Business Highlights

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Chiquita combines with Fyffes to be top banana

LONDON (AP) — Chiquita has combined with Dublin-based Fyffes to become the world’s top banana company.

The stock-for-stock transaction announced Monday creates a global banana and fresh produce company with $4.6 billion in annual revenues.

The new company, ChiquitaFyffes, will have an operating presence in more than 70 countries and a workforce of approximately 32,000 people. It will become the largest company in the global banana market with sales of more than 160 million boxes annually.

Chiquita Brands International is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and has a big presence in the United States while Fyffes has a major presence in Europe.

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McDonald’s struggles worsened by snow

NEW YORK (AP) — McDonald’s is fighting to hold onto customers in the U.S. — and all that snow didn’t help.

The world’s biggest hamburger chain said Monday that sales fell 1.4 per cent in February at established U.S. locations. It blamed the harsh winter weather, but conceded that “challenging industry dynamics” also played a role.

After years of outperforming its rivals, McDonald’s has been struggling to boost sales as people flock to places like Chipotle and Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Those chains have popped up quickly across the country by positioning themselves as a step up from traditional fast food in terms of quality, for a little extra money.

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China auto sales rise but local brands weaken

BEIJING (AP) — China’s auto sales rose 11.3 per cent in the first two months of this year but local brands suffered a decline, signalling intense competition in the world’s biggest auto market.

Sales for the two-month period totalled 3.1 million vehicles, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Sales by domestic auto brands declined 1 per cent to 1.2 million vehicles.

Global automakers are spending heavily to develop models for Chinese tastes. That is squeezing fledgling domestic brands that lag in technology as buyers who used to see them as entry-level purchases demand better quality.

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US network to scan workers with secret clearances

WASHINGTON (AP) — Stung by internal security lapses, U.S. intelligence officials plan to use a sweeping electronic system to continually monitor workers with secret clearances, current and former officials told The Associated Press.

The system is intended to identify rogue agents, corrupt officials and leakers. Many of the nearly 4 million government employees who hold secret clearances would be scanned by the new system.

An administration review of the government’s security clearance process due this month is expected to support the measure as part of a package of comprehensive changes.

Workers with secret clearances are already required to undergo background checks of their finances and private lives before they are hired and again during periodic re-investigations.

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American dropped 14,000 Feb. flights due to storms

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — American Airlines and US Airways cancelled more than 14,000 flights last month — more than double the rate from a year earlier — as winter storms disrupted air travel.

American Airlines Group Inc. said Monday that the cancellations hurt first-quarter profit, but it didn’t give a figure.

Despite the cancellations, traffic rose 0.5 per cent, as passengers flew 15.08 billion miles last month.

American and US Airways boosted capacity by 0.8 per cent, so the average flight was a bit less crowded; 78.4 per cent full, down from 78.7 per cent a year earlier. All of the capacity increase was on international flying.

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Sbarro again files for reorganization

NEW YORK (AP) — Sbarro said Monday that it is filing for bankruptcy reorganization, the struggling pizza chain’s second trip through the process in less than three years.

The filing comes after the company shuttered 155 of its U.S. locations last month.

Sbarro also filed for bankruptcy protection in April 2011 and emerged a few months later, saying that it significantly cut its debt and received a capital infusion. A new CEO then led a push to revitalize the chain’s image with new recipes and ovens. But the efforts apparently didn’t take hold.

The company says its strategy of store closings and balance sheet restructuring will improve its profitability and reduce outstanding debt by more than 80 per cent.

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Natural gas industry struggles to keep promises

HOUSTON (AP) — America’s plan to use more natural gas to run power plants, make chemicals, drive vehicles and heat homes may not go as smoothly as expected.

There’s plenty of natural gas in the ground, everyone seems to agree. But the harsh weather this winter shows there are obstacles to producing it, and more pipelines have to be built.

The bitter temperatures boosted demand for natural gas to heat homes and businesses. But wells in some places literally froze, making it difficult for some drillers to keep gas flowing. And the high demand clogged pipelines, so even when there was enough production, the gas couldn’t get where it needed to go.

Shortages cropped up, and prices in some places soared to record levels.

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Swiss: Money laundered from Stanford Ponzi scheme

GENEVA (AP) — The office of Switzerland’s attorney general says its criminal investigation into former Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford’s massive Ponzi scheme has concluded that some of the victims’ money was laundered in Swiss accounts.

The office says the yearslong investigation is complete and all of the assets remaining in Switzerland will be returned to fraud victims.

The Stanford Group (Suisse) AG was fined 1 million Swiss francs ($1.1 million) and ordered to pay between 6 million and 9 million francs in claims. It has provided American authorities with banking documents and hearing transcripts for use in U.S. criminal proceedings.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that Stanford’s victims can go forward with class-action lawsuits against those that allegedly aided the $7.2 billion fraud.

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Japanese bitcoin exchange files US bankruptcy case

DALLAS (AP) — The Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange that recently collapsed in Japan has filed for U.S. bankruptcy protection to shield itself from a lawsuit seeking to repay thousands of people whose digital currency is now missing.

The U.S. filing made in Dallas late Sunday supplements a bankruptcy petition that Mt. Gox submitted in Japan at the end of last month.

Mt. Gox was once the world’s largest exchange specializing in bitcoins, but now finds itself in a financial mess after losing about 850,000 bitcoins valued at $473 million, according to court documents.

Although it’s based in Tokyo, Mt. Gox is opening a bankruptcy case in the U.S. in an attempt to delay a recent federal lawsuit filed in Illinois on behalf of all U.S. residents burned by the exchange’s abrupt demise.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 34.04 points, or 0.2 per cent, to close at 16,418.68. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index edged down 0.87 of a point to close at 1,877.17. The Nasdaq composite fell 1.77 points, or less than 0.1 per cent, to 4,334.45.

Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery dropped $1.46 to $101.12 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to $2.95 per gallon. Heating oil dropped 5 cents to $2.97 per gallon. Natural gas gained 3 cents to $4.65 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, fell 92 cents to $108.08 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

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