News

Business Highlights

___

Will that be a 6-bedroom suite or just a couch?

NEW YORK (AP) — Private elevators, personal shopping assistants, six-bedroom suites with their own postal codes. Even helipads. This is what the super-rich have come to expect from hotels.

For others, vacation now means renting someone’s apartment, a spare room, maybe just a couch — anything to save on the cost of a hotel.

As the gap between the wealthiest travellers and everyone else has widened, so has the way people are experiencing vacations. The wealthy are looking for ever-more pampering. Many others are seeking new ways to economize.

And the lodging industry is adapting — at the high and low ends — to meet the diverging needs.

___

Europe’s central bank weighs anti-deflation steps

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The European Central Bank is all but certain Thursday to unveil extraordinary steps to try to boost ultra-low inflation and quicken the limp economy of the 18 countries that use the euro.

The ECB has been under pressure to act, especially after a report this week showed that inflation in the eurozone dropped more than expected last month to 0.5 per cent — further evidence of a wobbly recovery.

Excessively low inflation, if it persists, could become a serious economic threat. It could cause businesses and individuals to delay spending indefinitely as they await ever-lower prices. It could also make it harder for companies and countries to pare their heavy debt loads left over from the eurozone’s financial crisis.

___

Skip the website? Some small businesses still do

NEW YORK (AP) — It’s cheap. It’s easy to do. And it can take less than 20 minutes to set up. Yet more than half of all small businesses still don’t have a website.

Small businesses that don’t have one say they don’t have the time, think it will cost too much or don’t want the rush of orders that comes with being online. But entrepreneurs that have jumped to the digital side say their websites have boosted sales, cut down on time-consuming phone calls and brought more people into their stores.

But not everyone wants that.

Steve Love has never had a website for the handmade sausage and meat business he’s owned since 1988. He says a website for LoveLand Farms would boost sales and he doesn’t have any more farmland to raise hogs and Black Angus cattle.

___

Kentucky plant emblematic of move from coal to gas

DRAKESBORO, Kentucky (AP) — In the shadow of Paradise Fossil Plant’s aging smokestacks, where white steam and carbon dioxide rises into the sky, outdated coal-fired generators are being replaced with one that runs on natural gas.

The change in Muhlenberg County, once the United States’ top producer of coal, is emblematic of what’s been happening across the country as natural gas becomes cheaper and electric utilities try to meet stiffer carbon emissions rules the Obama administration announced this week.

When the $1 billion natural gas facility is finished in 2017, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest public utility, will shut down two coal-burning units at Paradise that date to the 1960s.

___

Co-founder of Burt’s Bees says he was ousted

PARKMAN, Maine (AP) — Conventional wisdom suggests the Burt behind Burt’s Bees left the company after he became disillusioned with the corporate world in North Carolina and wanted to return to his solitary life in Maine.

The reality, Burt Shavitz says, is that he was forced out by co-founder Roxanne Quimby after he had an affair with an employee.

So the man on the Burt’s Bees logo that promises “Earth-friendly natural personal care products” ended up with 37 acres in Maine, and an undisclosed sum of money.

And he’s not complaining.

___

US stocks edge higher; Protective Life soars

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks rose modestly Wednesday, erasing an early decline, as investors waited to hear from the European Central Bank on Thursday.

Insurer Protective Life soared on news that it was being acquired by a Japanese company.

The Nasdaq got a boost from Apple, its biggest component. Apple’s 7-for-1 stock split will happen after the close of business Friday.

___

Survey: US companies added 179,000 jobs in May

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. businesses pulled back on hiring in May, adding the fewest jobs in four months, a private survey showed.

Payroll processer ADP said Wednesday that private employers added 179,000 jobs last month, down from 215,000 in the previous month. April’s figure was revised slightly lower. Still, the gain in May was in line with the ADP’s average monthly hiring figures for the past 12 months.

The data suggest that the government’s jobs report, to be released Friday, could also show a modest slowdown from April’s big gain of 288,000 jobs. But the ADP numbers cover only private businesses and often diverge from the government’s more comprehensive report.

___

US service firms grow at fastest pace since August

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. service firms grew more quickly last month as production, hiring and new orders increased, adding to signs that the economy is accelerating after dipping at the start of the year.

The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday that its service-sector index rose to 56.3 in May, the best reading since August 2013. The figure is an improvement from the 55.2 posted in April. Any figure above 50 indicates expansion.

The report points to solid growth after a brutal winter caused the economy to shrink 1 per cent during the January-March quarter. The gains in new orders and the backlog of existing orders suggest a faster rate of hiring in the months ahead as businesses rush to meet the demand.

___

Fed survey: Economy showing improvement across US

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Federal Reserve survey shows the U.S. economy strengthening over the past two months in areas from manufacturing and construction to retail sales and bank lending.

Seven of the Fed’s 12 regions — Boston, New York, Richmond, Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas and San Francisco — reported “moderate” growth during the early spring, while the remaining five described growth as “modest,” according to the Beige Book survey released Wednesday.

Retail sales were reviving, helped by pent-up demand for new cars after the harsh winter, the survey found. Manufacturing was expanding in all regions, along with lending. One weakness was home sales, held back in large part by a tight supply of available homes.

___

US trade deficit at 2-year high in April

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. trade deficit jumped to a two-year high in April, as exports declined and imports surged to a record high.

The deficit rose to $47.2 billion in April, up 6.9 per cent from an upwardly revised March deficit of $44.2 billion, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

Exports dropped for the fourth month out of the past five, falling 0.2 per cent to $195.4 billion. Meanwhile, imports climbed 1.2 per cent to an all-time high of $240.6 billion, reflecting record shipment levels of foreign-made cars, food, computers and other goods.

A wider trade deficit can act as a drag on growth because it means U.S. companies are earning less from their overseas markets. But it could also indicate rising U.S. demand as the country shakes off the effects of a harsh winter.

___

US productivity falls at 3.2 per cent rate in 1Q

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. productivity fell even more than previously thought in the January-March period while labour costs rose at a faster pace.

Productivity, the amount of output per hour of work, declined at an annual rate of 3.2 per cent in the first quarter, the weakest showing since the beginning months of the recession in 2008, the Labor Department reported Wednesday. Unit labour costs rose at a 5.7 per cent rate, the fastest pace in more than a year.

Rising labour costs and falling productivity can be a cause for concern if they are an indication that inflation is worsening. But the first-quarter performance was seen as a temporary bump caused by an unusually harsh winter which caused the economy to go into reverse. A strong rebound is expected in the current quarter.

___

By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average rose 15.19 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 16,737.53.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 3.64 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 1,927.88.

The Nasdaq composite index advanced 17.56 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 4,251.64.

Benchmark U.S. oil for July delivery fell 2 cents to close at $102.64 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, declined 42 cents to close at $108.40 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

— Wholesale gasoline fell 1.4 cents to close at $2.935 a gallon.

— Natural gas rose 1.1 cents to close at $4.64 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil fell 1.8 cents to close at $2.848 a gallon.