Business Highlights


1st time advertisers gamble on Super Bowl ads

NEW YORK (AP) — Fifteen advertisers will make their Super Bowl debut, buying a place on the biggest, most expensive stage in American television. Advertising experts say the interest in Super Bowl ads is a positive sign that companies are feeling good in the most recent economic recovery.

The 15 new Super Bowl advertisers is the most since 2000, before the economy fell into what would be the first of two recessions since.


Tiger fight: China and Alibaba face off over fake goods

BEIJING (AP) — There’s a tiger fight going on in China.

Regulators on Wednesday issued a scathing report against one of the country’s biggest stars, accusing e-commerce giant Alibaba of failing to do enough to prevent fake goods from being sold on its websites. Uncowed, Alibaba fired back with charges of bias and misconduct by a named Chinese official. Such public defiance is almost unheard of in China.

Even more dubious is the timing of the sternly worded report. The State Administration of Industry and Commerce wrote the report in July after meeting with Alibaba management, but postponed issuing it to avoid affecting the company’s New York stock market listing. Alibaba disclosed the issue of counterfeit goods as a risk factor in its prospectus — but didn’t reveal any investigation by regulators before raising $25 billion in its September IPO.


Fed stays ‘patient’ on rates while noting improving economy

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve reiterated Wednesday that it will be “patient” in raising interest rates from record lows even as the U.S. economy moves steadily closer to full health.

The Fed signalled in a statement after its latest policy meeting that no rate increase is imminent despite the economic gains. A key reason is that inflation remains well below the Fed’s target rate.

And it said the pressures holding down inflation — mainly plunging oil prices — have intensified. The Fed said it thinks inflation will decline further before eventually reaching the central bank’s 2 per cent target rate.


As the cost of gasoline shrinks, small businesses think big

NEW YORK (AP) — For small business owners who deliver goods and services via car, truck or SUV, lower gas prices have brought more customers within reach and put more money in their pockets.

As gas prices fell below $3 a gallon, Kristen Harris went back to delivering her desserts to Chicago-area neighbourhoods she had abandoned. Harris was able to cut her delivery charge from 70 cents a mile to 60 cents, and win back customers who had balked at the higher fee.

Her revenue during the holidays rebounded 30 per cent, and she’s thinking about a further expansion.


Facebook’s status update: Profit, revenue beat expectations

NEW YORK (AP) — For the seventh quarter in a row Facebook beat profit and revenue forecasts, continuing to win more mobile advertising revenue as most users shift to using the site on smartphones and other portable devices.

The world’s biggest online social network said Wednesday that advertising revenue jumped 53 per cent to $3.59 billion for the fourth quarter — with mobile ad revenue representing 69 per cent of the total. That percentage has grown steadily in each quarter of this year. Facebook’s massive user base also continued to climb. It had 1.39 billion monthly active users at the end of the year, up 13 per cent from a year earlier. Daily users totalled 890 million, up 18 per cent. Mobile monthly active users jumped 26 per cent to 1.19 billion.


Shareholders OK tobacco firm Reynolds’ deal to buy Lorillard

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Camel cigarette maker Reynolds American Inc.’s planned $25 billion takeover of Newport seller Lorillard Inc. is moving forward after shareholders approved the deal at special shareholder meetings Wednesday.

The deal announced in July would combine two of the nation’s oldest and biggest tobacco companies, creating a formidable No. 2 to Richmond, Virginia-based Altria Group Inc., owner of Philip Morris USA.

Expected to close in the first half of 2015, the merger faces further federal antitrust scrutiny over how the combination would affect competition in a highly competitive market and cigarette prices, which have grown about 5 per cent annually in the last 10 years.


McDonald’s names executive Easterbrook new CEO

OAK BROOK, Ill. (AP) — McDonald’s Corp. on Wednesday tapped Chief Brand Officer Steve Easterbrook as its new president and CEO to succeed Don Thompson.

McDonald’s has been dealing with intense competition and changing consumer tastes. Earlier this month, the world’s largest hamburger chain reported falling earnings and sales for its fourth quarter and said it is going to take action this year to save money and bring back customers. This includes slowing down new restaurant openings in some markets. It’s also making menu changes.

Thompson will retire March 1 after nearly 25 years with McDonald’s. He has been CEO for about two-and-a-half years.


Main Denver airport bans sale of marijuana-themed souvenirs

DENVER (AP) — Tourists who fly to Colorado, home of legal pot, can forget about buying souvenir boxer shorts, socks or sandals with a marijuana leaf on them when passing through the Denver airport.

The airport has banned pot-themed souvenirs, fearing the kitsch could taint the state’s image.

Marijuana possession and any pot-related advertising were already forbidden. Airport executives extended the ban this month after a retailer sought a free-standing kiosk to sell the boxer shorts and similar items that played off Colorado’s place as the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales.


Shake Shack raises projected price range for its IPO

NEW YORK (AP) — Shake Shack increased the projected price range for its initial public offering of stock in the burger chain.

The fast-growing company, which began as a New York City hot dog cart in 2001, said in a regulatory filing Wednesday that it now anticipates its IPO of 5 million shares to price between $17 and $19 per share. Its range had been between $14 and $16.

Based on the new estimated price range, Shake Shack may raise up to $95 million.


CommScope buying some of TE Connectivity ops for about $3B

HICKORY, N.C. (AP) — CommScope is buying TE Connectivity’s telecom, enterprise and wireless businesses for about $3 billion, which will help diversify its operations and broaden its geographic reach.

The businesses, made up of 65 facilities and approximately 10,000 employees, had annual revenue of about $1.9 billion in fiscal 2014. It has a strong presence in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.

TE Chairman and CEO Tom Lynch said the sale will allow the company to focus on connectivity and sensor markets, “with particular emphasis on harsh environment applications. The deal does not include subsea communications or data communications businesses owned by TE Connectivity Ltd.


US issues new requirements to improve defibrillator safety

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday it will require makers of heart-zapping defibrillators to submit more data on the emergency care devices after years of recalls and manufacturing problems.

Under the new requirements, manufacturers will have to submit more data on reliability of their devices and components, including batteries, adapters and electrodes. Additionally, the FDA will inspect manufacturing plants before companies can begin marketing new devices. The rules take effect for new defibrillators July 2016. Accessories already on the market will have until January 2020 to meet the new requirements.


USDA revises maple syrup grading with descriptive terms

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Grading standards for maple syrup have been revised to match international standards, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Wednesday, and now consumers can have a better understanding of what topping they’re buying.

The revisions to the voluntary standards were released Wednesday.

The move comes in response to a 2010 petition from the International Maple Syrup Institute, which represents maple producers in the U.S. and Canada, saying the different grading systems in different states made it confusing to consumers.


California declares electronic cigarettes a health threat

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California health officials on Wednesday declared electronic cigarettes a health threat that should be strictly regulated like tobacco products, joining other states and health advocates across the U.S. in seeking tighter controls as “vaping” grows in popularity.

The California Department of Public Health report says e-cigarettes emit cancer-causing chemicals and get users hooked on nicotine but acknowledges that more research needs to be done to determine the immediate and long-term health effects.

New generations of young people will become nicotine addicts if the products remain largely unregulated, California Health Officer Ron Chapman said. Last year, 17 per cent of high school seniors reported using e-cigarettes, known as vaping, according to the report.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 195.84 points, or 1.1 per cent, to close at 17,191.37. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 27.39 points, or 1.4 per cent, to 2,002.16. The Nasdaq composite fell 43.50 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 4,637.99.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.78 to close at $44.45 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $1.13 cents to close at $48.47 in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 0.5 cents to close at $1.345 a gallon. Heating oil fell 3.1 cents to close at $1.632 a gallon. Natural gas fell 11.5 cents to close at $2.866 per 1,000 cubic feet.