Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2016 5:44 PM

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Drugmakers push profitable, but unproven, opioid solution

Pilloried for their role in the epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse, drugmakers are aggressively pushing their remedy to the problem: a new generation of harder-to-manipulate opioids that have racked up billions in sales, even though there's little proof they reduce rates of overdoses or deaths.

More than prescriptions are at stake. Critics worry the drugmakers' nationwide lobbying campaign is distracting from more productive solutions and delaying crucial efforts to steer physicians away from prescription opioids — addictive pain medications involved in the deaths of more than 165,000 Americans since 2000.

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Facebook gets serious about fighting fake news

NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook is taking new measures to curb the spread of fake news on its huge and influential social network. It will focus on the "worst of the worst" offenders and partner with outside fact-checkers and news organizations to sort honest news reports from made-up stories that play to people's passions and preconceived notions.

The social network will make it easier for users to report fake news when they see it, which they'll be able to do in two steps, not three. If enough people report a story as fake, Facebook will pass it to third-party fact-checking organizations that are part of the nonprofit Poynter Institute's International Fact-Checking Network.

Five fact-checking and news organizations are working with Facebook on this: ABC News, The Associated Press, FactCheck.org, Politifact and Snopes. Facebook says this group is likely to expand.

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Banks lead stock indexes higher, and US dollar soars

NEW YORK (AP) — A surge in banks and other financial stocks that stand to benefit from higher interest rates pushed indexes to the edge of record highs Thursday. The dollar rose sharply against other currencies and the price of gold sank on expectations that the Federal Reserve will follow up Wednesday's rate increase with several more next year.

The Federal Reserve raised short-term interest rates Wednesday by a quarter of a percentage point on the back of a strengthening economy. It was only the second rate increase in a decade, and the Fed indicated three more may be on the way in 2017.

That helped goose the dollar's value, which has been climbing against other currencies for the past couple years. The ICE U.S. Dollar index, which tracks the value of the dollar against the euro, Japanese yen and four other currencies, rose to its highest level since 2002.

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21st Century Fox and European broadcaster Sky agree on deal

Rupert Murdoch's media giant Twenty-First Century Fox has agreed to take over European broadcaster Sky PLC in an 11.7 billion pound ($14.6 billion) deal, the companies said Thursday.

The deal offers 10.75 pounds ($13.40) per share in London-based Sky, valuing the broadcaster at 18.5 billion pounds.

Twenty-First Century Fox already owns just over 39 percent of Sky. An earlier attempt to acquire the rest was scuttled by the 2011 phone-hacking scandal that rocked Murdoch's British newspapers and the media establishment.

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Yellen signals caution about Trump's economic stimulus plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump has pledged deep tax cuts and increased infrastructure spending to restore lost jobs, accelerate the economy and bring prosperity to more Americans.

Janet Yellen has her doubts.

After a presidential campaign full of blunt words and sweeping promises, the Federal Reserve chair sought Wednesday to make a nuanced point: The moment for a deficit-fueled stimulus to improve job creation has likely passed.

With unemployment at a low 4.6 percent and hiring consistently solid, Yellen said she thought employers no longer needed large tax cuts and heavy infrastructure spending to create jobs.

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Border cities worry that ending NAFTA would hurt economies

LAREDO, Texas (AP) — Donald Trump's only visit to the U.S.-Mexico border while running for president was a stop in Laredo that lasted less than three hours. On some days, that's not long enough for 18-wheelers hauling foreign-made dishwashers and car batteries to lurch through the gridlocked crossing.

Trump's campaign promise to tear apart the North American Free Trade Agreement helped win over Rust Belt voters who felt left behind by globalization. But the idea is unnerving to many people in border cities such as Laredo and El Paso or Nogales in Arizona, which have boomed under the 1994 treaty.

About 14,000 tractor-trailers cross the border daily in Laredo, the nation's busiest inland port. Local officials say roughly 1 in every 3 jobs benefits from international trade.

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Yahoo's mega breach shows how just how vulnerable data is

NEW YORK (AP) — The revelation of Yahoo's latest hack underscores what many Americans have known for years: All those emails, photos and other personal files stored online can easily be stolen, and there's little anyone can do about it.

The only saving grace is that the attackers apparently did not exploit the information for fraud. But their true motives remain a mystery.

While there are a number of straightforward measures all users should take to protect themselves, relatively few people actually do. And in this case, doing so wouldn't really have mattered. Even the most scrupulous individual countermeasures could only limit the damage.

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Rates surging 5 weeks postelection; will home sales weaken?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mortgage rates are still surging five weeks after Donald Trump's election victory. Will higher rates weaken prospective buyers' confidence next year and dampen home sales?

While the job market is stable, the low mortgage rates that helped spur homebuying this year are disappearing in the rearview mirror.

Steadily rising rates would ultimately limit the number of possible buyers and how much they can afford to pay. And existing homeowners who might otherwise be looking for an upgrade could choose to stay put rather than face higher interest costs.

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US consumer prices up 0.2 percent in November

WASHINGTON (AP) — Consumer prices rose in November by the smallest amount in three months as the climb in energy prices moderated a bit and food prices remained flat.

The Labor Department said Thursday that its consumer price index increased 0.2 percent last month after a 0.4 percent October increase

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Fed has 8 biggest US banks shift loss burden to investors

WASHINGTON (AP) — The eight biggest U.S. banks will be required to build new cushions against losses that would shift the burden to investors. The action by the Federal Reserve was the latest bid by regulators to reduce the chances of future taxpayer bailouts.

The Fed governors led by Chair Janet Yellen voted 5-0 Thursday to lay down the new requirements. The mega-banks must bulk up their capacity to absorb financial shocks by issuing equity or long-term debt equal to certain portions of total bank assets. The idea is that the cost of a huge bank's failure would fall on investors in the bank, not on taxpayers.

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Obama administration files trade challenge against China

WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid new tensions with China, the Obama administration on Thursday launched its 15th challenge against Beijing at the Word Trade Organization, escalating a long-simmering debate over practices that U.S. officials say limit American farmers' ability to export rice, wheat and corn to the Asian powerhouse.

The administration says it is trying to hold China to its commitment to allow set quantities of grain and corn to enter the country subject to a lower tariff rate. China agreed to the terms when it joined the WTO, the administration said in a statement announcing new the complaint.

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Burger robots: Labor nod revives image but reality's complex

NEW YORK (AP) — It's a scenario often invoked by critics of minimum wage increases: Fast-food workers replaced with burger-flipping robots.

The imagery resurfaced when President-elect Donald Trump named Andrew Puzder to head the Labor Department. Puzder, CEO of the company that owns Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, is known for saying significant wage hikes would lead to job losses and the automation of some tasks.

But the sentiment does not square easily with the realities of the fast-food industry.

Despite local minimum wages hikes, the number of fast-food jobs has climbed, and many employers say they've had difficulty retaining workers as the economy improves.

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The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 8.75 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,262.03. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 59.71 points, or 0.3 percent, to 19,852.24. The Nasdaq composite rose 20.18 points, or 0.4 percent, to 5,456.85.

Benchmark U.S. crude slipped 14 cents to settle at $50.90 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 12 cents to $54.02 a barrel in London. Natural gas fell 10.6 cents to $3.434 per 1,000 cubic feet, and wholesale gasoline rose nearly a penny to $1.54 per gallon. Heating oil was little changed at $1.64 a gallon.