Business Highlights


Brighter view on jobs and pay lifts US confidence

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are more optimistic that the job market is healing and will deliver higher pay later this year. That brighter outlook, along with rising home prices, cheaper gasoline and a surging stock market, could offset some of the drag from recent tax increases and government spending cuts.

A gauge of consumer confidence rose in April, reversing a decline in March, the Conference Board, a private research group, said Tuesday. The board attributed the gain to optimism about hiring and pay increases. Economists also cited higher home values and record stock prices.

Despite the rise in the index, to 68.1 from 61.9 in March, confidence remains well below its historic average of 92. Still, the increase signalled that consumers, whose spending drives about 70 per cent of the economy, see better times ahead.


US home prices up 9.3 per cent, most in nearly 7 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices rose 9.3 per cent in February compared with a year ago, the most in nearly seven years. The gains were driven by a growing number of buyers who bid on a limited supply of homes.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index increased from an 8.1 per cent year-over-year gain in January. And annual prices rose in February in all 20 cities for the second month in a row.

Phoenix led with an annual gain of 23 per cent in February. Prices jumped nearly 19 per cent in San Francisco. In Las Vegas home prices increased 17.6 per cent and in Atlanta they rose 16.5 per cent.


US employment compensation up 0.3 per cent in 1Q

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans’ wages increased at a faster rate from January through March than the previous quarter, a trend that helped boost consumer spending at the start of the year. But benefits barely grew.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that an index that measures wages and benefits rose 0.3 per cent during the first quarter. That’s down from a 0.4 per cent gain in the October-December quarter and the smallest gain in a year.

Wages and salaries rose 0.5 per cent, up from the 0.3 per cent gain in the previous quarter. Benefits, including health insurance and pension contributions, rose just 0.1 per cent after a 0.6 per cent rise in the fourth quarter.


Shoppers face hurdles in finding ethical clothing

NEW YORK (AP) — You can recycle your waste, grow your own food and drive a fuel-efficient car, but being socially responsible isn’t so easy when it comes to the clothes on your back.

Take Jason and Alexandra Lawrence of Lyons, Colo. The couple eats locally grown food that doesn’t have to be transported from far-flung states. They fill up their diesel-powered Volkswagen and Dodge pickup with vegetable-based oil. They even bring silverware to a nearby coffeehouse to avoid using the shop’s plastic utensils.

But when it comes to making sure that their clothes are made in factories that are safe for workers, they fall short.

“Clothing is one of our more challenging practices,” says Jason Lawrence, 35, who mostly buys secondhand. “I don’t want to travel around the world to see where my pants come from.”

Last week’s building collapse in Bangladesh that killed hundreds of clothing factory workers put a spotlight on the sobering fact that people in poor countries often risk their lives working in unsafe factories to make the cheap T-shirts and underwear that Westerners buy.


Laying bare your finances to apply for health care

WASHINGTON (AP) — After a storm of complaints, the Obama administration on Tuesday unveiled simplified forms to apply for insurance under the president’s new health care law. You won’t have to lay bare your medical history but you will have to detail your finances.

An earlier version of the forms had provoked widespread griping that they were as bad as tax forms and might overwhelm uninsured people, causing them to give up in frustration.

The biggest change: a five-page short form that single people can fill out. That form includes a cover page with instructions and another page if you want to designate someone to help you through the process.


Online poker back: Legal website launches in Nevada

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Poker devotees can now skip the smoky casino and legally gamble their dollars away on the couch — at least in Nevada.

A Las Vegas-based casino subsidiary launched the first fully legal poker website in the U.S. on Tuesday.

The site, run by Ultimate Gaming, only accepts wagers from players in Nevada for now, but likely represents the next chapter in gambling nationwide.

Internet poker, never fully legal, has been strictly outlawed since 2011, when the Justice Department seized the domain names of the largest offshore sites catering to U.S. customers and blacked them out.


China career boost can come with health risks

BEIJING (AP) — Whitney Foard Small loved China and her job as a regional director of communications for a top automaker. But after air pollution led to several stays in hospital and finally a written warning from her doctor telling her she needed to leave, Small packed up and left for Thailand.

In doing so, the Ford Motor Co. executive became another expatriate to leave China because of the country’s notoriously bad air. Other top executives whose careers would be boosted by a stint in the world’s second-largest economy and most populous consumer market are put off when considering the move.

There is no official data on the number leaving because of pollution, but executive recruitment companies say it is becoming harder to attract top talent to China — both expats and Chinese nationals educated abroad. The European Chamber of Commerce in China says foreign managers leave for many different reasons but pollution is almost always cited as one of the factors and is becoming a larger concern.


Pfizer 1Q profit up, but drugmaker cuts outlook

Pfizer Inc.’s first-quarter net income rose 53 per cent despite falling sales, mainly because the world’s second-largest drugmaker took big charges a year ago. Pfizer’s results fell short of Wall Street’s expectations, and the company lowered its profit and sales forecasts for the year, blaming a sudden worsening of currency exchange rates.

Pfizer is struggling because generic competition is reducing revenue for two-thirds of its drugs, more than a dozen of which are former blockbusters that had brought in $1 billion or more annually. When drug patents expire, cheaper generic versions flood the market, and most patients quickly switch to them.

The biggest hit has been copycat versions of Pfizer’s cholesterol fighter Lipitor, which was the world’s bestselling drug for nearly a decade until it lost exclusivity in the U.S. in 2011 and in much of Europe last year. Revenue from Lipitor, which once brought in about $13 billion a year, dropped 55 per cent to $626 million in the first quarter.


FDA will investigate added caffeine in foods

WASHINGTON (AP) — For people seeking an energy boost, companies are increasing their offerings of foods with added caffeine. A new caffeinated gum may have gone too far.

The Food and Drug Administration said Monday that it will investigate the safety of added caffeine and its effects on children and adolescents. The agency made the announcement just as Wrigley was rolling out Alert Energy Gum, a new product that includes as much caffeine as a half a cup of coffee in one piece and promises “the right energy, right now.”

Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner of foods, indicated that the proliferation of new foods with caffeine added — especially the gum, which he equates to “four cups of coffee in your pocket” — may even prompt the FDA to look closer at the way all food ingredients are regulated.


Eurozone inflation falls to 3-year low in April

LONDON (AP) — Expectations are mounting that European Central Bank will cut interest rates this week after data Tuesday showed inflation in the euro area at a three-year low and unemployment at a record high.

Expectations were already high that the ECB would cut its main interest rate from an all-time low of 0.75 per cent at its monthly policy meeting on Thursday despite reservations from some members on its governing council.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 21.05 points, or 0.1 per cent, at 14,839.80. The S&P 500 edged up 3.96 points, or 0.3 per cent, to close at 1,597.57. The Nasdaq composite index rose 21.77 points to 3,328.79, up 0.7 per cent.

Benchmark oil for June delivery fell $1.04 to finish at $93.46 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, which is used to set prices of oil from the North Sea used by many U.S. refiners, fell $1.44, or 1.4 per cent, to end at $102.37 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline fell 3 cents to finish at $2.80 a gallon. Heating oil retreated by 3 cents to $2.84 a gallon. Natural gas lost 5 cents to $4.34 per 1,000 cubic feet.