Business Highlights



Oil boom and housing bust alter US spending trends

WASHINGTON (AP) — North Dakotans, enriched by an oil boom, stepped up their spending at triple the national pace in the three years that followed the Great Recession.

Those and other figures emerged Thursday from a new annual report from the government that for the first time reveals consumer spending on a state-by-state basis from 1997 through 2012.

The numbers point to substantial shifts in the economy since the recession ended.

Spending jumped 28 per cent in North Dakota, the largest gain nationwide, from 2009 through 2012. It surged nearly 16 per cent in Oklahoma. The next-largest increases were in South Dakota, Texas and West Virginia.


Western farmers take hit from Russia food ban

WASHINGTON (AP) — Russian diners won’t be able to find creamy Dutch cheeses or juicy Polish apples in the grocery store or cook up chicken from the United States — the result of a Russian ban on most food imports from the West.

Although the U.S., Canada and the European Union together will take more than a $17.5 billion hit, Russian consumers may feel it more than Western farmers.

Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, shrugged off the import ban’s impact as negligible, in contrast to Western sanctions on Russian individuals, businesses and economic sectors that he said have sent investors fleeing Russia and made a weak Russian economy even weaker.


Spying revelations lead to German encryption boom

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) — Revelations about the National Security Agency’s electronic eavesdropping capabilities have sparked anger in Germany and a boom in encryption services that make it hard for the most sophisticated spies to read emails, listen to calls or comb through texts.

Jon Callas, co-founder of Silent Circle, which sells an encryption app allowing users to talk and text in private, said a series of disclosures from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden last year have been a boon for business.

Silent Circle is one of a host of online security companies cashing in on swarms of new security-conscious customers around the world who want to shield their communications from foreign governments — and nowhere is the market hotter than in Germany, whose chancellor, Angela Merkel, was reported to be a target.


Average US 30-year mortgage rate at 4.14 per cent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mortgage company Freddie Mac said Thursday the nationwide average for a 30-year loan inched up to 4.14 per cent from 4.12 per cent last week.

The average for a 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, rose to 3.27 per cent from 3.23 per cent last week.

Mortgage rates are below the levels of a year ago. They have fallen in recent weeks after climbing last summer when the Federal Reserve began talking about reducing the monthly bond purchases it was making to keep long-term borrowing rates low.


US jobless aid applications fell to 289,000

WASHINGTON (AP) — Weekly applications for unemployment aid fell 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 289,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

The prior week’s was revised up slightly to 303,000.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 4,000 to 293,500. That’s the lowest average since February 2006, almost two years before the Great Recession began at the end of 2007.


Argentina asks world court to consider debt case

AMSTERDAM (AP) — Argentina is seeking to sue the United States at the world court over U.S. court rulings that last week forced the Latin American country into a default.

The International Court of Justice, commonly known as the world court, said in a statement Thursday it has received a request from Argentina to take on the case. There is a major hurdle though: the U.S. must agree to grant the international court jurisdiction if the suit is to proceed.

In a statement, the Hague, Netherlands-based court said Argentina’s filing asserted that U.S. court rulings amount to violations of Argentine sovereignty.


US airlines running behind schedule so far in 2014

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Thursday that among airlines reporting figures, 71.8 per cent of domestic flights arrived on time in June, down from 76.9 per cent the month before and 71.9 per cent in June 2013.

The government says that in the first six months of the year, the rate of late flights was the highest since 2008 and cancellations were the highest since 2000.

A flight counts as late if it arrives more than 14 minutes behind schedule.


Quarter of US households say they’re ‘just getting by,’ Fed survey shows

WASHINGTON (AP) — A quarter of U.S. households say they’re just getting by financially, according to a survey released Thursday by the Federal Reserve.

The Fed described the first-time report as a snapshot of how Americans perceive their financial and economic well-being. The survey of about 4,100 households was conducted from Sept. 17 through Oct. 4, 2013.

Thirteen per cent said they were struggling to get by, and 34 per cent reported they were somewhat worse off or much worse off than before the Great Recession hit in 2008.


Education Department to ease college loan rules

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Department of Education said Thursday it will try to make it easier for students and parents with troubled credit histories to get college loans.

New rules would ease restrictions on college students seeking loans from the government’s direct loan program.

The change would let people get loans more easily even if they have up to $2,085 in debt that is in collections or has been written off by creditors, and it would shorten the length of time their history of such bad debt is scrutinized from five years to two.


US consumer credit increases at slower pace June

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumers expanded their borrowing at a slower rate in June compared to the prior month.

Overall credit rose by $18.3 billion in June to a total of $3.17 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. The rise was down from a gain of $21.5 billion in May.

The smaller increase suggests that consumers remain sheepish about spending, which could limit how fast the economy can grow. Rising debt loads are generally a sign of greater confidence in the economy and fuel faster growth.


Fannie, Freddie post profits in 2Q; pay dividends

WASHINGTON (AP) — Government-controlled mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac posted profits for the April-June period as the U.S. housing market continued to recover.

Gains in recent years have enabled them to fully repay their government aid after being rescued during the financial crisis in 2008.

Fannie Mae reported Thursday that it earned $3.7 billion in the second quarter. Washington-based Fannie will pay a dividend of $3.7 billion to the U.S. Treasury next month.

Freddie Mac posted net income of $1.4 billion for the latest quarter. Freddie, based in McLean, Virginia, will pay a dividend of $1.9 billion to the government.


China tightens grip on instant messaging services

BEIJING (AP) — China’s government tightened control over popular instant messaging services Thursday after telling South Korea that access to some foreign services was blocked because they were used to exchange terrorism-related information.

The government announced that only established media companies will be allowed to release political and social news. That would curtail the growing use of instant messaging services by journalists and scholars to distribute independent news reports and commentary.

The ruling Communist Party has repeatedly tightened controls over microblogs and other social media that give Chinese a rare platform to express themselves to a large audience in a country where all traditional media are state-controlled.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 75.07 points, or 0.5 per cent, to close at 16,368.27. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 10.67 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 1,909.57. The Nasdaq composite fell 20.08 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 4,334.97.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 42 cents to close at $97.34 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude rose 85 cents to close at $105.44 on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 3.2 cents to close at $2.772 a gallon. Natural gas fell 5.7 cents to close at $3.876 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil rose 2 cents to close at $2.896 a gallon.

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