Business Highlights


Online shopping grows, with some growing pains

Americans waited until the last minute to buy holiday gifts, but retailers weren’t prepared for the spike.

Heavy spending in the final days of the mostly lacklustre season sent sales up 3.5 per cent between Nov. 1 and Tuesday, according to MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, which tracks payments but doesn’t give dollar figures.

Online shopping led the uptick, with spending up 10 per cent to $38. 91 billion between Nov. 2 and Sunday, research firm comScore said.

But the late surge caught companies off guard. UPS and FedEx failed to deliver some packages by Christmas due to a combination of poor weather and overloaded systems, leaving some unhappy holiday shoppers.


Websites try to nix nasty comments

NEW YORK (AP) — Mix blatant bigotry with poor spelling. Add a dash of ALL CAPS. Top it off with a violent threat. And there you have it: A recipe for the worst of online comments, scourge of the Internet.

Blame anonymity, blame politicians, blame human nature. But a growing number of websites are reining in the Wild West of online commentary. Companies including Google and the Huffington Post are trying everything from deploying moderators to forcing people to use their real names in order to restore civil discourse. Some sites, such as Popular Science, are banning comments altogether.


McDonald’s closes employee website amid criticism

McDonald’s Corp. has shut down a website intended to provide employees with work and life guidance after it generated negative publicity for the fast-food company.

The McResource program has been criticized for creating unrealistic budgets and offering advice that was out of touch with its workers’ pay. The website, which was run by an outside company, also reportedly discouraged workers from eating fast food.

McDonald’s, based in Oak Brook, Ill., said Thursday that it is having its vendor take down the website because links to irrelevant or outdated information, along with outside groups taking elements out of context, has created “unwarranted scrutiny and inappropriate commentary.”


Delta to honour extremely cheap mistake fares

NEW YORK (AP) — Some lucky fliers capitalized on a computer glitch Thursday and scored some really cheap flights on Delta Air Lines.

From about 10 a.m. to noon ET, certain Delta fares on the airline’s own website and other airfare booking sites were showing up incorrectly, offering some savvy bargain hunters incredible deals. A roundtrip flight between Cincinnati and Minneapolis for February was being sold for just $25.05 and a roundtrip between Cincinnati and Salt Lake City for $48.41. The correct price for both of those fares is more than $400.

Trebor Banstetter, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based airline, said the problem has been fixed but “Delta will honour any fares purchased at the incorrect price.”


Closing the chapter: 2013 lessons for investors

NEW YORK (AP) — Successful stock investors followed some simple advice this year: Don’t worry, be happy.

In 2013, investors who blocked out the scary headlines about a possible government default, budget cuts, and concerns about when the Federal Reserve would begin to scale back its stimulus, did great. The economy wasn’t robust, but it wasn’t weak either. Earnings grew, even if companies achieved them by cutting costs rather than increasing sales. And the Fed gave the market a year-end bonus by keeping short-term borrowing costs near zero, even after dialing back its program to hold down longer-term rates.

Final tally: Stocks are up more than 28 per cent.

Next year, though, they will need to temper that rosy approach. Market strategists, on average, see more modest growth for stocks in 2014.


Weekly US jobless claims drop 42K to 338K

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped by 42,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 338,000, the biggest drop since November 2012. But economists say the figures from late November and December are warped by seasonal volatility around the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that the less-volatile four-week average rose 4,250 to 348,000.

Claims had jumped 75,000 over the two weeks that ended Dec. 14 before plunging last week. The Labor Department struggles to account for seasonal hiring by retailers and other businesses and for temporary layoffs of cafeteria workers and other employees at schools that close for the holidays.

Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs and the recent declines are consistent with a solid job market.


Average US 30-year mortgage rises to 4.48 pct.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages crept higher this week but remained low by historical standards.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan increased to 4.48 per cent from 4.47 per cent last week. The average on the 15-year fixed loan rose to 3.52 per cent from 3.51 per cent.

Mortgage rates peaked at 4.6 per cent in August on expectations that the Federal Reserve would reduce its $85 billion-a-month in bond purchases. Those purchases push mortgage and other long-term rates lower and encourage borrowing and spending. On Dec. 18, the Fed finally decided the economy was strong enough to allow it to reduce the monthly purchases by $10 billion.

Mortgage rates are sharply higher than they were a year ago when the 30-year fixed rate was 3.35 per cent and the 15-year was 2.65 per cent.


Spain: Tax cuts in 2014 for low-income earners

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s finance minister has told a business newspaper that the government plans to cut income taxes for low-income Spanish families in 2014 but that citizens in higher income brackets won’t get the same windfall until the country’s economy emerges from a prolonged crisis.

In an interview published Thursday, Cristobal Montoro did not tell the Expansion newspaper how much taxes will be lowered for low-income earners or specify the income levels they must have to receive the benefit. Montoro said the administration of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy predicts the Spanish economy will expand by 1 per cent in 2014 after a punishing recession lasting years.

Rajoy has pushed through waves of austerity-driven, unpopular tax hikes and government program cutbacks since taking office in 2011, to reduce Spain’s budget deficit.


Garment workers rally against Cambodian government

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Several thousand garment workers pressing for higher wages joined opposition activists in protests in Cambodia’s capital on Thursday, adding to pressure on Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The protests in Phnom Penh came as the country’s garment manufacturers association recommended that its members stop operations for a week. It cited a fear that demonstrators might damage the factories if workers didn’t come out on strike. The country is home to about 500 factories producing clothes and shoes for foreign brands.

Hun Sen won elections in July that extended his 28-year rule in the poor Southeast Asia nation, but protesters led by the head of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, accuse him of rigging the vote. They have been staging street protests and demanding that he resign and call new elections.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 122.33 points, or 0.8 per cent, to close at 16,479.88 Thursday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 8.7 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 1,842.02. The Nasdaq composite rose 11.76 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 4,167.18.

Benchmark U.S. oil for February delivery was up 33 cents to close at $99.55 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Wholesale gasoline rose 0.58 cent to $2.82 a gallon. Heating oil inched up 1.7 cents at $3.09 a gallon. Natural gas was up 1.7 cents to $4.43 per 1,000 cubic feet. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, was up 8 cents at $111.98 a barrel in London.