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Global banks fined billions for rigging market

LONDON (AP) — Traders with nicknames like the “Three Musketeers” and the “A-Team” plotted over Internet chat rooms to manipulate currency markets for years, profiting at the expense of clients — and then congratulating themselves for their brilliance — regulators said Wednesday, as they fined five banks $3.4 billion.

Using profanity-laced banter, the traders co-ordinated their financial positions in the multi-trillion dollar currency market, securing profits for those inside their circles. “YESsssssssssss,” one of them wrote in a chat message. “Yeah baby” and “nice work gents….I don my hat,” wrote others, according to documents of their exchanges.

Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC Bank and UBS agreed to settlements totalling almost $3.4 billion with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, U.K. Financial Conduct Authority and Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority. The British regulator said Barclays remains under investigation.

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Ebola drug testing sparks ethics debate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Health officials are scrambling to begin human testing of a handful of experimental drugs for Ebola. But the effort has sparked an ethical debate over how to study unproven medicines amid an outbreak that has killed nearly 5,000.

U.S. officials say the studies must include one critical feature of traditional medical testing: a control group of patients who do not receive the drugs.

But many European and African authorities argue that withholding drugs from study participants is unethical, given that the current outbreak kills between 50 and 80 per cent of those infected in West Africa, according to Doctors Without Borders. They favour alternative studies in which every patient receives drug therapy.

The split in testing philosophies means different researchers may wind up testing the same drugs using different approaches.

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AP Exclusive: Drone sightings up dramatically

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than a million small drone aircraft have been sold in the past few years, and a growing number of them are turning up in the skies near airports and airliners, posing a risk of collision. Reports of drone sightings near other planes, helicopters and airfields are reaching the government almost daily, say federal and industry officials.

It’s a sharp increase from just two years ago when such reports were still unusual.

Many of the reports are filed with the Federal Aviation Administration by airline pilots. But other pilots, airport officials and local authorities often file reports as well, said the officials, who agreed to discuss the matter only on the condition that they not be named because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. Michael Toscano, president of a drone industry trade group, said FAA officials also have verified the increase to him.

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4 benefits changes that may stem from overhaul tax

Many workers will soon find that their health insurance costs more and covers less next year, and that employers have taken a sharper interest in their well-being. Experts say the impact of a health care overhaul tax that doesn’t start until 2018 is already being felt.

Millions of employees are learning this month about changes in their employer-sponsored health coverage for 2015. Some of the adjustments are likely to stem from the looming tax, which will hit plans valued at more than $10,200 for individual coverage and $27,500 for families. Nearly half of employers with 5,000 or more workers will trigger this tax in 2018, according to the benefits firm Towers Watson. They’ll find a bill that amounts to 40 per cent of the total value of coverage that exceeds those thresholds.

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Small businesses step up holiday social media game

NEW YORK (AP) — Monif Clarke didn’t have a social media strategy for her women’s clothing company until this year, when she hired a consultant to help her build one.

The holiday social media marketing plan for New York-based Monif C. Plus Sizes includes contests promoted on Facebook with prizes like a $1,000 wardrobe. When Facebook users click on a link about a contest, they’re taken to the New York-based retailer’s website and their email addresses are recorded when they enter the contest. Those addresses are key to increasing Monif C’s business — it gets nearly 30 per cent of its sales in response to emails.

Clarke will also use social media to promote a program giving customers a $25 discount if they recommend friends who buy from Monif C. The friends also get a $25 discount. And Clarke gets another customer for email list.

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William Boyd writes Land Rover-sponsored book

NEW YORK (AP) — Soon after turning out the latest James Bond novel, British author William Boyd agreed to write another thriller based on a world famous brand.

The Land Rover.

Boyd’s nearly 17,000-word story, “The Vanishing Game,” coming out Wednesday as a free download through Amazon.com, Apple and www.thevanishinggame.com , tells of a 35-year-old British actor named Alec Dunbar and the troubles he encounters when a pretty young woman convinces him to deliver a flask filled with clear liquid from London to Scotland. His transport is a certain four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Boyd, paid in the low six figures for the project, said he signed on because Land Rover made so few requests.

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Subprime services company abandons disputed fees

WASHINGTON (AP) — A company with ties to the largest U.S. overseer of subprime mortgages announced under pressure Wednesday it will stop collecting controversial insurance fees from homeowners whose properties were under foreclosure. The announcement came three months after The Associated Press highlighted its business practices.

Shares in Altisource Portfolio Solutions S.A. of Luxembourg, a major subprime mortgage services provider, fell by 17 per cent on the news, causing a drop of more than $200 million in the company’s market value. The AP reported in July that companies overseeing millions of mortgage loans appeared to be skirting new federal regulations and legal settlements intended to stop them from profiteering at the expense of troubled homeowners. In August, New York’s top state financial regulator, Benjamin Lawsky, said he intended to investigate complex business arrangements the AP described between Altisource and Ocwen Financial Corp.

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Gas to average under $3 in 2015, government says

NEW YORK (AP) — The average price of gasoline will be below $3 a gallon in 2015, the Energy Department predicted Wednesday. If the sharply lower estimate holds true, U.S. consumers will save $61 billion on gas compared with this year.

Economists say lower gasoline prices act like a tax cut, leaving more money for consumers to spend on other things. Consumer spending is 70 per cent of the U.S. economy.

The department’s Energy Information Administration predicted in its most recent short-term energy outlook that drivers will pay $2.94 per gallon on average in 2015, 45 cents lower than this year.

Based on expected gasoline consumption, that’s a savings of $60.9 billion.

Drivers are now paying $2.92 per gallon on average across the nation, according to AAA, but late fall is often when the price of gas hits its low for the year. The EIA is now saying that these prices aren’t just a low point, but instead will be the norm next year.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 2.70 points to 17,612.20. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slipped 1.43 point, a sliver of a per cent, to end at 2,038.25. The Nasdaq composite rose 14.58 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 4,675.13.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 76 cents to close at $77.18 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $1.29 cents to close at $80.38 — also a four-year low — on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 0.3 cent to close at $2.107 a gallon. Heating oil fell 2.2 cents to close at $2.447 a gallon. Natural gas fell 6.2 cents to close at $4.185 per 1,000 cubic feet.