Business Highlights

AP News
Posted: Sep 04, 2012 6:10 PM
Business Highlights


Global manufacturing weakness hurts US factories

WASHINGTON (AP) — Manufacturing is weakening around the globe, a trend that is weighing on U.S. growth just as the presidential campaign enters its final stretch.

U.S. factory activity shrank for a third straight month in August, according to a survey by the Institute for Supply Management released Tuesday.

Manufacturing has slumped as American businesses have scaled back demand for machinery, equipment and other investments. It's also contracting in just about every major economy overseas, including the 17 countries that use the euro, plus Britain, China, Japan and Brazil. In China, factory activity fell last month to its lowest level in more than three years.


Pickup trucks drive US auto sales to 3-year high

DETROIT (AP) — After years of sputtering, sales of big pickups kicked into overdrive last month.

Demand for full-size pickups jumped 16 percent, helping make August the strongest month for U.S. auto sales in three years. Overall auto sales increased 20 percent from a year earlier to nearly 1.3 million, according to Autodata corp.

The rising demand shows that businesses need to replace aging trucks and feel more confident about the recovery in U.S. housing — a market where pickups are essential for hauling equipment and crews.


ECB chief is wielding even more sway than Bernanke

WASHINGTON (AP) — Move over, Ben Bernanke. This is Mario Draghi's moment.

The European Central Bank president is overtaking the Federal Reserve chairman — at least for now — as the central banker with the most influence on the global economy and markets. Faced with a growing recession and a possible breakup of the 17-country euro alliance, Draghi has bigger problems than Bernanke, who's overseeing an economy in recovery.

As head of the ECB, which meets Thursday, Draghi also has more ammunition left than Bernanke does.

The Fed chief still wields considerable power to drive financial markets. That was clear last week, when stocks jumped after Bernanke signaled in a speech in Jackson Hole, Wyo., that the Fed will do more to help the still-weak U.S. economy.

Yet the focus of the global financial world has shifted to Draghi. Some economists expect the ECB to cut its benchmark interest rate Thursday. Many also hope Draghi spells out plans by the ECB to start buying bonds of troubled European governments to ease their borrowing costs and shore up the euro alliance.


Gadget makers jockey for edge in holiday lineups

NEW YORK (AP) — Think of it as the opening act at a concert: Nokia, Motorola and Amazon are expected to unveil new mobile devices this week before attention turns to a new iPhone and possibly a smaller iPad from Apple.

Makers of consumer electronics are refreshing their products for the holiday shopping season. Apple's rivals are hoping that a head start on the buzz will translate into stronger sales. Nokia and Microsoft, in particular, are trying to generate interest in a new Windows operating system out next month.

Apple dominates the market for tablet computers. Seven out of every 10 tablets shipped in the second quarter were iPads, according to research firm IHS iSuppli. Rivals have been trying to compete with smaller, cheaper models — such as the Kindle Fire, which Amazon is expected to update on Thursday. Now, there's speculation that Apple will be coming out with a smaller iPad as well.


Wal-Mart lowers fee for holiday layaway program

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is lowering its fee that shoppers pay for its interest-free pay-over-time program for the winter holidays.

The fee to open up a layaway account will now be $5 instead of $15, the world's largest retailer said Tuesday.

The announcement comes a day after Toys R US announced it was waiving the upfront service fee for layaway orders created in store from Sept. 4 through Oct. 31. After Oct 31, a $5 service fee will apply. Also, there will be no minimum purchase price. Customers have until Dec. 16 to pick up their orders.


Virus origin in Gulf computer attacks in question

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Security technicians are beginning to suspect that highly targeted virus attacks were behind the recent crippling of computer systems at two major Gulf energy companies, even as questions swirl about the source of the strikes.

The computer disruptions at state oil giant Saudi Aramco and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas do not appear to have affected oil and gas production. Yet they highlight another risk to the security of energy supplies in the Persian Gulf region.

Neither company has said how much data may have been lost, but the scope of the attacks appears extensive. Aramco blocked all its electronic systems from outside access for several days to deal with the problem, which it says affected about 30,000 workstations last month. RasGas technicians were still working to fix that company's systems more than a week after being hit.


US construction spending fell 0.9 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. construction spending fell in July from June by the largest amount in a year, weighed down by a big drop in home improvement projects.

But spending on construction of single-family homes and apartments increased again, a hopeful sign for the modest housing recovery.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that overall construction spending declined 0.9 percent in July. It followed three months of gains, which were driven by increases in home and apartment construction.


US home prices rise in July by most in 6 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices jumped 3.8 percent in the 12 months ending in July, according to a private real estate data provider. The year-over-year increase was the biggest in six years, further evidence that the housing market is steadily recovering.

CoreLogic said Tuesday that home prices also rose 1.3 percent in July from June. That's the fifth straight increase in both the monthly and year-over-year price indexes.

The index is the third national measure to show steady increases. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller index posted its first annual increase in nearly two years last week. And a federal government housing agency has also reported annual increases.


Campbell Soup profit rises amid turnaround push

NEW YORK (AP) — Campbell Soup is preparing to flood supermarket shelves with dozens of new products in the year ahead, but the push to revive its mainstay soup business isn't expected to pay off anytime soon.

The Camden, N.J.-based company, which also makes Pepperidge Farm cookies and V8 juices, said Tuesday that it expects the vast majority of its sales growth in fiscal 2013 to come from its recent acquisition of Bolthouse Farms, which is intended to position the company in the faster-growing premium juice market.

As for the new soups and sauces that have started shipping to retailers in time for the prime soup-selling season, CEO Denise Morrison said the company should have a better read on how they'll fare after the fiscal first quarter.


Amazon gets Epix video rights to challenge Netflix

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) —'s Internet video library is gaining more box-office appeal under a licensing deal with Epix that threatens to undercut Netflix leadership in a growing market that's transforming the entertainment industry.

The multiyear agreement announced Tuesday eliminates one of the competitive advantages that Netflix's video subscription service held over a rival offering that Amazon provides to customers who pay $79 annually for unlimited free shipping of merchandise bought in its Web store.

Netflix Inc. had been paying about $200 million annually during the past two years for the exclusive online rights to show movies from Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate 90 days after they appeared on Epix's pay-TV channel. The exclusive window closed on Netflix at the end of August, requiring the company to either renegotiate the terms with Epix or allow the rights to be sold to other Internet video services.

After Netflix decided that holding the exclusive rights to Epix was no longer worth the cost, pounced on the opportunity to expand its Internet video service.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 54.90 points at 13,035.94 on Tuesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 1.64 points to 1,404.94. The Nasdaq index bucked the losing trend, gaining 8.09 points at 3,075.06.

U.S. benchmark crude fell $1.17 to close at $95.30 in New York. Brent crude, which is used by many U.S. refineries to make gasoline, fell $1.60 to $114.18 in London.

Natural gas rose 5.5 cents to close at $2.85 per thousand cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to close at $2.95 per gallon. Heating oil fell 3 cents to close at $3.15 per gallon.