Business Highlights


US drillers scrambling to thwart OPEC threat

NEW YORK (AP) — OPEC and lower global oil prices delivered a one-two punch to the drillers in North Dakota and Texas who brought the U.S. one of the biggest booms in the history of the global oil industry.

Now they are fighting back.

Companies are leaning on new techniques and technology to get more oil out of every well they drill, and furiously cutting costs in an effort to keep U.S. oil competitive with much lower-cost oil flowing out of the Middle East, Russia and elsewhere.


For business, more women in charge means bigger profits

LONDON (AP) — When Rohini Anand took over diversity programs at multinational catering company Sodexo in 2002, she had one goal: to prove that it pays for a company to have equal numbers of male and female managers.

Sodexo, which has 419,000 employees in 80 countries, says she’s done just that. A companywide study last year found that units with equal numbers of men and women in management roles delivered more profits more consistently than those dominated by men.

Evidence is growing that gender equity is not just politically correct window-dressing, but good business. Companies are trying to increase the number of women in executive positions, yet many are struggling to do so because of a failure to adapt workplace conditions in a way that ensures qualified women do not drop off the corporate ladder, surveys show.


Maker of Louisville Slugger bats selling brand to Wilson

Over a century of family ownership of Louisville Slugger bats is going … going … nearly gone.

The company that makes the iconic bats gripped by generations of ballplayers — from Babe Ruth to David Wright — announced a deal Monday to sell its Louisville Slugger brand to rival Wilson Sporting Goods Co. for $70 million.

For 131 years, the family behind Hillerich & Bradsby Co. has supplied bats for games from the sandlots to the big leagues.


Taxe refund advances appeal to more cash-strapped Americans

WASHINGTON (AP) — Cash-strapped Americans anxious for tax refunds are increasingly turning to payment advances, prepaid cards or other costly services when getting tax preparation help, according to new federal data raising concerns among regulators about whether consumers are fully informed about the fees.

Regulators are looking to increase oversight of preparers amid the rise in “refund anticipation checks,” a type of cash advance especially popular among low-income families who receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, the government’s $65 billion cash benefit program. The advances are being marketed as a way to get fast refunds or defer payment of tax preparation costs.


Tourists flocking to Cuba ‘before the Americans come’

HAVANA (AP) — Bookings to Cuba jumped 57 per cent for one New York tour operator in the weeks after Washington said it would renew ties with Havana. In February, they were up 187 per cent; and so far this month, nearly 250 per cent.

The boom is just one sign that the rush is on to see Cuba now — before, as many predict, McDonald’s claims a spot in Old Havana and Starbucks moves in on Cubita, the island’s premium coffee brand.


Fed Vice Chair Fischer: Rate hike is likely this year

NEW YORK (AP) — Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer says he expects the Fed to start raising interest rates sometime this year. Once that happens, though, rates won’t likely move in any predictable pattern, he added.

Fischer’s remarks Monday built on a message the Fed sent last week after its latest policy meeting ended. The central bank opened the door to a rate increase by no longer saying it would be “patient” in starting to raise rates. That change was viewed as a sign that the Fed could raise rates as early as June.


US home sales rebound slightly in February

WASHINGTON (AP) — Slightly more Americans bought homes in February, but tight inventories, affordability problems and nasty winter weather point to sluggish sales in the coming few months.

Sales of existing homes rose 1.2 per cent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million, a slight rebound after plunging in January yet still underperforming by historical standards, the National Association of Realtors said Monday.

The real estate market has hibernated through the first two months of 2015, creating the potential for a second straight year of weak buying activity.


House Democrats unveil budget matching Obama’s tax increases

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats Monday unveiled a $3.7 trillion budget plan for next year that mirrors President Barack Obama’s call for $1.8 trillion in tax increases on wealthier people and corporations over the coming decade but would add almost $6 trillion to the national debt over that time.

The plan by Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen rejects deep cuts proposed by Republicans to social safety net programs and would keep the health care law intact.


Farmers fund research to breed gluten-free wheat

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas farmers are paying for genetic research to figure out exactly why some people struggle to digest wheat.

The hard science is aimed at developing new varieties of wheat at a time when the gluten-free industry is worth nearly a billion dollars a year in the U.S. alone.

The Kansas Wheat Commission is spending $200,000 for the first two years of the project, which is meant to identify everything in wheat’s DNA sequences that can trigger a reaction in people suffering from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which eating even tiny amounts of gluten — comprised of numerous, complex proteins that gives dough its elasticity and some flavour to baked goods — can damage the small intestine.


SeaWorld has new ad campaign after disparaging documentary

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. is mounting a public defence of its animal handling in a new advertising campaign that began Monday, after a highly critical 2013 documentary left the park with declining revenue and attendance.

The print and YouTube campaign focuses on the marine-life theme park’s efforts to care for animals in captivity and in the wild. Revenue and attendance at SeaWorld have fallen since the release of the documentary “Blackfish,” which examined what led a killer whale to drown a trainer in 2010 at SeaWorld’s Orlando park.


Chinese state company agrees to buy Italy’s Pirelli

BEIJING (AP) — China’s biggest state-owned chemical company said Monday it plans to buy Italian tire manufacturer Pirelli, adding to a string of high-profile Chinese corporate purchases in Europe.

ChemChina said it has agreed to buy a 26.2 per cent stake in Pirelli Tyre S.p.A. from its biggest shareholder, Camfin S.p.A., which is controlled by the family of Pirelli chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera. The company said it would offer to buy the remaining outstanding shares.

Flush with cash from their country’s boom, Chinese companies are stepping up acquisitions abroad as they diversify beyond their own economy, where growth is slowing.


Humana to narrow focus outside insurance with Concentra sale

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Humana plans to sell occupational health care provider Concentra for about $1.06 billion, as the health insurer refines its focus on providing patient care.

The Louisville, Kentucky, company said Monday it will sell Concenrta to a joint venture between specialty hospital operator Select Medical Holdings Corp. and the private equity fund Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe XII LP. Humana will then use proceeds from the deal to buy back stock.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 11.61 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 18,116.04. The S&P 500 fell 3.68 points, or 0.2 per cent, to close at 2,104.42. The Nasdaq composite slipped 15.44 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 5,010.97.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 88 cents to close at $47.45 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose 60 cents to close at $55.92 in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 0.6 cent to close at $1.804 a gallon. Heating oil fell 0.3 cent to close at $1.731 a gallon. Natural gas fell 5.3 cents to close at $2.733 per 1,000 cubic feet.