Business Highlights

The Associated Press 0

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Experts: Target hackers will be tough to find

NEW YORK (AP) — The hackers behind the recent Target data breach are likely a world away and nearly impossible to find.

That’s the consensus among outside cybercrime experts as Target, the Secret Service and the FBI continue their investigation of the pre-Christmas data heist in which hackers stole about 40 million debit and credit card numbers and also took personal information — including email addresses, phone numbers, names and home addresses — for another 70 million people.

In the aftermath of the breach, millions of Americans have been left to wonder what has become of their precious personal information. The information can be used in a variety of nefarious ways. Criminals can attempt to use the credit card numbers and place charges on the original owners’ accounts or they can use other pieces of personal information to steal people’s identities and apply for new lines of credit.

But in cases where such a massive amount of information is stolen, experts say criminals generally divide the data into chunks and sell the parcels through online black markets, creating an even more complicated global web of crime.

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European businesses rushing to find Iran bonanza

BRUSSELS (AP) — Europe’s business community is abuzz with preparations to rush back into Iran, an economic powerhouse in the Middle East, as some sanctions are suspended. And the interest is welcome — Iran is desperate to revive its economy after years of international isolation.

Under a deal with world powers, Tehran has agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief and the unfreezing of about $4.2 billion in overseas assets. Iran and world powers now have six months to conclude a permanent deal. As always, in business, it’s about getting in first.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif arrived Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland’s Davos ski resort to meet with the world’s business elite, likely to discuss trade opportunities. More hand-shaking will take place soon thereafter in Tehran, when France’s business lobby group flies in executives representing about 100 firms for “exploratory” talks to take advantage of the sanctions’ suspension, an official with the organization said.

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Target scales back on health coverage

NEW YORK (AP) — Target Corp. says it will no longer be offering health care coverage for its part-time workers.

The discounter is citing new options now available through health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

Target, based in Minneapolis, said the majority of its part-time workers who have been eligible for its health care insurance coverage don’t enrol. In fact, less than 10 per cent of its total employees of 361,000 take advantage of the part-time plan. It said it will stop covering the part-time workers beginning April 1.

Other large employers including UPS are scaling back health coverage by dropping spouses from their employee plans if they are able to get insurance through another employer.

Separately, Target said Wednesday that it was laying off 475 employees across the company’s operations. It also said that over the past six months it has closed about 700 open positions across the entire chain.

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Verizon reports 1,000-1,999 security data orders

WASHINGTON (AP) — Verizon Communications Inc. says it received between 1,000 and 1,999 government requests for customer information related to national security last year.

The largest U.S. cellphone carrier made the disclosure Wednesday in its first report on law-enforcement data requests. Verizon and No. 1 U.S. telecom company AT&T Inc. decided late last year to begin making the information public as debate intensified over the National Security Agency’s collection of hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone records under secret court order.

The NSA program was revealed in June in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Verizon plans to update the report twice a year. The requests, known as national security letters, that Verizon received were in addition to 321,545 demands for customer data last year from U.S. federal and local law-enforcement agencies.

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Nordic steel firms SSAB and Rautaruukki to merge

STOCKHOLM (AP) — The Swedish steel company SSAB AB made an offer Wednesday to buy Finnish company Rautaruukki Oyj for 10.2 billion Swedish kronor ($1.6 billion) to create a combined Nordic producer of high-strength steel.

SSAB said the boards of the two companies have agreed on the merger and the two largest shareholders in SSAB and Rautaruukki support the deal. The offer represents a premium of 20 per cent to the average Rautaruukki share price in the last three months.

The new company, based in Stockholm, will have around 17,500 employees and annual steel production of 8.8 million tons from facilities in Sweden, Finland and the U.S.

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EBay 4Q earnings up, Icahn proposes PayPal split

NEW YORK (AP) — EBay said Wednesday that earnings and revenue grew in the last three months of 2013, driven by a strong holiday season for its e-commerce site and its fast-growing payments business, PayPal.

The company also said it has received a notice from activist investor Carl Icahn seeking a spinoff of PayPal. But eBay said it has looked into that and does not believe it is best for shareholders.

“Payment is part of commerce, and as part of eBay, PayPal drives commerce innovation in payments at global scale, creating value for consumers, merchants and shareholders,” eBay said in a statement.

EBay Inc. earned $850 million, or 65 cents per share, in the October-December period. That’s up 13 per cent from $751 million, or 57 cents per share, a year earlier.

Adjusted earnings were 81 cents per share, beating analysts’ expectations by a penny.

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Icahn raises Apple stake, now owns $3B in stock

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Activist investor Carl Icahn has raised his stake in Apple as he escalates his campaign to pressure the company into buying back more of its stock while the shares remain stuck far below their peak price.

In a Wednesday post on his Twitter account, Icahn revealed that he has poured another $500 million into Apple stock during the past two weeks. He already owned about 4.7 million Apple Inc. shares worth more than $2.5 billion. Given the stock’s trading range during the past two weeks, Icahn probably picked up another 800,000 to 1 million shares. That would still leave his total stake in the iPhone and iPad maker below 1 per cent.

Icahn is urging Apple to spend $50 billion buying back its own stock during the current fiscal year ending in September.

That target would require Apple’s eight-member board to up the ante on a $60 billion stock buyback program adopted nine months ago. Apple still had $37 billon available to spend under that program entering October. Regulatory filings indicate Apple spent about $5 billion of that amount buying back its stock during the first three months of this fiscal year.

The company is expected to provide a specific figure on its stock buybacks Monday when it releases its latest quarterly earnings.

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State: 2nd chemical entered water in W.Va. spill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Freedom Industries, the company behind a chemical spill that contaminated the water supply for 300,000 West Virginians, is facing increased scrutiny after state officials found that the company failed to initially report that a second chemical was released in the event.

The newly identified substance appears to be less toxic than the coal-cleaning agent already known to have leaked.

State regulators have ordered the company to disclose everything that leaked into the Elk River from their storage tank by the end of the day Wednesday.

Freedom Industries also reached a bankruptcy court deal this week for up to $4 million in credit from a lender to help continue operations. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Friday, freezing dozens of lawsuits against the company.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 41.10 points, or 0.3 per cent, to close at 16,373.34. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 1.06 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 1,844.86. The Nasdaq composite climbed 17.24 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 4,243.

Benchmark U.S. crude for March delivery rose $1.76, or 1.9 per cent, to close at $96.73 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In other energy futures trading on Nymex, wholesale gasoline added 6 cents to $2.68 a gallon and heating oil gained 2 cents to $3.04 a gallon. Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, gained $1.54, or 1.4 per cent, to $108.27 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

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