Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Jan 11, 2016 6:17 PM

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With SUV look, tech touches, Chrysler aims to revive minivan

DETROIT (AP) — Thirty-three years ago, Chrysler invented the minivan. Now, it's reinventing it — with styling reminiscent of an SUV, high-tech features and a first-ever hybrid version that Chrysler hopes will make minivans popular again.

The 2017 Chrysler Pacifica was unveiled Monday morning at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

It's the latest incarnation of the family hauler that took the suburbs by storm. Lee Iacocca, Chrysler Corp.'s former chairman, drove the company's first minivan off the assembly line in 1983. Baby Boomers loved its sliding doors and roomy interior, and the minivan quickly replaced station wagons as the vehicle of choice for shuttling around kids. By the early 1990s, Chrysler was selling more than 500,000 per year. U.S. minivan sales peaked at 1.37 million in 2000.

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US stocks end mostly higher, but energy sector hit by slump in oil

The U.S. stock market mounted a last-minute comeback to close slightly higher on Monday, snapping a three-day losing streak.

Consumer staples stocks were among the biggest gainers. Oil and gas companies were hit by another plunge the price of crude oil, which tumbled 5.3 percent to a 12-year low.

The latest downturn in oil comes at a time when investors are increasingly uneasy about the trajectory of China's economy and the possible implications for U.S. company earnings. China's Shanghai composite fell 5.3 percent on Monday.

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If you think drones are a passing fad, better think again

LAS VEGAS (AP) — If you're used to thinking of drones as a passing fad, last week's CES gadget show should give you second thoughts.

Tiny, self-piloted copters promise to buzzily follow you around like something out of a Neal Stephenson cyberpunk novel. New drones that could find lost wilderness adventurers or help them see out above treetops; others purport to carry a human passenger at the touch of a button.

None of this, of course, will be happening overnight. Limited battery life means that many commercial models can't fly for more than about 20 minutes at best. Manufacturers haven't yet figured out the best way to keep many tiny drones where they ought to be, given that GPS positioning sucks too much power for their minuscule batteries. Obstacle avoidance systems that would let small drones pilot themselves are still under development. And looming over the entire field are new government rules intended to keep people safe, but which may also slow innovation.

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Markets to face slowing company profits after China tumult

NEW YORK (AP) — Tumult in China triggered the worst opening week for U.S. stocks in history, and this week investors could get plenty more to worry about. Profits are expected to drop at U.S. companies. Again.

Earnings for companies in the Standard and Poor's 500 index are forecast to drop for the second straight quarter, a rare occurrence outside a recession. Despite a rebounding jobs market, the U.S. did not grow fast enough to boost profits, and once surging developing economies that helped lift foreign sales slowed dramatically.

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Irish drugmaker Shire in $32B deal for US-based Baxalta

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Irish drugmaker Shire PLC's second attempt to buy Baxalta looks more likely to succeed, with Baxalta's board backing the sweetened offer of $32 billion in cash and stock. If the deal goes through, the combined company would be one of the world's top 20 drugmakers by revenue and a leader in the sizzling niche of rare disease medicines.

Treatments for rare diseases — those affecting fewer than 200,000 Americans — are a hot, very lucrative research area, with drugmakers testing hundreds in clinical trials. The surge is driven by a combination of tax breaks, the lure of ultra-high drug prices, scientific advances such as the mapping of the human genome and advocacy groups for patients raising money to entice small drug developers to research treatments for their condition.

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Arch Coal files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

NEW YORK (AP) — Arch Coal, which has been hurt by the weakening demand for coal, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday.

The coal industry is struggling as electric power companies shift to using natural gas, which costs less than coal and produces less pollution. Other coal companies have filed for bankruptcy protection recently, including Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and Patriot Coal Corp. Arch Coal warned late last year that it may file for bankruptcy protection.

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Playboy Mansion for sale but Hugh Hefner wants to stay put

The Playboy Mansion is up for sale but longtime resident Hugh Hefner wants to stay put.

Playboy Enterprise announced the West Los Angeles estate, the backdrop of many film shoots and wild parties, was listed on Monday for $200 million.

The 5-acre property features 29 rooms, a game house, home theater, wine cellar and the famous swimming pool with a cave-like grotto where Playboy bunnies partied with celebrities. The mansion also comes with a rare zoo license.

As a condition of the sale, magazine founder Hefner would get to continue living there as he has since the company bought the mansion 45 years ago for just over $1 million, company spokesman John Vlautin said.

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High court seems ready to scrap mandatory public union fees

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court appears ready to deliver a major setback to American unions as it considers scrapping a four-decade precedent that lets public-sector labor organizations collect fees from workers who decline to join.

During more than an hour of oral arguments Monday, the high court's conservative justices seemed likely to side with a group of California teachers who say those mandatory fees violate the free-speech rights of workers who disagree with a union's positions.

Labor officials fear unions' very existence could be threatened if workers are allowed to get all the benefits of representation without at least paying fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining. The case affects more than 5 million workers in 23 states and Washington, D.C.

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Are unlimited data cellphone plans on their way back?

NEW YORK (AP) — AT&T is once again experimenting with offering unlimited data plans to smartphone customers while promoting its DirecTV service, signaling a potential reversal of industry trends toward data caps and charges for big video watchers.

AT&T is trying to capitalize on its $48.5 billion purchase of DirecTV last year. On Monday, it's announcing an unlimited data plan for cellphones, if you also get DirecTV or AT&T's home-TV service, U-verse.

The unlimited data deal may be cheaper than AT&T's limited-data plan if you have a family that watches a lot of video and want cable; if it's one person, sticking with the existing plan is likely a better value, especially if you don't want cable. It's a limited-time offer but AT&T won't say when the promotion would end.

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China and its president are off to a rocky 2016

BEIJING (AP) — Barely more than a week into 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping is having a rough time of it, with challenges ranging from a plummeting stock market to new provocations from obstreperous ally North Korea. While none pose an existential threat to his administration, the world will be watching to see whether he has the sophisticated touch needed to find durable solutions and maintain stability.

China twice deployed its "circuit breaker" mechanism to halt trading as stock markets nosedived by 10 percent in the first week of the year.

Meanwhile, China's currency, the yuan, has slid to a five-year low against the dollar, forcing the government to spend tens of millions of dollars from its foreign currency stockpile to defend it.

Hiccups in the world's second-largest economy are expected to continue in 2016, with growth falling to a six-year low of 6.9 percent in the July-September quarter and forecast by the International Monetary Fund to decline further to 6.3 percent this year.

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The Dow added 52.12 points, or 0.3 percent, to 16,398.57. The S&P 500 index rose 1.64 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,923.67. The Nasdaq fell 5.64 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,637.99.

Benchmark U.S. crude dropped $1.75, or 5.3 percent, to $31.41 a barrel in New York. The last time it was lower was Dec. 5, 2003, when it closed at $30.73 a barrel. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, fell $2, or 6 percent, to $31.55 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 1.5 cents to $1.113 a gallon, heating oil fell 3.7 cents to $1.015 a gallon and natural gas lost 7.6 cents to $2.396 per 1,000 cubic feet.