Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Dec 21, 2016 5:30 PM

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Economy healed under Obama, but unhappy voters chose Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — He was a first-term senator-turned-president, a former law professor with little experience in economics or management. When he entered the White House he had one essential task: piece together the shards of a shattered U.S. economy.

It wasn't smooth and it wasn't fast. But President Barack Obama will leave behind, by most measures, an economy far stronger than the one he inherited.

Yet it's also an economy that left many people feeling neglected. Polling after the November election found that nearly two-thirds of voters described the economy as "not so good" or "poor."

Fueled in part by such challenges, voters chose to pass the presidency to Donald Trump, a Republican who had railed against a weak economy and promised to undo many of Obama's policies.

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Adaptation: Small retailers shift plans as online sales grow

NEW YORK (AP) — When shoppers walk into JAM Paper, they can choose from hundreds of holiday bows, rolls of wrapping paper and gift bags, in addition to thousands of everyday stationery items. Yet the store will account for just 2 percent of the company's business this year.

JAM Paper now gets so much of its revenue online that the company has scaled back from five stores to a single Manhattan location.

Some small and independent retailers feeling the impact of the growing preference for online shopping have adapted by focusing more on their web business, including diverting more advertising dollars to those areas.

There's room for both types of retailing, but the increasing competition means store owners must be able to meet customers' demands for the right merchandise, convenience, good service and an enjoyable experience whether it's in a store or on a website.

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Not today: Dow still short of 20,000 as health stocks skid

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks finished slightly lower Wednesday as health care companies continued to struggle. Energy companies rose as the price of natural gas surged on the first day of winter.

Some traders aren't sticking around to see if the Dow Jones industrial average reaches the 20,000-point milestone: trading volume has fallen sharply this week as the year-end holidays draw near.

After a mixed open, stocks finished at their lowest prices of the day. Health care companies continued to lag the market, as they've done throughout 2016. Industrial companies, which have surged since the presidential election, also eased lower. A jump of almost 9 percent in the price of natural gas helped gas and pipeline companies move higher.

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Goldman ordered to pay $120M to settle manipulation charges

WASHINGTON (AP) — Goldman Sachs has been ordered to pay $120 million to settle federal regulators' charges that it deliberately manipulated a global benchmark for interest-rate swaps to its advantage.

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission said Wednesday that several Goldman traders, including the head of the bank's Interest Rate Products Trading Group in the U.S., used trades and false reports to manipulate the benchmark between 2007 and 2012.

The CFTC cited emails and audio recordings in which Goldman traders "stated their manipulative goals in plain language." The traders "even objected when their attempts to manipulate were not performed as inexpensively as possible," the CFTC said.

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Existing US home sales reach highest since February 2007

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans bought homes in November in the fastest pace in nearly a decade. But rising mortgage rates, a deepening shortage of houses and higher prices are likely to weigh on the market next year.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that sales of existing homes rose 0.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.61 million. That was up from a downwardly revised 5.57 million in October and the highest since sales hit a 5.79 million pace in February 2007. Sales were up 15 percent from a year earlier.

Fewer than 1.9 million homes were on the market, down 9 percent from a year earlier. The tight supply pushed the median price to $234,900 last month, up 6.8 percent from a year ago.

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Feds: Pension exec moved $2B for coke, hookers, other bribes

NEW YORK (AP) — A former top official at the country's third-largest pension fund and two broker-dealers were charged Wednesday in what a federal prosecutor described as a classic bribery scheme that steered $2 billion in trades in exchange for drugs, prostitutes, vacations and U.S. Open tennis tickets.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the alleged pay-for-play arrangement a "classic, quid-pro-quo bribery scheme."

Navnoor Kang, the ex-head of the $184 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund's fixed income trades, received more than $100,000 worth of bribes in the form of trips, gifts, luxury hotel stays and other payoffs from broker-dealers Deborah Kelley and Gregg Schonhorn, prosecutors said.

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Brazilian companies to pay combined $3.5B in bribery case

WASHINGTON (AP) — Odebrecht, the largest construction company in Brazil, and major petrochemical company Braskem have agreed to pay a combined penalty of at least $3.5 billion to settle allegations that they bribed government officials for business, U.S. authorities said Wednesday.

The companies admitted to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes, money that law enforcement officials say was authorized at the highest corporate levels and was disguised through complex financial arrangements. Both companies pleaded guilty to bribery-related charges in federal court in New York.

The Justice Department called it the largest foreign bribery case under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The 1977 law makes it illegal to bribe foreign government officials for business.

The companies have both agreed to co-operate with law enforcement, including in investigations into individual company officials.

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Senators urge action to block drastic drug price hikes

WASHINGTON (AP) — Angered by skyrocketing drug prices, a pair of senators on Wednesday urged Congress to block companies from cornering the market on old, off-patent drugs.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., released findings from a year-long investigation into companies like Turing Pharmaceuticals, which generated national outrage last year after hiking the price of a life-saving anti-infection drug by more than 5,000 percent.

Committee investigators concluded that Turing and several other companies "engaged in price gouging ... to make massive profits from decades-old life-saving therapies." The lawmakers, top members of the Special Committee on Aging, presented similar findings at three hearings over the past year.

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Snickers maker criticizes industry-funded paper on sugar

NEW YORK (AP) — Mars Inc., the maker of Skittles and M&M's, is breaking ranks with other food companies. It's denouncing an industry-funded paper that says recommendations on limiting sugar are based on weak science.

The paper drew criticism this week because it was paid for by a group whose members include Coca-Cola, Hershey and Red Bull.

Mars — also a member of the group, the International Life Sciences Institute — said the paper undermines the work of public health officials and makes all industry-funded research look bad.

The group said the paper disclosed how it was funded and said the authors "wrote the protocol and conducted the study independently." The journal published a corrected version of the disclosure Wednesday after The Associated Press provided emails showing the group had input on the proposal.

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The Dow dipped 32.66 points, or 0.2 percent, to 19,941.96. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 5.58 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,265.18. The Nasdaq composite fell 12.51 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,471.43.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 81 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $52.49 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, lost 89 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $54.46 a barrel in London. In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.61 a gallon. Heating oil lost 3 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $1.64 a gallon. Natural gas climbed 28 cents, or 8.6 percent, to $3.54 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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