Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Oct 07, 2014 6:10 PM

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US predicts lower heating bills this winter

NEW YORK (AP) — Heating bills should be lower this winter because the deep freeze that chilled much of the nation last year is unlikely to return.

Last year, persistently low temperatures across the Midwest, South and East forced people to crank up the heat. The high demand jacked up the price of some fuels, especially propane. Heating bills soared.

This year, milder temperatures should reduce homeowners' fuel use, according to the Energy Department's annual prediction of winter heating costs. The price of propane and heating oil should be lower, helping those customers save even more.

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Mobile revolution shakes up Silicon Valley

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Smartphones, tablets and other gadgets aren't just changing the way we live and work. They are shaking up Silicon Valley's balance of power and splitting up businesses. Long-established companies such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and eBay Inc. are scrambling to regain their footing to better compete against mobile-savvy trendsetters like Apple and Google, as well as rising technology stars that have built businesses around "cloud computing."

That term covers a swath of Internet-driven services that shifted technology from the days software users paid a one-time fee to buy and install programs on individual machines where they also stored all their data on hard drives. But with the advent of the "cloud," people can now rent software to use over the Internet. This enables customers to access documents, pictures and other vital information from any kind of Internet-connected device, a convenience that's become a necessity during the past few years as people increasingly rely on smartphones and tablets instead of laptop and desktop computers.

The rise in mobile popularity has taken a big bite out of personal computer sales. That's slammed Silicon Valley pioneer HP, once the world's biggest seller of PCs.

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Wal-Mart cuts health benefits for some part-timers

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to eliminate health insurance coverage for some of its part-time U.S. employees in a move aimed at controlling rising health care costs of the nation's largest private employer.

Wal-Mart told The Associated Press that starting Jan. 1, it will no longer offer health insurance to employees who work less than an average of 30 hours a week. The move affects 30,000 employees, or about 5 percent of Wal-Mart's total part-time workforce, but comes after the company already had scaled back the number of part-time workers who were eligible for health insurance coverage since 2011.

The announcement follows similar decisions by Target, Home Depot and others to completely eliminate health insurance benefits for part-time employees. It also comes a day after Wal-Mart said it is teaming up with an online health insurance agency called DirectHealth.com to help customers shop for health insurance plans.

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EU broadens corporate tax crackdown to Amazon

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is broadening its crackdown on multinationals' tax avoidance schemes, opening Tuesday an investigation into Amazon's practices on suspicion the online retailer is not paying its dues on profits made across the 28-nation bloc.

The probe adds another high-profile name to the list of companies targeted by the EU, which is already investigating Apple Inc., coffee chain Starbucks and the financial arm of carmaker Fiat.

The EU's executive Commission is trying to curb companies' ability to avoid taxes by shifting profits made across the bloc to a subsidiary in one particular country where the company enjoys a very low tax rate.

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As EU discusses jobs, frustration among unemployed

MILAN (AP) — Protesters who tried to scale the walls of the royal palace in Naples where the European Central Bank was meeting last week embodied the frustration of 26 million jobless Europeans.

With the policymakers literally behind fortified walls, symbolically isolated from the stark realities of the economy, the 3,000 demonstrators outside expressed their anger at leaders' inability to create jobs.

European Union leaders will try to show some solidarity when they meet Wednesday in Milan for a one-day summit on how to create jobs.

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Lew calls for more efforts to boost global growth

WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Tuesday that the U.S. economy is strengthening, but he is concerned that other nations are not doing their part to boost global growth.

The United States took decisive steps after the 2008 financial crisis to get its economy growing, he said. In contrast, he described a less determined response by other nations to their own economic problems.

Lew stressed a "need for more action in quite a number of parts of the world," although he didn't single out specific countries.

The IMF on Tuesday trimmed its outlook for global growth, reflecting weaker expansions in Europe, Japan and Latin America. It also warned that the United States, Europe and Japan could face years of sluggish growth unless government took steps to accelerate activity.

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IMF trims forecast for global economic growth

WASHINGTON (AP) — The International Monetary Fund slightly lowered its outlook for global economic growth this year and next, mostly because of weaker expansions in Japan, Latin America and Europe.

The IMF said Tuesday the global economy will grow 3.3 percent this year, one-tenth of a point below what it forecast in July. World growth should then pick up to 3.8 percent in 2015, two-tenths of a point lower than its previous estimate, the IMF said in the latest installment of its World Economic Outlook.

The global lending organization has a more optimistic view of the U.S. economy, which it expects will grow 2.2 percent this year, up from an earlier forecast of 1.7 percent. Its forecast for 3.1 percent growth in the U.S. next year was unchanged.

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Slower growth for US home prices in August

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices increased in August, yet the pace of these gains continues to slow, helping to improve affordability for would-be buyers.

Prices rose 6.4 percent in August compared with a year ago, Real estate data provider CoreLogic said Tuesday. That marks a decline from an annual gain of 6.8 percent in July. Home prices had been rising as much as 12 percent yearly toward the end of last year.

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US job openings rising in August as hiring falls

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers advertised the most job openings in nearly 14 years during August, yet their pace of hiring fell compared to July.

The number of available jobs rose 230,000 to 4.84 million during the month, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Restaurants, hotels and health care providers drove much of the increase, which resulted in the most openings since January 2001.

But total hiring fell 294,000 to 4.64 million, driven by declines in construction and retail. This suggests a potential mismatch between the wages employers are willing to pay and the skills of the workers available to be hired.

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NY state: Wall St. profits $8.7B in 6 months

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The securities industry in New York City tallied $8.7 billion in profits during the first half of 2014, which was 13 percent lower than the same period last year as it continued to deal with the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis, New York's comptroller reported Tuesday.

The analysis shows that despite its profitability over the past five years, the industry continues to downsize in New York, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said. It had 162,400 jobs in August, 15 percent fewer than before the crisis, after shedding another 2,600 jobs the previous year and 10,500 over the previous three years.

The report cites legal costs and other fallout like new regulation to strengthen the financial system and avoid another crisis. The average bonus, which rose to $164,530 last year, is likely to rise again in 2014, including deferred payments, it said.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 272.52 points, or 1.6 percent, to 16,719.39. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 29.72 points, or 1.5 percent, to 1,935.10. The Nasdaq composite fell 69.60 points, or 1.6 percent, to 4,385.20.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.49 to close at $88.85 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, its lowest level since April of 2013. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 68 cents to close at $92.11 on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 4.5 cents to close at $2.368 a gallon. Heating oil fell 1.4 cents to close at $2.607 a gallon. Natural gas rose 5.9 cents to close at $3.957 per 1,000 cubic feet.