Business Highlights


More Americans see middle class status slipping

WASHINGTON (AP) — A sense of belonging to the middle class occupies a cherished place in America. It conjures images of self-sufficient people with stable jobs and pleasant homes working toward prosperity.

Yet nearly five years after the Great Recession ended, more people are coming to the painful realization that they’re no longer part of it. Former professionals are stocking shelves at grocery stores and retirees are struggling with rising costs.

Since 2008, the number of people who call themselves middle class has fallen by nearly a fifth, according to a survey in January by the Pew Research Center, from 53 per cent to 44 per cent. Forty per cent now identify as either lower-middle or lower class compared with just 25 per cent in February 2008.


Lawmakers accuse GM of possible criminal coverup

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers accused General Motors of a potentially criminal coverup of its defective ignition switches and fumed at the lack of answers from its new CEO during a second day of hearings Wednesday into why the automaker waited a decade to recall cars with a deadly flaw.

The Senate subcommittee said GM should tell owners of the 2.6 million recalled cars to stop driving them until they are repaired. CEO Mary Barra gave assurances that the cars are safe to use while owners wait for the replacement part, saying she would let her son drive one if he took certain precautions.

GM has linked the switch to 13 deaths and dozens of accidents, while others have a higher count.


EU, US vow to help wean Ukraine off Russian gas

BRUSSELS (AP) — The United States and European Union on Wednesday sought ways to reduce the political clout Russia gets from its vast energy reserves by promising to wean Ukraine and the rest of the continent off those supplies.

In the wake of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, Europe’s dependency on Russian energy became a political liability as it undermined its ability to stand up to Moscow. Cutting those supplies could cripple the fragile economies of Ukraine and Europe.

Kerry said the U.S. and EU will seek to provide Ukraine gas through Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.


Survey: US companies add 191K jobs in March

WASHINGTON (AP) — A private survey shows that U.S. companies increased hiring at a healthy pace last month, suggesting that the jobs market is recovering from a brutal winter.

Payroll processer ADP says private employers added 191,000 jobs in March. Hiring was healthy across most industries and businesses of different sizes.

The numbers suggest that the government’s jobs report for March, to be released Friday, will show stronger hiring.

The ADP numbers cover only private businesses and often diverge from the government’s more comprehensive report.


Savings and loan figure Charles Keating dies at 90

PHOENIX (AP) — Charles H. Keating Jr., the financier who served prison time and was disgraced for his role in the costliest savings and loan failure of the 1980s, has died. He was 90.

A person with direct knowledge of the death confirmed on Tuesday that Keating had died. The person wasn’t authorized to release the information and spoke on condition of anonymity.

When Keating’s Phoenix-based home construction company, American Continental Corp., bought Lincoln Savings & Loan in 1984, the multimillionaire elevated its worth from $1.1 billion to $5.5 billion in a four-year period. But his financial empire crumbled with convictions for defrauding investors.

Keating allegedly bilked Lincoln customers by selling them $200 million of unsecured “junk” bonds. They became worthless when Keating’s company became bankrupt.


FDA OKs 1st hay fever allergy immunotherapy tablet

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first tablet for gradually reducing hay fever allergy symptoms, an alternative to uncomfortable allergy-desensitizing shots.

Oralair, a tablet that dissolves under the tongue, is approved for patients aged 10 through 65. It’s to be taken daily starting four months before grass pollen season to reduce allergic reactions to five grass types.

In patient testing, it reduced symptoms and need for medications by up to 30 per cent, compared with dummy pills.

Oralair is made by France’s Stallergenes SA.


Chrysler recalling 870,000 SUVs for brake defect

DETROIT (AP) — Chrysler is recalling nearly 870,000 SUVs because corrosion may make the vehicles’ brakes harder to use.

Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs from the 2011 through 2014 model years are involved.

Chrysler says crimp joints in the brake boosters can corrode if they’re exposed to water. If the water freezes, the boosters won’t aid braking as they usually do.

The company knows of one accident, but no injuries, due to the defect.

Dealers will install a shield to protect the boosters for free and replace boosters that aren’t working properly.


Global growth drives Monsanto’s 2Q higher

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Monsanto’s second-quarter earnings jumped 13 per cent on strength from its core seeds and traits business.

The agriculture products company earned $1.67 billion, or $3.15 per share, 7 cents better than what analysts polled by FactSet had projected. A year ago, the company earned $1.48 billion, or $2.73 per share.

Revenue climbed 7 per cent to $5.83 billion, just edging out Wall Street projections.

The performance was particularly strong, given the slow start to a quarter in which winter storms delayed shipments.


Amazon unveils Fire TV set top streaming device

NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon wants to make its way into living rooms with Amazon Fire TV, a new set-top box that allows streaming of online video, music and other content to televisions.

The company says the $99 device has better speed, performance and search functions than other options such as Apple TV and Google Chromecast. But Amazon is coming late to the game, and it remains to be seen whether the company is offering enough of an advantage to lure customers away from their current streaming methods.

The device, about the size of a CD case, runs Google’s Android operating system and offers Netflix, Hulu and other streaming channels in addition to Amazon Prime instant video.


Adultery site big in Japan where marriage reigns

TOKYO (AP) — Ashley Madison, the world’s biggest online hookup site for married people, is scoring big in Japan.

The nation that prides itself on conformity and proper appearances reached a million users in eight and a half months, the fastest pace among any of the 37 countries where the adultery site operates.

Extramarital sex and affairs are not new to Japan. There is a tradition of wealthy men taking mistresses in Japan, and its male-dominated society has provided plenty of outlets for married men to find casual sex. But some say the site is levelling out of the playing field for women.

Ashley Madison, whose slogan is “Life is short. Have an affair”, has 1.07 million users in Japan after opening here in June.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 40.39 points, or 0.24 per cent, to close at 16,573. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 5.38 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 1,890.90. The Nasdaq composite rose 8.52 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 4,276.46.

Benchmark U.S. crude for May delivery slipped 12 cents to close at $99.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Wholesale gasoline was flat at $2.87 a gallon. Natural gas rose 9 cents to $4.36 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil shed 2 cents to $2.87 a gallon. Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of oil, dropped 83 cents to $104.79 a barrel on the ICE exchange in London.