Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Jan 12, 2016 6:04 PM

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As oil plunges, energy companies cut jobs, postpone projects

LONDON (AP) — The world's biggest oil companies are slashing jobs and backing off major investments as the price of crude falls to new lows — and there may be more pain to come.

Companies like BP, which said Tuesday it is cutting 4,000 jobs, are slimming down to cope with the slump in oil, whose price has plummeted to its lowest level in 12 years and is not expected to recover significantly for months, possibly years. California-based Chevron said last fall that it would eliminate 7,000 jobs, while rival Shell announced 6,500 layoffs.

And it's not even the big producers that will be affected most, but the numerous companies that do business with them, such as drilling contractors and equipment suppliers.

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Oil keeps falling. And falling. How low can it go?

DALLAS (AP) — The price of oil keeps falling. And falling. And falling. It has to stop somewhere, right?

Even after trending down for a year and a half, U.S. crude has fallen another 17 percent since the start of the year and is now probing depths not seen since 2003.

"All you can do is forecast direction, and the direction of price is still down," says Larry Goldstein of the Energy Policy Research Foundation, who predicted a decline in oil in 2014.

On Tuesday the price fell another 3 percent to $30.44 a barrel, its lowest level in 12 years. Oil had sold for roughly $100 a barrel for nearly four years before beginning to fall in the summer of 2014.

Many now say oil could drop into the $20 range.

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Gov't to announce new safety relationship with automakers

DETROIT (AP) — Using the aviation industry as a model, automakers have agreed to work on fundamental changes in their relationship with the U.S. government in order to spot safety trends before they become problems and get new technology to the marketplace faster, a top safety regulator and a person familiar with the discussions said Tuesday.

The process of issuing government regulations to correct safety problems takes too many years, Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told reporters at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit. By the time the regulations are issued, changes in technology make them out of date, he said.

Rosekind alluded to the possibility that the auto industry will agree to safety culture changes and technology voluntarily rather than waiting for the arduous government rule-making process.

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Starbucks expects China to surpass US as its largest market

NEW YORK (AP) — Starbucks said it expects China to eventually overtake the U.S. as the coffee chain's largest market.

The Seattle company said it is on track to open 500 stores in China this year. It expects to have a total of 3,400 stores in China by 2019.

Starbucks currently has 2,000 stores in China, making it the company's second largest market after the U.S. The company has more than 12,000 stores in the U.S. that it either operates or licenses to others.

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Senate rejects Rand Paul's 'Audit the Fed' legislation

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Tuesday blocked legislation calling for tougher audits of the Federal Reserve, rebuffing an attempt by Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul to give lawmakers greater oversight of the central bank's moves on interest rates.

The 53-44 vote fell short of the threshold to overcome a Democratic filibuster. But the Kentucky Republican, who is seeking the GOP's nomination for president, was joined by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president who occupies the opposite end of the political spectrum from Paul.

The measure calls for the Government Accountability Office, a watchdog agency for Congress, to scrutinize the Fed's monetary policy and offer recommendations to lawmakers on ways to address any perceived problems.

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US job openings rose in November; hiring, quits rise

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers advertised slightly more jobs in November as overall hiring edged up and more Americans quit their jobs in signs of a healthier environment for workers.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that the number of job postings rose 1.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted 5.4 million. That figure has slipped after peaking at a record 5.7 million in July, but stands 11 percent higher than a year ago.

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'Fast food' becoming a dirty term in restaurant industry

NEW YORK (AP) — Fast food is becoming a dirty term.

As smaller players challenge fast-food chains like McDonald's and Burger King, they're fighting to set themselves apart by describing their food as "fast-casual," ''fine casual," ''fast crafted" and even "fan food." That's even though they follow the same basic format: People standing in a line to order and pay a cashier for their food.

The new phrases are being embraced as companies try to position their offerings as fresher or higher quality to distance further their menu items from the stigma that fast food is greasy, cheap and unhealthy.

Even traditional fast-food chains acknowledge they have an image problem. McDonald's Corp. has said it wants to transform into a "modern, progressive burger company." And Yum CEO Greg Creed has noted the need for the company's Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut chains to redefine the meaning of fast food, which is seen as industrial and impersonal.

In the meantime, others are cooking up phrases to telegraph that they are anything but fast food.

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MetLife mulls spinoff or IPO of life insurance business

NEW YORK (AP) — MetLife says it plans to carve off its U.S. life insurance business via a sale, spinoff or an initial public offering as the parent company challenges harsher regulatory oversight.

The New York company said the potential stand-alone business would have about $240 billion in total assets and represent about 20 percent of its operating earnings. MetLife Inc. would keep its property-casualty and other businesses under the proposed plan.

MetLife has been challenging its designation as a "systemically important" entity that's deemed "too big to fail," and therefore subject to greater government oversight and, MetLife says, exorbitant costs.

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US border agents begin inspecting US-bound trucks in Mexico

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — U.S. border authorities have started working on Mexican soil to inspect trucks entering the U.S. as part of a new enforcement program intended to reduce congestion and speed cargo crossings.

The effort was launched Tuesday at a facility in Tijuana, Mexico, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel looking over a shipment of strawberries headed to San Diego.

Mexican authorities are also staffing the facility.

Mexico initially resisted letting U.S. officials carry guns as part of the change. In April, Mexican lawmakers approved changes to the country's firearms law to permit foreign customs and immigration officials to be armed on the job.

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PC sales fall for fourth consecutive year

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The PC industry had another down year in 2015, as global shipments fell for the fourth-consecutive year despite new models and the release of Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system.

Even holiday sales had a limited impact on shipments during the final months of 2015. Analysts at the Gartner research firm estimate manufacturers shipped 288.7 million personal computers in 2015, down 8 percent from 2014.

Gartner says Apple was the only major computer maker to see an increase in global shipments last year, while Lenovo, HP, Dell and Asus all saw declines.

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#wheresrey? Disney says more 'Star Wars' heroine toys on way

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Where's Rey? Disney says it's working hard to get more of the new "Star Wars" heroine in stores.

Following a social media firestorm over the lack of Rey in a new "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Monopoly game, Disney says it is unveiling a raft of new merchandise that puts more of Rey front and center — including toys featuring her gripping a blue lightsaber.

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The Dow Jones industrial average gained 117.65 points, or 0.7 percent, to 16,516.22. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 15.01 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,938.68. The Nasdaq composite climbed 47.93 points, or 1 percent, to 4,685.92.

U.S. crude oil fell 97 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $30.44 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, fell 69 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $30.86 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 2.8 cents to close at $1.085 a gallon, heating oil fell 2.5 cents to 99 cents a gallon and natural gas fell 13.9 cents to $2.257 per 1,000 cubic feet.