Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Feb 20, 2015 6:17 PM

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Surging dollar takes bite out of US corporate profits

The biggest obstacle for Coca-Cola and Pepsi these days isn't tied to taste tests, the declining popularity of sugary drinks or even their century-long rivalry. It's the surging U.S. dollar.

The two soda giants rely on overseas customers for roughly half of their revenue. When they turned in their quarterly results last week, both reported a drop in sales. The strong dollar made all the difference: strip it out and shrinking sales suddenly rise.

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US to fine air bag maker Takata $14,000 per day

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The U.S. government will fine Japanese air bag maker Takata Corp. $14,000 per day for failing to fully cooperate in a long-running investigation of faulty and potentially dangerous air bag inflators.

The inflators, in cars made by 10 companies, can explode with too much force, spewing shrapnel into drivers and passengers. At least six people have been killed and 64 injured worldwide due to problem.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the fines Friday in Richmond, Virginia, calling Takata a "bad actor" for allegedly dumping 2.4 million pages of documents on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration without the legally required explanation of what's in them.

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Wal-Mart raises could help lift pay in lower-wage industries

WASHINGTON (AP) — The modest raises that Wal-Mart has said it will give its lowest-paid workers provide a glimmer of hope for lower-wage workers in other companies and industries.

Other retailers and some fast food restaurants may now feel compelled to follow suit to retain their workers and attract others to fill openings, economists said.

Wal-Mart's move follows a sustained campaign for higher wages by some of the company's employees and a nationwide debate over whether to raise the federal minimum wage. Given Wal-Mart's position as the nation's largest private employer, its decision to yield, even in a limited way, could embolden more employees to seek raises.

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With a week to go before bailout ends, Greece and European creditors reach deal on extension

BRUSSELS (AP) — Greece and its creditors in the 19-nation eurozone reached an agreement Friday on extending the country's rescue loans, a move that should ease concerns it was heading for the euro exit.

Athens will get an extension of four months, not six, as it had requested, said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the eurozone's top official. In return, Greece has committed to make a series of unspecified reforms to be enacted over the coming months.

Friday's agreement was clinched just a week before Greece's 240 billion euro bailout program expires. It is aimed at buying time for both sides to agree on a longer-term deal to ease the burden of Greece's bailout loans.

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Doctors say fitness trackers, health apps can boost care

HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP) — That phone app keeping track of your exercise and meals might keep you out of the hospital one day.

Why give your doctors permission to incorporate data from fitness trackers and health apps into electronic patient records? Well, they might spot signs of an ailment sooner and suggest behavioral changes or medication before you land in the emergency room. They also might be able to monitor how you're healing from surgery or whether you're following a treatment regimen.

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Rents rise in US overall but dip in Chicago and Minneapolis

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home rental prices rose at a steady rate in January, but prices barely budged or even dipped in parts of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic.

Real estate data firm Zillow said Friday that prices increased a seasonally adjusted 3.3 percent in January compared with 12 months earlier. But some major cities are finding themselves with an excessive supply of apartments and houses, reducing price pressures for renters.

In the wake of the Great Recession, more Americans are shifting away from home ownership, often because their low-incomes make it difficult to save for a down payment or they live in cities with expensive housing.

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Kentucky governor: On union matters, we're no Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — In an unexpected shot across the bow of his GOP neighbors to the south, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has a simple message on labor and economic development for automakers looking to build new plants: We're not Tennessee.

The Democrat is touting Kentucky's neutrality on labor matters as "a positive sales point," particularly in contrast to the turmoil in Tennessee, where Republicans have pulled out all the stops in what may yet be a losing effort to keep the United Auto Workers from gaining collective bargaining rights at Volkswagen's plant in Chattanooga. Similar unionization efforts are underway at a Mercedes plant near Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

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Brazil prosecutors seek $1.55B in Petrobras corruption case

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian federal prosecutors on Friday said they're seeking $1.55 billion from six construction and engineering companies for their alleged involvement in a massive kickback scheme at state-run oil firm Petrobras.

The amount included $111 million in compensation for public money prosecutors allege was stolen from Petrobras' coffers, along with $333 million in fines and $1.11 billion in punitive damages.

The action was the latest aggressive step by federal prosecutors, who say they've uncovered the biggest corruption scheme in Brazil's history. The scandal has seriously damaged the reputation of Petrobras, the nation's biggest company and long a source of national pride.

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Bank to end tough screening system for low-income applicants

NEW YORK (AP) — Santander Bank has agreed to stop a policy that often kept poor and low-income people from opening new checking or savings accounts, the bank and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Friday.

Santander becomes the third bank after Capital One and Citibank to agree to do away with such policies in an effort to accommodate millions of Americans dubbed the "unbanked." These individuals do not have checking or savings accounts and must rely on expensive alternatives for everyday banking needs.

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Caterpillar staying put in Peoria, expanding headquarters

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — After a two-year study that examined alternative locations, Caterpillar Inc. announced Friday that it will keep its global headquarters in Peoria and modernize its downtown complex in what it called a re-commitment to the city.

The world's largest maker of construction and mining equipment, with $55 billion in annual sales and revenue, Caterpillar will expand and overhaul its headquarters with a three-tower building as its centerpiece, CEO Doug Oberhelman said.

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Unions begin 3 days of voting on FairPoint contract

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Striking FairPoint workers gave their union negotiators a standing ovation Friday at the first briefings and ratification votes on a tentative agreement aimed at ending a four-month strike.

Workers chanted "One day longer, one day stronger!" and reacted positively as they received the first details of a contract that would last through August 2018. They said they were eager to return to work Wednesday.

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US West Coast seaport labor dispute faces deadline

LOS ANGELES (AP) — With a Friday deadline looming, negotiators labored to reach a deal in a contract dispute that has snarled international trade at seaports from Southern California to Seattle.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez told dockworkers and their employers that if they cannot find common ground in San Francisco, he will take the parties to Washington next week. The idea is that, after nine months of talks, it will help to have a change of scenery and proximity to elected leaders who are increasingly pushing for a resolution to economically damaging problems on the West Coast waterfront.

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New woes for HealthCare.gov: Wrong tax info sent out

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a new setback for the health care law and the people it's supposed to help, the government said Friday it made a tax-reporting error that's fouling up the filings of nearly a million Americans.

After a successful sign-up season, the latest goof could signal new problems with the complex links between President Barack Obama's health care overhaul and the nation's income tax system.

Officials said the government sent the wrong tax information to about 800,000 HealthCare.gov customers, and they're asking those affected to delay filing their 2014 returns. The issue involves a new government form called a 1095-A, which is like a W-2 form for health care for people who got subsidized private coverage under Obama's law.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 154.67 points, or 0.9 percent, to 18,140.44. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 12.85 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,110.30. The Nasdaq composite gained 31.27 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,955.97.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 82 cents to close at $50.34 a barrel in New York on the last day of trading for the March contract. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose one cent to close at $60.22 in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 2.5 cents to close at $1.641 a gallon. Heating oil rose 11.8 cents to close at $2.112 a gallon. Natural gas rose 11.7 cents to close at $2.951 per 1,000 cubic feet.