Business Highlights

The Associated Press 0

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Target: 40M card accounts may be breached

NEW YORK (AP) —Target’s data-security nightmare threatens to drive off holiday shoppers during the company’s busiest time of year.

The nation’s second-largest discounter acknowledged Thursday that data connected to about 40 million credit and debit card accounts was stolen as part of a breach that began over the Thanksgiving weekend.

The theft marks the second-largest credit card breach in U.S. history, exceeded only by a scam that began in 2005 involving retailer TJX Cos. and affected at least 45.7 million card users.

Target’s disclosure came a day after reports that the company was investigating a breach.

Customers who made purchases by swiping their cards at its U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 may have had their accounts exposed. The stolen data included customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the embedded code on the magnetic strip on back of the card, Target said.

There was no indication that the three- or four-digit security numbers visible on the back of the card were affected.

The data breach did not affect online purchases, the company said.

Target has not disclosed exactly how the breach occurred but said it has fixed the problem.

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Weekly US jobless claims hit 9-month high of 379K

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 379,000, the highest since March. The increase may reflect volatility around the Thanksgiving holidays.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average jumped 13,250 to 343,250, the second straight increase.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Last month, they fell to nearly the lowest level in six years, as companies cut fewer jobs. But two weeks ago, they surged 64,000 to 369,000.

Economists dismissed that spike, saying it likely reflected a Thanksgiving holiday that fell later in the month. That can distort the government’s seasonal adjustments. But if the trend continues it would be a troubling sign of rising layoffs.

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US existing-home sales drop for 3rd straight month

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people who bought existing U.S. homes in November declined for the third straight month. Higher mortgage rates have made home-buying more expensive, while the lingering effect of the October government shutdown might have deterred some sales.

Home re-sales fell 4.3 per cent to an annual rate of 4.90 million, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. That was the weakest pace since December 2012 and the first time since April that the pace has slipped below 5 million.

Still, the Realtors’ group predicts that total sales this year will be 5.1 million. That would be the strongest since 2007, when the housing bubble burst. But it’s still below the 5.5 million generally associated with healthy housing markets.

Home sales could rebound in the new year if the strengthening job market lifts incomes and builds confidence in the economy.

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Gauge of economy’s health up 0.8 per cent

WASHINGTON (AP) — A measure of the U.S. economy’s health posted a solid gain in November, suggesting momentum was building at the end of the year.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading indicators rose 0.8 per cent in November compared with October, when the index had posted a much smaller 0.1 per cent gain. The index rose 1 per cent in September, the month before the 16-day partial government shutdown.

The index is designed to signal economic conditions over the next three to six months.

Conference Board economist Ataman Ozyildirim said that the November index increase suggested “gradually strengthening economic conditions through early 2014.”

The November gain was driven by improvements in labour markets, manufacturing orders and strong financial market indicators reflecting in part stock market gains.

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Average US rate on 30-year loan rises to 4.47 pct.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages rose slightly this week but remained near historically low levels.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the rate on the 30-year loan increased to 4.47 per cent from 4.42 per cent last week. The average on the 15-year fixed loan rose to 3.51 per cent from 3.43 per cent.

Mortgage rates peaked at 4.6 per cent in August and have stabilized since September, when the Federal Reserve surprised markets by taking no action on starting to reduce its $85 billion-a month bond purchases. The Fed decided this week that the outlook for the economy appeared strong enough for it to reduce the monthly bond purchases starting in January by $10 billion.

The purchases are designed to keep long-term rates such as mortgage rates low.

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Darden looking to spin off or sell Red Lobster

NEW YORK (AP) — Darden Restaurants wants to set Red Lobster adrift.

The company said Thursday that it is looking to either spin off or sell Red Lobster as part of its plan to boost value for its shareholders. Those plans also include suspending the opening of new Olive Garden locations and limit the opening of new LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants.

Darden Restaurants Inc. has also decided it won’t make any acquisitions of additional brands “for the foreseeable future” and plans to review senior management’s compensation and incentive programs so that there is more emphasis on same-store restaurant sales growth and free cash flow.

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Christie’s launches in India to tap growing wealth

MUMBAI, India (AP) — Christie’s held its first art auction in India on Thursday, aiming to tap into a budding market for prestige purchasing among the country’s fast-growing ranks of millionaires despite an economic slowdown.

The inaugural sale of 83 lots in the financial hub of Mumbai featured paintings from the private collection of one of India’s first families of contemporary art as well as pieces from six of the nine Indian artists deemed “national treasures” whose works cannot leave the country. Total sales added up to $16.4 million, more than double the pre-auction estimates.

Christie’s sees the relatively underdeveloped art market in Asia’s third-largest economy as fertile ground for growth as part of its international expansion that has included recent auctions in China and the Middle East.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 11.11 points, or 0.1 per cent, to close at 16,179.08. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 1.05 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 1,809.60. The Nasdaq composite fell 11.93 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 4,058.13.

Benchmark U.S. crude for January delivery rose 97 cents to close at $98.77 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline rose 4.3 cents to close at $2.740 a gallon. Natural gas soared nearly 5 per cent to close at $4.46 per thousand cubic feet. Heating oil rose 1.8 cents to close at $3.025 a gallon.

Brent crude for February delivery, a benchmark used to price international crudes used by many U.S. refiners, rose 66 cents to close at $110.29.

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