Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: May 31, 2016 5:44 PM

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Wal-Mart seeks overseas success by going native in China

SHENZHEN, China (AP) — Wal-Mart has found that if it wants to win over foreign consumers, it has to shed some of its American ways, and cater to very different customs and conventions.

The stakes are high: The company can't count on much growth in the U.S. so the retailer is depending more on its operations overseas.

China is the ultimate prize. The Chinese grocery market, already the world's largest at $1.1 trillion a year, is expected to grow to $1.5 trillion in sales in just the next four years, says IGD, a global consumer products research firm.

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Gulf economic slowdown sees foreign workers trapped by debts

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The economic slowdown gripping countries across the Persian Gulf can be seen in layoffs, slowed construction projects and government cutbacks. For the millions of foreign workers drawn by brighter job prospects, it can have a far-darker side if they find themselves deep in debt.

Gulf countries like Qatar largely don't have bankruptcy laws, leaving laid-off workers on the hook for huge outstanding sums while often banned from traveling outside of the country. That leaves many unemployed begging friends and family for help while frantically selling off all their belongings. Others have killed themselves out of desperation.

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US stocks struggle as energy companies fall with oil prices

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stock indexes struggled to a mixed close Tuesday as energy companies fell with the price of oil, overcoming gains in utilities and phone companies.

Investors sold household goods makers after a report showed consumers are growing more worried about business and job market conditions.

Stocks were lower for most of the day after the Conference Board said consumer confidence fell for the second month in a row and reached its lowest level in six months.

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US consumer confidence slips in May

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumer confidence fell for a second month in May to the lowest level since November.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its index of consumer confidence slipped to 92.6 from 94.7 in April. The May reading matched the level in November. Both months were the lowest since last July.

Conference Board economists say that consumers remain cautious about the outlook for business and job market conditions, and anticipate little change in the months ahead.

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US home prices rise in March as spring buying season begins

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices kept climbing in March as the spring home buying season began, but so far the higher costs haven't thwarted sales.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index increased 5.4 percent in March compared with a year earlier, according to a report released Tuesday. That is the same annual gain as in February.

Solid job growth, modest increases in wages and salaries, and low mortgage rates are fueling Americans' willingness to buy homes. Yet there is also a limited supply of homes on the market, which pushes up prices.

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Puerto Rico's tourist industry feels economic sting of Zika

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico has been hit harder by Zika than any other part of the U.S., with more than 1,170 confirmed cases, one death and the first microcephaly case acquired on U.S. soil. Now, worries about the virus are starting to affect the tourism industry, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal economy.

Zika has been cited in the cancellation of at least 42,000 hotel room reservations through 2018, representing about $28 million in lost revenue. Tourism industry insiders say they've seen the negative impact of Zika for months and it appears to be getting worse.

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New Zealand plans to remove logos from cigarette packs

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand on Tuesday announced it will push ahead with plans to force tobacco companies to remove their logos from cigarette packs and enhance graphic health warnings.

Under draft regulations, cigarettes would be required to be sold in packs with plain background colors and with gruesome-looking images covering at least 75 percent of the front of each pack.

The proposal has widespread support among lawmakers and comes just days after the government announced a tax measure that will hike the price of a pack of cigarettes to about 30 New Zealand dollars ($20), one of the highest in the world.

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Great Plains Energy to purchase Westar Energy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Great Plains Energy on Tuesday announced plans to buy rival Westar for about $8.6 billion, creating one large power provider in Kansas and Missouri with more than 1.5 million customers.

The two companies say the combination will lower their costs and help reduce rate increases for customers.

Kansas City, Missouri-based Great Plains Energy owns Kansas City Power & Light, which provides power in Kansas and Missouri, while Westar's customers are in Kansas.

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Carl Icahn says he bought a stake in Botox-maker Allergan

NEW YORK (AP) — Activist investor Carl Icahn says he bought a "large" stake in Botox-maker Allergan and said he's supportive of the company's CEO, Brent Saunders.

Icahn did not disclose how much of a stake he bought.

Allergan acknowledged the investment Tuesday and said that it has "no reason to believe" that Icahn wants to influence management or control the company.

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Longtime Staples CEO to go after Office Depot deal scrapped

NEW YORK (AP) — Staples Inc. says Ron Sargent will step down as chief executive after 14 years on the job. His departure follows Staples and rival Office Depot dropping their $6.3 billion merger earlier this month after antitrust regulators opposed it.

Staples director Robert Sulentic said in a statement that the board and Sargent agreed that it was time for new management to help Staples grow after the deal's collapse.

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General Mills recalls flour over possible E. coli link

NEW YORK (AP) — General Mills is recalling about 10 million pounds of its flour over a possible link to an E. coli outbreak in 20 states.

The recall is for several varieties of Gold Medal and Signature Kitchens flour that were sold at Safeway, Albertsons and other supermarkets. General Mills said E. coli hasn't been found in any of its flour products, but is still recalling them out of "an abundance of caution."

The company said Tuesday 38 people were sickened from mid-December through May 3. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that half of the people used flour before getting sick, some of which was a General Mills Inc. brand.

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The Dow Jones industrial average sank 86.02 points, or 0.5 percent, to 17,787.20. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gave up 2.11 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,096.95. The Nasdaq composite index rose 14.55 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,948.05.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell 23 cents to $49.10 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gave up 7 cents to $49.69 a barrel in London. In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to $1.61 a gallon. Heating oil was unchanged at $1.50 a gallon. Natural gas climbed 12 cents, or 5.5 percent, to $2.29 per 1,000 cubic feet.