billion in loans to pay for his stake in the company's wells. He was allowed to buy those stakes as a part of his compensation program, something that had long raised concerns from shareholders.


Charges, generic Lipitor cut Pfizer 1Q net 19 pct

Generic competition for Pfizer Inc.'s blockbuster cholesterol pill Lipitor is starting to cut into the bottom line of the world's biggest drugmaker.

The best-selling drug in the industry's history saw its U.S. patent expire on Nov. 30, ushering in generic rivals. But brand-name Lipitor hung onto about a third of the market in the first quarter _ far more than normally would be expected _ thanks to Pfizer offering insurer rebates and discounts to patients.

With the first full quarter of generic competition to Lipitor and copycats of two smaller drugs reducing revenue by a combined $1.3 billion, Pfizer said Tuesday that its first-quarter profit fell 19 percent. However, that was mainly due to $2.64 billion in legal, restructuring and other charges.


Avon Products 1Q profit, shares skid

NEW YORK (AP) _ Avon Product's new CEO, on the job for a week, said Tuesday she plans to review every aspect of the beauty seller's business, including its operating model, cost structure and product portfolio.

Sherilyn S. McCoy says she also plans to visit key markets like Brazil and China, as she works on a plan to stabilize results.

Avon's first-quarter results on Tuesday show the former Johnson & Johnson executive has her work cut out for her.

The New York company's net income fell 82 percent, hurt by a restructuring charge and high costs for labor and commodities such as packaging and fuel. Results missed expectations and shares closed down 8 percent.


US construction spending barely increased in March

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. builders barely increased their spending on construction projects in March after two straight months of declines. A pickup in single-family home construction and commercial projects offset a steep drop in state and local government building.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that construction spending ticked up 0.1 percent.

The small March gain left construction spending at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $808.1 billion. That's 6 percent above a 12-year low of $762.6 billion hit last March. Still, the level of spending is roughly half of what economists consider to be healthy.


Fed says retailers paying a lot less in debit fees

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Retailers are paying significantly less every time a customer swipes a debit card under a rule capping the fees that banks are allowed to charge.

The Federal Reserve says in a report Tuesday that the average fee paid by merchants for debit card transactions covered by the rule was 24 cents in the fourth quarter of 2011. That compares with an average of 43 cents before the Fed's rule took effect Oct. 1.

The rule was mandated under the 2010 financial overhaul law.


Owner of Payless, Stride Rite stores being sold

NEW YORK (AP) _ Collective Brands Inc., which owns the shoe store chains Payless and Stride Rite, is being acquired for about $1.32 billion by a group that includes the owner of Hush Puppies.

Collective, which has been looking for a buyer since August, has agreed to an offer from a group including Hush Puppies owner Wolverine Worldwide Inc. and private investment firms Blum Capital Partners and Golden Gate Capital.

The transaction will split Payless and the company's brand development and licensing arm into a separate company.


P.F. Chang's reaches $1.09 billion deal to go private

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) _ P.F. Chang's is being acquired and taken private in a deal valued at $1.09 billion

CEO Rick Federico said Tuesday that the deal with Centerbridge Partners LP will give the company greater flexibility in improving its restaurants. The Scottsdale, Ariz., company, which operates its namesake restaurants, Pei Wei Asian Diners, has been struggling to update its brand amid growing competition. Earlier this month, P.F. Chang's rolled out a new menu to lure more budget-conscious diners.

New York's Centerbridge Partners LP will buy shares of P.F. Chang's China Bistro Inc. for $51.50 each. The cash offer represents a 30 percent premium over the company's Monday closing stock price.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones Industrial average added 65.69 points to 13,279.32, its highest closing mark since Dec. 28, 2007, during the first month of the Great Recession.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 7.91 points to 1,405.82. The Nasdaq composite climbed 4.08 points to 3,050.44.

Benchmark crude rose $1.29 to finish at $106.16 per barrel in New York. Brent crude increased 19 cents to $119.66 per barrel in London.

Natural gas ended up 8.6 cents at $2.371 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In other energy trading, heating oil fell 0.71 cent to end at $3.1771 per gallon and gasoline futures fell 2.75 cents to finish at $3.0971 per gallon.