Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Dec 03, 2015 5:30 PM

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ECB stimulus falls short of hype, causing market plunge

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The European Central Bank has unveiled another stimulus injection for the sluggish eurozone economy, but the measures fell far short of what investors had expected and stock markets took a painful tumble.

For weeks, ECB head Mario Draghi had indicated that the bank, the chief monetary authority for the 19 countries that use the euro, would act decisively to raise inflation and shield the region from a slowdown in the global economy, notably China.

When Thursday's meeting of its governing council finally arrived, the bank cut one of its key interest rates by less than expected.

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Yellen signals growing likelihood of a December rate hike

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen told Congress Thursday that economic conditions appear to be improving enough for policymakers to raise interest rates when they meet in two weeks — as long as there are no major shocks that undermine confidence.

Yellen said that even after the first rate hike, the Fed expects future rate increases will be at a gradual pace that will keep borrowing costs low for consumers and businesses.

In testimony before the Joint Economic Committee, Yellen warned that waiting an extended period of time to start raising rates would carry risks.

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Ex-coal CEO Blankenship convicted of misdemeanor conspiracy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was convicted Thursday of a misdemeanor count connected to a deadly coal mine explosion and acquitted of more serious charges.

A federal jury in West Virginia convicted Blankenship of conspiring to willfully violate mine safety standards. The misdemeanor charge carries up to one year in prison. Jurors did not find Blankenship guilty of a more serious conspiracy charge included in the same count that could have netted five years in prison. He was also acquitted of making false statements and securities fraud.

Blankenship was charged with conspiring to break safety laws and defrauding mine regulators at West Virginia's Upper Big Branch Mine, and lying to financial regulators and investors about safety. The mine exploded in 2010, killing 29 men.

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Small retailers get creative when holiday sales turn slow

NEW YORK (AP) — With the Thanksgiving weekend behind them and the big final rush of holiday shopping still to come, independent retailers have to get creative to bring customers in during the slowest part of the season.

The Shirt Box, a men's clothing store in Farmington Hills, Michigan, is holding events like bourbon tastings and giving lessons on tying bow ties on weekends. The retailer also uses giveaways — co-owner Rod Brown is planning to offer free cufflinks when shoppers buy shirts with French cuffs, or scarves if they buy outerwear.

Small and independent stores usually can't offer deep discounts like the national chain stores because the smaller players don't have the big sales volume that would allow them to absorb thinner margins from the come-ons. But they can offer customers something most of the large stores like discounters and big-box retailers can't: a warmer, more emotional shopping experience.

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'Clean coal' technology fails to capture world's attention

DEKALB, Miss. (AP) — The Kemper County power plant was supposed to be up and running by now, showing the world how to burn coal without spewing climate-warming carbon pollution into the air.

Instead, the coal plant towering over pine trees and pastures in rural Mississippi is looking like another monument to the unfulfilled promise of carbon capture technology.

Construction costs have ballooned to $6.5 billion, at least three times the original estimate, making Kemper one of the most expensive power plants ever built and pushing up electric bills for Mississippi Power's 186,000 customers. After repeated delays, the project now has a completion date of June 30, or two years behind schedule, and there are doubts even that deadline will be met.

Even some of those who supported the plant have turned against it, advising others to think long and hard before trying something similar.

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In crowded Hong Kong, dead find no space to rest in peace

HONG KONG (AP) — In tightly packed Hong Kong, the dead are causing a problem for the living.

After Chui Yuen-sing's mother died in April, she was cremated and her ashes put in storage while he tried to find a final resting place. He was willing to wait up to 18 months for a pigeonhole-like "niche" in a memorial building. If none was available, he was considering putting them in mainland China, where his father's ashes are already stored, or taking an even more drastic step that conflicted with Chinese tradition.

"Maybe I would have scattered my mom's ashes in a public park," the retired university lecturer said. "But if I used this method then in my heart I probably wouldn't feel very good." ''Chinese people think that you should be buried in the ground to find peace."

Chui's choices highlight the long-running struggle to find enough space to accommodate both the living and the dead in the cramped southern Chinese city of 7.2 million. Limited land to build on and soaring property prices are colliding with a tradition of visiting grave sites on "tomb sweeping" holidays to burn incense and pay respects to venerated dead ancestors.

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Jobs report's big question mark: Will pay growth continue?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Is the U.S. job market finally healthy enough to lift Americans' long-stagnant pay?

Some tantalizing signs have suggested that wages are beginning to pick up after barely moving in the 6½ years since the Great Recession officially ended. On Friday, the government's jobs report for November should offer some clues about whether the modest pay gains will continue.

By many measures, the job market is nearly back to normal. The unemployment rate is 5 percent, down from its 10 percent peak in 2009. Employers have added a robust average of 206,000 jobs a month this year, more than enough to keep lowering the jobless rate over time.

Economists have forecast that Friday's report will show that 200,000 more jobs were added last month and that the unemployment rate remained at 5 percent, according to data firm FactSet.

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Survey: Growth at US services firms slowed last month

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. services firms grew again last month — but at the slowest pace since May.

The Institute for Supply Management reported Thursday that its services index slid to 55.9 last month from 59.1 in October. The November reading was the lowest since May's 55.7. Still, any reading above 50 signals that services firms are expanding.

The survey registered slower growth for business activity, new orders and employment in the services sector.

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US factory orders rise in Oct., ending streak of declines

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. factory orders rebounded in October after two prior monthly declines, helped by rising demand for aircraft, computers and machinery.

Factory orders rose 1.5 percent in October, the Commerce Department said Thursday. This follows monthly declines of -0.8 percent in September and -2.1 percent in August.

Factory orders have tumbled 7.1 percent year-to-date.

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Average US rate on 30-year mortgages slips to 3.93 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates edged lower this week for a third straight week.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage slipped to 3.93 percent from 3.95 percent a week earlier. The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages eased to 3.16 percent from 3.18 percent.

The key 30-year rate was above its level of a year ago, 3.89 percent. Despite the recent declines, the rate has increased significantly overall since the end of October, when it stood at 3.76 percent.

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The Dow Jones industrial average lost 252.01 points, or 1.4 percent, to 17,477.67. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 29.89 points, or 1.4 percent, to 2,049.62 and the Nasdaq composite fell 85.70 points, or 1.7 percent, to 5,037.53.

Benchmark U.S. crude jumped $1.14, or 2.9 percent, to close at $41.08 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, which is used to set prices for international oils, climbed $1.35, or 3.2 percent, to $43.84 a barrel in London.

Heating oil rose 5.4 cents to $1.359 a gallon, wholesale gasoline rose 0.3 cent to $1.296 a gallon and natural gas rose 1.6 cents to $2.181 per thousand cubic feet.