Business Highlights


Drivers endure high gas prices despite US oil boom

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. is increasing its oil production faster than ever, and American drivers are guzzling less gas. But you’d never know it from the price at the pump.

The national average price of gasoline is $3.69 per gallon and forecast to creep higher, possibly approaching $4 by May.

U.S. oil output rose 14 per cent to 6.5 million barrels per day last year — a record increase. By 2020, the nation is forecast to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest crude oil producer. At the same time, U.S. gasoline demand has fallen to 8.7 million barrels a day, its lowest level since 2001, as people switch to more fuel-efficient cars.


Dell buyout intrigue heightens as deadline looms

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Michael Dell is about to find out if other bidders think his company is worth more than he does.

The answer could come Friday, which marks the end of a 45-day period that Dell Inc.’s board of directors settled on to allow for offers that might top a Feb. 5 agreement to sell the personal computer maker to CEO Michael Dell and a group of investors for $24.4 billion.

With the deadline looming, buyout specialist Blackstone Group is emerging as the most likely candidate to trump the current bid of $13.65 per share.


Cyprus rushes bailout plan as clock ticks

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cypriot politicians moved Thursday to restructure the country’s most troubled bank as part of a broader bailout plan that must be in place by Monday to avoid financial ruin. Concerned customers rushed to get cash from ATMs as bank employees protested.

Cyprus has been told it must raise 5.8 billion euros ($7.5 billion) if it is to receive 10 billion euros from its fellow eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. If it does not find a way by Monday, the European Central Bank said it will cut off emergency support to the banks and let them collapse.

That would throw the country into financial chaos and could ultimately make it leave the eurozone.


NKorea suspected in cyberattack despite China link

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Investigators have traced a co-ordinated cyberattack that paralyzed tens of thousands of computers at six South Korean banks and media companies to a Chinese Internet Protocol address, but it was still unclear who orchestrated the attack, authorities in Seoul said Thursday.

The discovery did not erase suspicions that North Korea was to blame. An IP address can provide an important clue as to the location of an Internet-connected computer but can easily be manipulated by hackers operating anywhere in the world. The investigation into Wednesday’s attack could take weeks.

By Thursday only one of the six targets, Shinhan Bank, was back online and operating regularly. It could be next week before the other companies have fully recovered.


Average for US jobless claims at 5-year low

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid barely changed last week, while the average over the past month fell to a five-year low. The decline in layoffs is helping strengthen the job market.

Weekly unemployment benefit applications rose by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 336,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Over the past four weeks, the average number of applications has dropped by 7,500 to 339,750. That’s the lowest since February 2008, three months into the recession.


US homes sales highest in more than 3 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. sales of previously occupied homes rose in February to their fastest pace in more than three years, and more people put their homes on the market. The increases suggest a growing number of Americans believe the housing recovery will strengthen.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales increased 0.8 per cent in February from January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.98 million. That was the fastest sales pace since November 2009, when a temporary home buyer tax credit boosted sales. The February sales pace was also 10.2 per cent higher than the same month a year ago.

Steady hiring and near-record-low mortgage rates helped boost sales and prices in most markets. The Realtors’ group says the median price for a home sold in February was $173,600. That’s up 11.6 per cent from a year ago.


US rate on 30-year mortgage declines to 3.54 per cent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell this week and remained near historic lows, a trend that has supported a recovery in housing.

Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year loan fell to 3.54 per cent from 3.63 per cent last week. That’s near the 3.31 per cent reached in November, which was the lowest on records dating to 1971.

The average rate on the 30-year loan has been below 4 per cent now for a year.


House passes GOP budget plan promising deep cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) — Moving on two fronts, the Republican-controlled House on Thursday voted to keep the government running for the next six months while pushing through a tea-party flavoured budget for next year that would shrink the government by another $4.6 trillion over the next decade.

The spending authorization on its way to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature leaves in place $85 billion in spending cuts for the Pentagon and domestic agencies. The result will be temporary furloughs for hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors over the next six months and interrupted, slower or halted services and aid for many Americans.

The nonbinding GOP budget plan for 2014 and beyond calls for a balanced budget in 10 years’ time and sharp cuts in safety-net programs for the poor and other domestic programs.

The House plan moves to the Senate, where it is unlikely to pass.


Lululemon’s yoga pants miscue to hurt 2013 results

NEW YORK (AP) — Fans of Lululemon’s popular black yoga pants will have to sit tight.

Lululemon Athletica Inc. executives told investors Thursday that the company still hasn’t determined the cause behind the too-sheer yoga pants that had to be pulled off shelves and taken offline over the weekend. And officials declined to say when the items would be back.

Executives also indicated that the unacceptable sheerness in the Luon black pants isn’t just limited to the March 1 shipments to stores but also includes pants still in its factories.

As a result the Canadian company said the withdrawal will mean lost revenue of $12 million to $17 million in the first quarter and $45 million to $50 million for the rest of the year, particularly in the second quarter.


Coca-Cola to cut 750 jobs in US

NEW YORK (AP) — Coca-Cola will cut 750 jobs in the U.S. as it continues to streamline its business.

The world’s biggest beverage maker says the jobs cuts will be across the board and affected individuals will be notified in coming weeks. The cuts represent roughly 1 per cent of the company’s workforce of 75,000 in North America.

A spokesman says about a quarter of the cuts will be in Atlanta, where the company is based.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 90.24 points, or 0.62 per cent, to 14,421.49. The S&P 500 closed down 12.91 points, or 0.83 per cent, at 1,545.80. The Nasdaq, which is weighted heavily toward tech stocks, fell nearly a full percentage point. It closed down 31.59 points at 3,222.60.

Benchmark oil for May delivery dropped $1.05 to finish at $92.45 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, fell $1.25 to $107.47 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline fell 5 cents to $3.07 a gallon. Heating oil was flat at $2.90 a gallon. Natural gas fell 3 cents to $3.94 per 1,000 cubic feet.