Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Aug 18, 2016 5:18 PM

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Self-driving Uber cars to carry passenger soon in Pittsburgh

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Uber will soon start using self-driving cars to carry passengers in Pittsburgh, raising the stakes in the race to deploy autonomous vehicles.

The ride-hailing company said Thursday that customers will be able to opt into the test program, which will use autonomous Ford Fusions summoned by the touch of a smartphone. Although other companies are testing self-driving cars on public roads, this is the first time the public will get access to them.

The rides, which come with a human backup driver to handle situations that the autonomous cars haven't seen, will be free to those willing to take part.

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Gawker.com dies next week, killed by an unhappy subject

NEW YORK (AP) — Gawker.com, the website that broke new ground with its gossipy, no-holds-barred coverage of media, culture and politics, is shutting down after 14 years, brought low by an unhappy, but deep-pocketed, subject.

Founder Nick Denton reportedly told staffers Thursday afternoon that Gawker.com will come to an end next week.

The announcement follows the sale of the site's parent company, Gawker Media, to Univision for $135 million. That deal was struck after Gawker's expensive loss in an invasion-of-privacy case brought by the former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan. A Florida court awarded Hogan $140 million in damages

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US stocks edge higher as energy prices rise; dollar weakens

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks again ticked higher Thursday as the continuing rebound in oil prices gave energy companies a lift. The gains were modest, however, as investors have been avoiding big moves. The dollar weakened further, and compared to the yen it's at its lowest in almost three years.

Energy companies were a standout as the price of U.S. oil reached its highest level since the beginning of July. The weakening dollar aided exporters including technology and chemical companies. Phone company stocks continued to slump, as did financial firms. Stocks haven't moved much this week and haven't made many big moves over the last month.

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Applications for US unemployment benefits fall to 262,000

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, evidence that layoffs are scarce and employers are likely hiring at a solid clip.

Weekly applications for unemployment aid slipped 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 262,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, typically a less volatile measure, rose 3,000 to 265,250.

The number of people receiving benefits ticked up 15,000 to 2.18 million. That's nearly 4 percent lower than a year earlier.

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Average US 30-year mortgage rate slips to 3.43 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Long-term U.S. mortgage rates edged lower this week, remaining at historically low levels as a potential spur to home purchases.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday the average for the benchmark 30-year fixed-rate mortgage slipped to 3.43 percent from 3.45 percent last week. The average rate is down from 3.93 percent a year ago, and is close to its all-time low of 3.31 percent in November 2012.

The 15-year fixed mortgage rate declined to 2.74 percent from 2.76 percent last week.

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Gap offers muted outlook for annual profit

NEW YORK (AP) — Gap offered a muted outlook Thursday after reporting a 43 percent drop in net income for the second quarter, weighed down by store closures.

The company, which operates Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy stores, said it earned $125 million, or 31 cents per share, for the period. That compares with $219 million, or 52 cents per share, last year. Adjusted results were 60 cents per share, a penny above market forecasts. Revenue slipped 1.2 percent to $3.85 billion.

The company has been revamping its brands, but a promised turnaround has failed to come to fruition.

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Wal-Mart raises annual profit outlook, reports strong sales

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart's vast fleet of stores and its online business are starting to click together.

The company raised its earnings outlook for the year on Thursday and delivered strong profit and sales for the second quarter, as moves to improve the store and online experience are winning over customers.

Wal-Mart has launched a flurry of changes, from making sure vegetables look good to cleaning up the stores to being sharper on keeping prices low. It's melding online services with the stores — rolling out a mobile payment system to speed checkouts. And it's pressing ahead with online grocery and pick-up services.

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Hormel's sales rise after being hurt by avian flu last year

AUSTIN, Minn. (AP) — Hormel Foods reported better-than-expected quarterly sales on Thursday, as the maker of Spam canned meat and Jennie-O turkey recovered from avian flu that hit its results a year ago.

The company said total sales were up 5 percent, boosted by a 1 percent increase in volume.

For the quarter, the company earned $195.7 million, or 36 cents per share. That was better than the 34 cents per share analysts expected, according to Zacks Investment Research. Total revenue of $2.3 billion in the period also topped market expectations of $2.24 billion.

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Obama administration to phase out some private prison use

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration announced Thursday it will phase out its use of some private prisons, affecting thousands of federal inmates and sending shares of the two publicly traded prison operators plunging.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates told the Bureau of Prisons to start reducing "and ultimately ending" the Justice Department's use of private prisons. The announcement follows a recent Justice Department audit that found that the private facilities have more safety and security problems than government-run ones.

The policy change does not cover private prisons used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which hold up to 34,000 immigrants awaiting deportation.

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T-Mobile phasing out data limits — but will you save money?

NEW YORK (AP) — T-Mobile is phasing out data limits and pushing people toward unlimited data plans — which will mean higher prices for many new customers.

Although T-Mobile is cutting the price of the unlimited plan, those who haven't been using that much data might eventually pay more for unlimited data they don't need.

T-Mobile's announcement Thursday comes a day after AT&T said it would raise prices on some plans while giving customers more data. Verizon made a similar move last month.

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Twitter: We suspended 360K accounts over 'violent extremism'

NEW YORK (AP) — Twitter said Thursday it has suspended 360,000 accounts since mid-2015 for violating its policies banning the promotion of terrorism and violent extremism.

The San Francisco-based company said in a blog post that it has also made progress in preventing users who were suspended from immediately returning to the platform using different accounts, which has been a problem in the past.

It said its rate of daily suspensions is up 80 percent since last year, though it did not provide specific numbers. The suspensions spike immediately following terrorist attacks, it said.

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The Dow Jones industrial average gained 23.76 points, or 0.1 percent, to 18,597.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 gathered 4.80 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,187.02. The Nasdaq composite picked up 11.49 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,240.15.

Benchmark U.S. crude gained $1.43, or 3.1 percent, to $48.22 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose $1.04, or 2.1 percent, to $50.89 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 4 cents to $1.49 a gallon. Heating oil edged up 4 cents to $1.53 a gallon. Natural gas rose 6 cents to $2.67 per 1,000 cubic feet.