Business Highlights

AP News
Posted: Aug 23, 2012 5:52 PM
Business Highlights


Drought worsens in Plains, despite cooler temps

ST. LOUIS (AP) — While other corn growers already have cut down their drought-ravaged crops to feed to livestock, Nebraska farmer Doug Nelson still waits for his maize to mature, well aware it won't be a banner year.

On the day a new report suggested the nation's worst dry spell in at least a generation is deepening in America's breadbasket, Nelson said Thursday that he expects to harvest anywhere from nothing to 43 bushels per acre on his land, a far cry from the 120 to 140 bushels he'd typically get. On irrigated land in previous years, Nelson would see a minimum of 180 bushels.

The U.S. Drought Monitor's weekly map showed that, as of Tuesday, just over two-thirds of Iowa, the nation's biggest corn producer, was in extreme or exceptional drought — the worst two classifications. That's up more than 5 percentage points from the previous week.


US new-home sales rise to match 2-year high

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of new homes in the U.S. rose 3.6 percent in July to match a two-year high reached in May, the latest sign of a steady recovery in the housing market.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that new-home sales reached a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 372,000. That's the same as in May, which was the highest since April 2010.

In the past 12 months, sales have jumped 25 percent. Still, the increase is from a historically low level. New-home sales remain well below the annual pace of 700,000 that economists consider healthy.


Applications for US unemployment aid up slightly

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking first-time unemployment benefits rose by 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 372,000, evidence that the job market's recovery remains modest and uneven.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased 3,750 to 368,000.

Applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they fall consistently below 375,000, it generally suggests hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.


Merkel, Hollande press Greece to pursue reforms

BERLIN (AP) — German and French leaders on Thursday put the pressure firmly on Greece to keep pursuing painful reforms, suggesting they are hesitant to accept the new Greek prime minister's demand for more time to fix his country's battered economy and public finances.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande met to discuss how to deal with Greece before Prime Minister Antonis Samaras visits both of them over the next two days. Earlier in the day, Germany's finance minister set the stage for tough negotiations by claiming that giving Greece more time to make reforms would achieve little.

As creditors' impatience grows with Greece, Merkel's government is reluctant to offer significant concessions, but Hollande has generally taken a softer line in the debt crisis afflicting Greece and several other countries in the 17-nation eurozone.


China manufacturing activity at 9-month low

BEIJING (AP) — China's manufacturing activity fell to a nine-month low in August, a survey showed Thursday, stepping up pressure on Beijing for more interest rate cuts and stimulus measures to revive growth in the world's second-largest economy.

HSBC Corp. said a preliminary version of its monthly purchasing managers' index fell to 47.8 from July's 49.3 on a 100-point scale, where numbers below 50 indicate a contraction. One component, new export orders, fell at its fastest rate in three years.

The report adds to signs that China's economic recovery is taking longer and will be weaker than initially forecast due in part to unexpectedly weak demand in key U.S. and European export markets.


California congress members ask USDA to reopen plant

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Three central California congressmen cited the region's high unemployment Thursday in asking the federal government to reopen a slaughterhouse at the center of a cruelty and food safety investigation.

Republican lawmakers Devin Nunes, Kevin McCarthy and Jeff Denham signed a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack saying that shutting the plant will do nothing to further the goal of responding to the alleged animal abuse.

A spokesman for Vilsack did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.


Microsoft revamps logo for 1st time in 25 years

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Microsoft's corporate logo has a new look, setting the stage for a wave of products designed to cast the world's largest software maker in a new light.

The makeover unveiled Thursday marks the first time that Microsoft Corp. has revamped its logo since February 1987. The Internet was barely around then, and cellphones were considered a luxury.

At the time, Microsoft was putting the finishing touches on the second version of its Windows operating system. Two of Microsoft's biggest nemeses — Google Inc. co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin — were just 13 years old. And Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs was just in the second year of an 11-year exile from the company that went on to invent the iPod, iPhone and iPad after he returned.


Facebook updates iPhone app to speed it up

MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) — What's the worst insult you can throw at a fast-moving company like Facebook? Call its iPhone app slow and poky.

On Thursday, Facebook Inc. addressed users who had gripes with its app for iPhones and iPads with the launch of a faster version. Rather than add a slew of new features, the company said it rebuilt the application from scratch to make it speedier and less clunky.

In a recent demonstration at the company's Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, the new iPhone app opened about twice as fast as the older version. Photos and comments also load faster. Users can now "like" comments on photos, which wasn't possible with the previous mobile app.


Fab Abs? FTC says not. Marketers paying up to $25 million

WASHINGTON (AP) — Companies marketing the Ab Circle Pro exercise device have agreed to pay as much as $25 million in refunds to customers to settle federal regulators' charges of deceptive advertising.

The Federal Trade Commission says it was deceptive to promise that people could lose 10 pounds in two weeks by using the abdominal exercise device for only three minutes a day. The TV infomercials touted the fiberglass disk with handlebars and knee rests selling for $200 to $250.

The FTC had filed a civil lawsuit against the companies. In the settlements announced Thursday, Fitness Brands Inc., Fitness Brands International Inc., Direct Holdings Americas Inc. and Direct Entertainment Media Group Inc. agreed to pay a total of at least $15 million and up to $25 million, depending on the amount of refunds requested.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 115.30 points to close at 13,057.46. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 11.41 points to 1,402.08. The Nasdaq composite fell 20.27 to 3,053.40.

Benchmark crude fell 99 cents to finish at $96.27 per barrel. Brent crude rose 10 cents to end the day at $115.01 per barrel.

Heating oil rose 0.43 cent to finish at $3.1330 a gallon. Natural gas fell 2.4 cents to end at $2.820 per 1,000 cubic feet. Gasoline rose 1.16 cents to end at $3.1158 a gallon.