Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Jan 22, 2016 6:09 PM

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Weak growth and shaky markets put pressure on central banks

WASHINGTON (AP) — The world's central banks are under pressure to do something about slumping economies and panicky stock markets. The question is, can — or will — they do much that would help?

The head of the European Central Bank signaled this week that there's "no limit" to how far it would go to restore the health of the continent's economy. The Bank of Japan is considering expanding its easy-money policies to fight feeble growth and low inflation. And many economists believe the Federal Reserve may have to rethink its plans to raise U.S. interest rates.

So far, the global economy has benefited modestly at best from the cures central banks have offered.

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Airlines cancel thousands of flights as big storm advances

NEW YORK (AP) — Airlines canceled around 6,600 flights to, from or within the U.S. for Friday and Saturday, as a blizzard began covering much of the Eastern U.S.

The bulk of Friday's 3,000 cancelations are in Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina, according to flight tracking service FlightAware. Another 3,600 flights were canceled for Saturday. Those cancelations center on Philadelphia, Washington, and New York, with airlines essentially shutting down all flights into those cities.

By Sunday afternoon, however, the airlines hope to be back to a full schedule to handle the typical influx of business travelers heading out to start a week on the road.

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Energy stocks lead a broad rally as the price of oil soars

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks made their biggest gain in more than a month on Friday as oil prices surged, lifting energy stocks. Tech stocks also climbed as Apple jumped the most since August.

Energy companies soared after the price of U.S. crude jumped 9 percent. Oil prices reached their lowest level in 12 years earlier this week, but they jumped the last two days.

The gain Friday, combined with a smaller increase the day before, gave the market its first weekly advance after three weeks of declines.

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Stock market tumble could keep pension funds behind

The slide on Wall Street could damage public employee pension funds around the country, most of which haven't even recovered from the Great Recession, and the burden could end up falling on taxpayers.

Stocks have been tumbling in the first weeks of 2016. If there's a quick rebound, the slump won't make much difference. If the tumble continues, it could be bad news for pensions.

Somewhere down the line, states may have to either cut benefits — which can be legally or politically difficult — or pump more tax dollars into their pension funds to make sure retirees get what they were promised.

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US home purchases rebound; 2015 had most sales in 9 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home sales rebounded in December after new regulations had delayed the completion of purchases in November. And total sales in 2015 were the most in nine years.

The National Association of Realtors said Friday that sales of existing homes climbed 14.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.46 million. Sales had previously plummeted as the industry adapted to new mortgage disclosure rules — a temporary downturn before delayed sales were finalized in December.

Last month's rebound concluded a year that produced the highest annual sales total since 2006.

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GE tops 4Q earnings though industrial revenue slips

General Electric topped Wall Street expectations for the fourth quarter and reaffirmed its target for 2016, but its shares slipped in afternoon trading as the company's industrial revenue declined.

The industrial conglomerate earned 52 cents per share, excluding the financial operations it's shedding, on $33.9 billion in revenue. Analysts were expecting 49 cents per share on revenue of $35.91 billion.

Its industrial segment revenue slipped 1 percent to $31.4 billion.

General Electric has refocused on its industrial roots, making massive turbines and other complicated equipment, while selling off its operations in its financial wing as well as its appliance division.

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GM ignition switch trial ends abruptly amid claims of fraud

NEW YORK (AP) — A trial that was supposed to help settle hundreds of lawsuits stemming from General Motors' faulty ignition switches abruptly ended Friday, a day after the judge raised questions about the plaintiff's truthfulness.

The plaintiff was an Oklahoma man who claimed a faulty ignition switch prevented his air bags from inflating when his car crashed in 2014. But the judge agreed new evidence could show he was more physically functional after his accident than he had claimed and that a check stub involved in the case likely had been doctored.

General Motors Co. and the man's lawyers said they wanted to call the trial off.

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Labor judge: Wal-Mart strikes protected under law

NEW YORK (AP) — A National Labor Relations Board judge has ruled that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. unlawfully disciplined workers who staged protests in spring of 2013 and ordered the retailer to reinstate 16 former employees, as well as give them back pay.

The judge deemed the employee actions were protected under the National Labor Relations Act and that Wal-Mart violated labor laws by disciplining or discharging several workers because they were absent from work while on strike.

The complaint was filed on behalf of the labor-backed group "Our Walmart," which called it a huge victory.

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Starbucks closing Teavana 'tea bars' in NYC, Beverly Hills

NEW YORK (AP) — Starbucks is retreating from Teavana "tea bars" that first opened in New York City a little more than two years ago.

The company says it will convert the three tea bars in New York City to Starbucks stores this spring and close another location in Beverly Hills. A fifth location in Seattle near its headquarters will remain open as a way to test new ideas.

The stores served made-to-order tea drinks and some food items, with places to sit much like at Starbucks stores.

The closure of the tea bars will not affect the more than 350 Teavana retail locations, which primarily sell packaged teas and appliances.

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Gov't: 10th death linked to exploding Takata air bags

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Ford pickup driver killed last month in South Carolina is the 10th person worldwide to die because of defective Takata air-bag inflators that explode, government safety officials said Friday.

About 23 million Takata air bag inflators have already been recalled on 19 million vehicles, making it the largest auto safety recall in history. An estimated 5 million additional vehicles are being recalled based on the South Carolina accident and other new information.

Despite the unprecedented size of the recall efforts, it could expand further because regulators believe there are potentially tens of millions of cars with Takata air bags on the road that have not yet been recalled.

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US seeks to limit methane gas 'flaring' at drilling sites

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration on Friday proposed new rules to clamp down on oil companies that burn off natural gas on public land, arguing the effort will reduce waste and harmful methane emissions as part of President Barack Obama's bid to curb climate change.

Energy companies frequently "flare" or burn off vast supplies of natural gas at drilling sites because it does not earn as much money as oil.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement that natural gas should be used to power the economy — not wasted being burned into the atmosphere.

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The Dow Jones industrial average surged 210.83 points, or 1.3 percent, to 16,093.51. The Standard & Poor's 500 index jumped 37.91 points, or 2 percent, to 1,906.90. The Nasdaq composite index climbed 119.12 points, or 2.7 percent, to 4,591.18.

U.S. crude rose $2.66 to $32.19 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, rose $2.93, or 10 percent, to $32.18 a barrel in London. In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline added 5.3 cents, or 5.1 percent, to $1.084 a gallon. Heating oil picked up 9.8 cents, or 10.9 percent, to 99.6 cents a gallon. Natural gas inched up to $2.139 per 1,000 cubic feet.