Business Highlights


Summer gas prices expected to be 32 per cent lower this year

NEW YORK (AP) — Drivers will see the lowest summer gasoline prices in about 6 years, according to the Energy Department.

The national average price is forecast to fall 32 per cent from a year ago to $2.45 a gallon between April and September, the period when Americans do most of their driving. That would mark the lowest seasonal average since 2009.

For the year, the department’s Energy Information Administration expects gasoline to average $2.40 a gallon, down from $3.36 in 2014.


Can phone companies do more to block robocalls?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jeri Vargas put her elderly mother on the “Do Not Call” list years ago. So why is the 88-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease still getting several recorded phone calls a day pitching her everything from vacation cruises to medical alert devices and fire extinguishers?

The Federal Communications Commission has been asked to consider the question of whether phone companies could do more to stop the onslaught of “robocalls,” the automated phone calls favoured by scammers. Since the convergence of Internet and phone lines, it’s become easy to blast out hundreds of thousands of calls in a matter of minutes to see who takes the bait. The question of whether these calls can be blocked has never been more pressing than around tax season, when many pretend to come from the IRS.


FedEx agrees to take over Dutch rival TNT Express

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — FedEx has agreed to take over Dutch delivery company TNT Express for 4.4 billion euros ($4.8 billion), bolstering its global business with an acquisition that rival UPS had tried but failed to complete two years ago.

FedEx said Tuesday it reached a conditional agreement with TNT Express’ management on an all-cash offer of eight euros ($8.75) per TNT share. That represents a premium of 33 per cent over the shares’ April 2 closing price, the companies said.


Uber’s popularity surges; business travellers avoiding taxis

NEW YORK (AP) — Business travellers are bypassing the taxi queue with greater frequency, choosing instead ride-hailing services like Uber Technologies.

A new report by expense management system provider Certify shows that 47 per cent of the ground transportation rides by its users in March were through Uber. That’s more than tripled from the 14 per cent of rides that Uber had just over a year ago in January 2014. In a few cities, Uber now tops taxi rides for business travellers.


US job openings surge, a sign that job gains may rebound

WASHINGTON (AP) — It turns out we may be able to breathe easier about the slowdown in hiring last month.

A new Labor Department report Tuesday showed that job openings surged 3.4 per cent to 5.1 million in February — a 14-year high. That’s a clear sign that companies are willing to boost their staffs.

The figure follows a disappointing jobs report on Friday, which showed that employers added only 126,000 jobs in March. That was the weakest number in 15 months.


US consumer borrowing climbs to record high in February

WASHINGTON (AP) — Consumers increased their borrowing to a record high in February, driven by a large jump in auto and student loans.

The Federal Reserve reported Tuesday that consumer borrowing expanded $15.5 billion in February following a $10.8 billion gain in January. The February increase pushed borrowing to a fresh record of $3.34 trillion.

Borrowing in the category that covers auto loans and student loans increased by $19.2 billion, the biggest monthly gain since July 2011. That offset a $3.7 billion decline in the credit card category.


SEC files fraud charges against ex-NFL player, partner

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators have filed civil fraud charges against former NFL cornerback Will Allen and his business partner. They’re accused of reaping more than $31 million in a Ponzi scheme that promised high returns to investors from funding loans to cash-strapped pro athletes.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced the charges against William D. Allen, Susan Daub and their Capital Financial Partners investment firms.


European Central Bank stimulus plan meets 1st month goa

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The European Central Bank’s 1.1 trillion euro ($1.2 trillion) stimulus program is off to a running start.

The central bank said Tuesday it has met its monthly goal of purchasing 60 billion euros in government and private-sector bonds, the first stage of an effort that is to last into next year.

The bond purchases, which pump newly printed money into the financial system, have widespread significance for markets, investors and the economy. The program is aimed at raising consumer price inflation from a worrisome negative 0.1 per cent annually. It should also support the gradual economic recovery that has been taking hold, and help reduce unemployment. The jobless rate for the eurozone is a high 11.3 per cent.


Aetna aims for LGBT community with targeted marketing test

Aetna is urging gay customers to “be proud” — and consider buying its coverage — as part of a new, narrow focus to selling health insurance in a business where the individual’s buying decision matters more than it used to.

The nation’s third-largest health insurer is using mobile phone apps, print ads and a recently launched website to appeal to the estimated 9 million members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the United States. Its website features a video of a gay woman and man talking about love and relationships. It also helps visitors find LGBT-friendly doctors and promises coverage “with features that fit you, your partner and your family.”


A look at the college tuition perks at Starbucks, McDonald’s

NEW YORK (AP) — Starbucks says it will now cover four years of tuition reimbursement for workers to earn an online undergraduate degree from Arizona State University, instead of just two years. Last week, McDonald’s Corp. also announced it was expanding a college tuition assistance program to workers at all its U.S. stores.

The moves mark the latest sign that companies are rethinking pay and benefits as they seek to attract the best workers and improve their corporate images. The programs come with limitations, of course.


UnitedHealth stock growth yields potential windfall for CEO

UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley realized a potential gain of more than $45 million from exercising stock options last year, as the share price of the nation’s largest health insurer topped $100 on the way to setting all-time highs.

The 62-year-old executive exercised options to buy 850,000 shares of stock at the end of 2014 at discounts of as much as 56 per cent to UnitedHealth’s share price of $102.24 when he exercised the options. Hemsley paid between $45.28 and $57.42 per share, according to a proxy statement filed recently with the Securities and Exchange Commission.


California water board says February savings were worst yet

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s water board said Tuesday that February was the worst month for conservation since officials began tracking savings efforts nine months ago in response to the state’s historic drought.

Figures reported by local water departments showed statewide reductions of just 3 per cent in February compared with baseline numbers, despite following the driest January on California record.

Dismal February conservation helped prompt Gov. Jerry Brown’s demand for mandatory water reductions last week, his spokesman Evan Westrup said. The governor is calling for a 25 per cent drop in statewide urban water use compared to 2013, the year before he declared a drought emergency.


YouTube Kids app criticized as deceiving

WASHINGTON (AP) — The new YouTube Kids mobile app targets young children with unfair and deceptive advertising and should be investigated, a group of consumer advocates told the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in a letter Tuesday.

Google introduced the app in February as a “safer” place for kids to explore videos because it was restricted to “family-focused content.”

But the consumer activists say the app is so stuffed with advertisements and product placements that it’s hard to tell the difference between entertainment and commercials. One example is a 7-minute video of Disney’s “Frozen” characters who appear as dolls inside a toy McDonald’s, eating ice cream and drinking Sprite.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 5.43 points, or 0.03 per cent, to 17,875.42. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 4.29 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 2,076.33. The Nasdaq composite declined 7.08 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 4,910.23.

U.S. crude increased $1.84, or 3.5 per cent, to close at $53.98 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose 98 cents, or 1.7 per cent, to close at $58.10 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 1.8 cents to close at $1.861 a gallon. Heating oil rose 2 cents to close at $1.784 a gallon. Natural gas rose 3 cents to close at $2.680 per 1,000 cubic feet.