Business Highlights

The Associated Press 0

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US consumer confidence rises in August

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans’ confidence in the economy inched closer to a 5 1/2-year high on growing optimism that hiring and wages could pick up in coming months.

The Conference Board, a New York-based private research group, said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index rose to 81.5 in August. That’s up from a revised reading of 81 in July. And it’s just below the 82.1 reading in June, which was the highest since January 2008.

Consumers’ income expectations, which fell earlier this year after a January tax hike, rebounded to the highest level in 2 1/2 years, said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board’s economic indicators.

Although consumers were more confident about the future, their assessment of the current economy dipped slightly in August.

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US home prices rise a strong 12.1 per cent in June

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices rose 12.1 per cent in June from a year earlier, nearly matching a seven-year high. But month-over-month price gains slowed in most markets, a sign that higher mortgage rates may weigh on the housing recovery.

The Standard &Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index slowed only marginally from May’s year-over-year gain of 12.2 per cent, the fastest since March 2006. And all 20 cities posted gains from the previous month and compared with a year ago, according to the report released Tuesday.

Most economists expect the overall index to slow to single digits in the coming months, which they see as a more sustainable pace.

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Wal-Mart expands benefits to domestic partners

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. says it now will extend its health care benefits to its U.S. workers’ domestic partners, including those of the same sex.

The nation’s largest private employer said Tuesday that the changes were made so it could have a uniform policy for all 50 states at a time when some states have their own definitions of what constitutes domestic partnerships and civil unions.

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Ackman to sell JC Penney stake for about $504.4 million

NEW YORK (AP) — J.C. Penney’s biggest investor, William Ackman, plans to sell his entire stake in the struggling department store operator for about $504.4 million — a loss of around $470 million from what he paid for it.

The move comes two weeks after Ackman resigned from J.C. Penney Co.’s board as part of a deal to resolve an unusually public battle between the activist investor and the retailer.

Pershing Square Capital Management’s Ackman disclosed in a regulatory filing late Monday that he was going to sell his nearly 18 per cent interest — or 39.1 million shares. On Tuesday, Ackman said that the shares will be priced at $12.90 each, about 3 per cent below Monday’s $13.35 closing price.

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US seeks to delay airline-merger trial until March

DALLAS (AP) — The U.S. government wants to wait until March for a trial on its lawsuit aimed at blocking the merger of American Airlines and US Airways, a deal that would create the world’s biggest airline.

The airlines want to start the trial in November. They had hoped to close the merger next month, but that was before the U.S. Justice Department and six states filed the antitrust case two weeks ago.

The Justice Department said in a court filing Tuesday that given the stakes in the merger, it needs until March 3 to develop evidence and prepare for trial. It accused the airlines of rushing the case.

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Sprint eliminating 800 customer-service jobs

NEW YORK (AP) — Sprint is eliminating about 800 customer service jobs because fewer people are calling its centres, the company said Tuesday. With growth in other parts of the business, however, Sprint said it expects the company’s workforce to remain at about 40,000.

Sprint Corp. said most of the affected workers were notified last Thursday. Others will be told next month after Sprint figures out which additional positions will be cut. The company said the cuts are at various locations across the country.

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Nissan pledges to make self-driving cars by 2020

IRVINE, Calif. (AP) — Nissan Motor Co. says it will make cars that drive themselves by 2020.

The Japanese automaker made the pledge Tuesday at an event in California. CEO Carlos Ghosn has said before that he wants Nissan to be the first to sell self-driving cars. But Tuesday’s announcement was more specific.

Nissan says it will have a commercially viable autonomous driving system in multiple vehicles by 2020. It hopes to offer that system at a reasonable price across its lineup within two vehicle generations. The company says it’s working on autonomous cars with several universities, including M.I.T. and the University of Tokyo. It’s also building the first dedicated proving ground for autonomous cars near its headquarters in Japan.

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China arrests British, American investigators

BEIJING (AP) — Beijing is tightening control over trade in information that can help companies find their way through China’s secretive business world.

On Tuesday, police announced the arrest of two corporate investigators, a Briton and an American who work in Shanghai, on charges of improperly selling personal information about Chinese citizens. Peter Humphrey and Yingzeng Yu, a married couple, are part of an industry of investigators who help corporate clients screen potential partners and employees or watch for embezzlement and other employee misconduct.

Chinese leaders want the prosperity that comes from free-market competition but see control over information as a tool to protect the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

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Ex-JPMorgan trader arrested in Spain

MADRID (AP) — A former JPMorgan Chase & Co. trader wanted by the United States for allegedly falsifying bank records to cover up $6 billion in trading losses was arrested in Madrid Tuesday, Spanish police said.

A statement said Spaniard Javier Martin-Artajo, 49, was arrested after he presented himself to police in Madrid, who had located and asked him to turn himself in.

U.S. prosecutors earlier this month filed criminal charges against Martin-Artajo and another ex-JPMorgan trader, Julien Grout.

The two were accused of marking up the market value of an investment portfolio to hide its plummeting value. The portfolio eventually incurred a $6 billion loss for JPMorgan, the biggest U.S. bank by assets. For months following its disclosure, the shortfall was attributed to Bruno Iksil, a trader who became known as the “London Whale”.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 170.33 points, or 1.1 per cent, to close at 14,776.13 Tuesday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 26.30 points, or 1.6 per cent, to 1,630.48. The Nasdaq composite fell 79.05 points, or 2.2 per cent, to 3,578.52.

U.S. benchmark oil for October delivery rose $3.09, or 2.9 per cent, to close at $109.01 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Heating oil added 8 cents to $3.17 per gallon. Natural gas rose 2 cents to $3.57 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline rose 8 cents to $2.91 per gallon.

Brent crude, the benchmark for international crudes, was up $3.11 to $114.28 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

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