Business Highlights

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Toyota, GM recalls push US to near-record pace

DETROIT (AP) — Big U.S. recalls by General Motors and Toyota have put the auto industry on a record pace as companies try to avoid bad publicity and punishment from an increasingly aggressive government.

On Wednesday, Toyota announced it was recalling nearly 1.8 million vehicles in the U.S. to fix a spate of problems, including air bags that might not inflate. It’s part of a worldwide recall of 6.4 million cars and trucks.

So far this year, automakers have recalled about 9 million vehicles in the U.S. If that pace continues, the nation would break the record of 30.8 million recalled vehicles set in 2004.

Most of the recalls are from Toyota and General Motors, two automakers that are under government scrutiny and facing bad publicity and allegations that they concealed safety issues.

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Heartbleed bug causes major security headache

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A confounding computer bug called “Heartbleed” is causing major security headaches across the Internet as websites scramble to fix the problem and Web surfers wonder whether they should change their passwords to prevent theft of their email accounts, credit card numbers and other sensitive information.

The breakdown revealed this week affects a widely used encryption technology that is supposed to protect online accounts for a variety of online communications and electronic commerce.

Security researchers who uncovered the threat are particularly worried about the lapse because it went undetected for more than two years. They fear the possibility that computer hackers may have been secretly exploiting the problem before its discovery. It’s also possible that no one took advantage of the flaw before its existence was announced late Monday.

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Small businesses in limbo again on tax breaks

NEW YORK (AP) — Small businesses are in limbo as they wait for Congress to make decisions that could save them a lot of money.

Bills in Congress would extend tax deductions widely used by small businesses making equipment or property purchases. One, known as the Section 179 deduction, has shrunk to a maximum $25,000 this year from $500,000 in 2013. Another, called bonus depreciation, expired at the end of last year.

The deductions are a big deal for small companies, saving them thousands or even millions of dollars on capital investments. But because Congress decides every year how big the deductions will be, owners can’t plan their equipment budgets until lawmakers vote. And in recent years, worried about the ballooning federal deficit, Congress has put off those votes, sometimes until late in the year.

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Panera CEO looks to fix ‘mosh pit’ ordering system

NEW YORK (AP) — Panera CEO Ron Shaich realizes that ordering at his chain can be chaotic.

First, the bakery cafe’s customers are given a buzzer that lets them know when their food is ready. Then they get into a “mosh pit” to fight for their food. Next they play a game he calls “Find Your Food” — collecting a sandwich in one place, drinks in another and condiments in yet another.

The confusion is a problem for Panera Bread Co., which has seen its sales growth slow as customers go elsewhere. Last year, sales at established locations rose 2.3 per cent, compared with a 5.7 per cent increase the previous year.

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Smartphone trial judge annoyed by phones in court

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — So far one of the biggest problems for a federal judge overseeing a patent battle between the world’s largest smartphone makers isn’t about stolen ideas. It’s getting the roomful of smartphone devotees to turn off their devices.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh has become increasingly frustrated during the first few days of the trial pitting Apple against Samsung because the many personal Wi-Fi signals interfere with a network the judge relies on for a real-time transcript of the proceedings.

The phones also ring, buzz and jingle, and can be used to take photos, a serious violation of court rules.

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Stocks advance on Fed minutes, US earnings

NEW YORK (AP) — The stock market is sharply higher as investors got some encouraging news about interest rates and as U.S. corporate earnings got off to a good start.

Alcoa led a rally in companies that make basic materials. The aluminum maker rose 4 per cent after its earnings came in better than investors expected.

Minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest policy meeting reassured investors that the central bank won’t move quickly to increase interest rates.

Technology stocks bounced back after taking a beating over the past week. Facebook surged 7 per cent.

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Minutes show Fed struggled to agree on rate policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve struggled last month over how to convey to investors that it will raise short-term interest rates only slowly once it increases them from record lows.

Two weeks before the Fed’s regular meeting March 18-19, it held an unusual and previously unannounced videoconference to debate the issue, according to minutes, or written records, of the meeting released Wednesday.

In the end, the Fed settled on an open-ended approach: That even after employment and inflation are nearly back to normal, short-term rates may need to stay unusually low for a while because the economy isn’t fully healthy.

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US wholesale stockpiles up 0.5 per cent in February

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. wholesale businesses increased their stockpiles for an eighth consecutive month in February as their sales rose at the fastest clip since November, good signs for future economic growth.

Wholesale businesses boosted stockpiles by 0.5 per cent in February following an increase of 0.8 per cent in January, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.

Sales rose 0.7 per cent in February, rebounding from a sharp 1.8 per cent drop in January which had been blamed in part on severe weather that cut into demand.

The solid gain in sales should encourage businesses to keep restocking their shelves to meet rising demand. That will mean increased orders to factories and rising production which would boost economic growth.

Many economists say that the economy slowed in the January-March quarter but will rebound this quarter.

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CVS goes cold turkey; may pressure rivals, or not

It has long been gospel among retailers that tobacco pulls so much business into stores, with smokers also picking up water, gum or a bag of chips, that dumping it would be a sales killer.

However, with pressure from anti-smoking forces growing, tobacco use waning and now a national drugstore chain jettisoning cigarettes for good, is this calculus starting to crack?

It’s probably too early to say, but major retailers will be paying close attention to the sales numbers after CVS Caremark pulls tobacco from its shelves by October. If the old retail rules governing tobacco have not changed outright, they are at least coming up for review.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average rose 181.04 points, or 1.1 per cent, to 16,437.18. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 20.22 points, or 1.1 per cent, to 1,872.18. The Nasdaq composite picked up 70.91 points, or 1.7 per cent, to 4,183.90.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil for May delivery gained $1.04 to close at $103.60 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to set prices for international oil varieties, rose 31 cents to $107.98 on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Wholesale gasoline added 3 cents to $3.01 a gallon. Natural gas rose 5 cents to $4.59 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil gained 2 cents to $2.95 a gallon.

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