Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Feb 23, 2016 5:49 PM

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Amid coal market struggles, less fuel worth mining in US

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — An exhaustive government analysis says that at current prices and mining rates the country's largest coal reserves, located along the Montana-Wyoming border, will be tapped out in just a few decades.

The finding by the U.S. Geological Survey upends conventional wisdom on the lifespan for the nation's top coal-producing region. It also reflects the changing economic realities for companies seeking to profit off extracting the fuel as mining costs rise, coal prices fall and political pressure grows over coal's contribution to climate change.

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Stocks end lower on Wall Street as commodities prices fall

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks fell broadly on Tuesday as commodity prices retreated. Crude oil sank more than 4 percent. Investors remained worried about growth in China as the country cut the value of its currency against the dollar yet again.

Investors were also discouraged by a report showing that consumer confidence fell to its lowest level in seven months. And as has happened multiple times this year, stocks fell in tandem with energy prices.

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Saudi oil minister says market should handle low prices

HOUSTON (AP) — Saudi Arabia's oil minister said Tuesday that production cuts to boost oil prices won't work, and that instead the market should be allowed to work even if that forces some operators out of business.

Ali Al-Naimi said production cuts by big, low-cost producers like Saudi Arabia would amount to subsidizing higher-cost ones — an apparent reference to U.S. shale oil drillers.

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US home market: Sales and prices up but not enough supply

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home sales are climbing. Prices are rising, too. So the outlook for the housing market is golden, right? Not entirely.

A series of reports released Tuesday pointed to potential cracks in the foundations of America's residential real estate market.

On the one hand, job growth and low mortgage rates have fueled demand and boosted sales. Yet supply is down and prices have risen faster than incomes. Because many homes have become unaffordable for would-be buyers, further gains may be unsustainable.

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Consumer confidence falls to 92.2 in February

WASHINGTON (AP) — Consumer confidence fell in February to the lowest level in seven months as worries about a slowing economy and tumbling stock prices took a toll.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index dipped to 92.2 this month, down from a reading of 97.8 in January, which had been a three-month high. The February reading was the lowest since confidence stood at 91.0 in July.

Consumers' assessment of current conditions weakened due to less favorable views about business conditions and the labor market.

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Home Depot wraps up big year with another big quarter

ATLANTA (AP) — Home Depot reported better-than-expected profit and revenue in the fourth quarter and comparable-store sales jumped as the company continues to ride a sustained recovery in the housing market.

The nation's largest home improvement retailer boosted its quarterly dividend by 17 percent and shares rose Tuesday on powerhouse earnings in what is typically a down season for this sector of the retail industry.

It is a good omen as tax refund and home upgrade season approaches.

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US bank earnings jump 11.9 percent in 4Q; loan losses up

WASHINGTON (AP) — The impact of plummeting oil prices has shown up in the financial picture of U.S. banks, whose losses from loans increased for the first time in 5½ years, according to new government data.

U.S. bank earnings jumped 11.9 percent in the final three months of 2015 compared with the previous year as revenue rose.

But the data issued Tuesday by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. showed an increase in loan losses for the industry for the first time in 2009, during the crisis. The increase in loans that banks wrote off as uncollectible was especially strong — 43.4 percent — for industrial borrowers as tumbling oil prices hurt energy companies.

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Macy's 4Q profits down but encouraging signs for 2016

NEW YORK (AP) — Macy's wrapped up a weak fiscal year on an encouraging note, but the nation's largest department store retailer still sees challenges ahead.

Macy's, which also operates Bloomingdale's stores, reported a 31 percent decline in fourth-quarter profits, dragged down by store closings and other costs. But the adjusted results beat Wall Street estimates and sales picked up in the final weeks of the holiday quarter as winter finally arrived, driving sales of coats and boots higher. A very warm winter early on plagued retailers during the most critical selling period of the year.

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Mars recalls candy bars in 55 countries

BERLIN (AP) — U.S. chocolate maker Mars said Tuesday it's recalling candy bars and other items in 55 countries in Europe and elsewhere after plastic was found in one of its products.

Roel Govers, spokesman for Mars in the Netherlands, told The Associated Press that the recall affects 55 countries but would not provide further details, saying the company would email a news release later.

Mars in Germany confirmed that it was one of the countries affected, and said in a statement that the recall affected products with "best before" dates from June 19, 2016 to January 8, 2017.

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Scientists find cause of Takata air bag explosions

DETROIT (AP) — Scientists hired by the auto industry have determined that multiple factors — including moisture and high humidity — can cause some Takata air bags to inflate with too much force.

The Independent Testing Coalition, which has been investigating for the past year, announced its findings Tuesday.

Air bags made by Takata Corp. have caused at least 10 deaths and 139 injuries worldwide. The exact cause of the problem has eluded investigators, although more recent probes have focused on Takata's use of a mixture of ammonium nitrate and other chemicals to inflate the air bags.

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Bill Gates supports government efforts in Apple case

NEW YORK (AP) — Bill Gates is supportive of investigators' efforts to force Apple to help them crack into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, saying a balance needs to be struck between government access and the need to preserve data security.

While he doesn't support untrammeled government access to personal data, the Microsoft co-founder's position runs contrary to those of many tech executives who have backed Apple.

Gates says it is not uncommon for phone companies and banks to hand over customer information and questioned why tech companies should be treated differently.

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The Dow Jones industrial average fell 188.88 points, or 1.1 percent, to 16,431.78. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 24.23 points, or 1.3 percent, to 1,921.27. The Nasdaq composite index fell 67.02 points, or 1.5 percent, to 4,503.58.

Crude oil fell $1.52, or 4.6 percent, to $31.87 a barrel while Brent crude, which is used to price oils internationally, fell $1.42, or 4.1 percent, to $33.27 a barrel in London. In other energy prices, heating oil fell 3.3 cents to $1.022 a gallon, wholesale gasoline fell 3.4 cents to 96.6 cents and natural gas fell 3.9 cents to $1.782 per thousand cubic feet.