Business Highlights


Your guide to trying on, ordering Apple Watch

NEW YORK (AP) — Buying an Apple Watch won’t be as simple as walking into an Apple store and handing over your credit card.

The smartwatch is Apple’s first new product category in five years and comes in 54 configurations — more than any other Apple gadget. So starting Friday, Apple stores will have staff trained to help you choose. You’ll then have to place your order for shipping starting April 24. Even after that date, there’s no walking in and walking out with a watch.

Of course, you can bypass all this by ordering online.


Dollar may be next screw for US to tighten on North Korea

TOKYO (AP) — The last time the United States tried the military option on North Korea, more than a million died, a hostile and unexpectedly resilient adversary emerged and instead of regime change it got three generations of the Kim family. Understandably, there is little appetite in Washington to try that again. But if sending in the Marines is off the table, what’s an administration to do?

A bill now making its way through the U.S. Congress — and being watched closely in Pyongyang — is designed to shut off the North, and anyone who deals with it, from the U.S. dollar.


Elder care costs keep climbing; nursing home bill now $91K

NEW YORK (AP) — The steep cost of caring for the elderly continues to climb. The median bill for a private room in a nursing home is now $91,250 a year, according to an industry survey out Thursday.

The annual “Cost of Care” report from Genworth Financial tracks the staggering rise in expenses for long-term care, a growing financial burden for families, governments and insurers like Genworth. The cost of staying in a nursing home has increased 4 per cent every year over the last five years, the report says. Last year, the median bill was $87,600.


Samsung hopes to reverse dimming fortunes with Galaxy S6

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — When Samsung dubbed development of its latest smartphones “Project Zero,” it was sounding a note of desperation as sales tumbled and it lost pole position in the crucial Chinese market to rivals Xiaomi and Apple.

The results of its overhaul, the flagship Galaxy S6 smartphone and the S6 Edge, go on sale in 20 countries on Friday. Samsung, which said “Project Zero” signified starting from scratch, is hoping a revamped design, a more intuitive interface and less clutter will help claw back lost market share.


French network’s broadcasts hacked by group claiming IS ties

PARIS (AP) — Hackers claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group simultaneously blacked out 11 channels of a French global TV network and took over its website and social media accounts on Thursday, in what appeared to be the most ambitious media attack so far by the extremist group.

Anti-terror prosecutors opened an investigation into the attack that began late Wednesday and blocked TV5 Monde from functioning part of the day Thursday. Operations were fully re-established Thursday evening.


PC sales declined — again — in first quarter

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Weak demand for desktop computers caused PC sales to plunge again in the first quarter of this year, reflecting the industry’s ongoing struggles with the shift to smartphones, tablets and other mobile gadgets.

One big reason for the decline was businesses buying fewer desktop computers, according to the Gartner research firm. It noted companies have mostly finished replacing older PCs that used outdated Windows XP software.

PC sales may get a boost later this year when Microsoft Corp. releases its next version of Windows, analysts said, but they’re still expecting an overall decline in sales for this year.


Zynga founder’s return as CEO drags down game maker’s stock

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The return of Zynga founder Mark Pincus as the digital game maker’s CEO is bringing back bad memories about the problems that prompted him to step down as the company’s leader nearly two years ago.

Zynga’s stock shed 52 cents, or nearly 18 per cent, to close Thursday at $2.38 as investors reacted to an abrupt change in command announced late Wednesday. It marked the largest one-day drop in Zynga’s stock price since July 2012, one of the low points during Pincus’ first stint as CEO.


Awesome! ‘Lego Dimensions’ combining bricks and franchises

BURBANK, Calif. (AP) — The creators of the “Lego” video games are building their own rendition of a toys-to-life franchise.

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and TT Games unveiled plans Thursday for “Lego Dimensions,” a game and toy line combining real-world Lego bricks and figures with virtual game worlds depicted on screen. It’s similar to the popular “Skylanders,” ”Disney Infinity” and “ambiio” series from Activision-Blizzard Inc., Walt Disney Co. and Nintendo Co.


Applications for US jobless aid rise but still at low level

WASHINGTON (AP) — More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, but applications for jobless aid overall remain low — a reassuring sign after hiring slowed last month.

Weekly applications rose 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The climb occurred after applications plummeted to match a 15-year low in the previous week.

Even with the increase, other data in the report demonstrated that few people are seeking benefits. Since applications are a proxy for layoffs, that suggests companies are confident enough in the economy to keep their staffs and are cutting few jobs.


Average US rate on 30-year mortgage falls to 3.66 per cent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates declined this week, approaching historically low levels with the spring home-buying season underway.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday the national average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage slipped to 3.66 per cent from 3.70 per cent last week.

The average rate for a 15-year mortgage, popular with homeowners who refinance, fell to 2.93 per cent from 2.98 per cent last week.

A year ago, the average 30-year mortgage rate was 4.34 per cent and the 15-year rate was 3.38 per cent. The 30-year average rate reached a record low of 3.35 per cent in November and December 2012, when the 15-year rate hit a record low 2.66 per cent.


US wholesale stockpiles edge up in February

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. wholesale businesses increased their stockpiles by a modest amount in February, while sales kept falling.

Wholesale stockpiles edged up 0.3 per cent in February after a 0.4 per cent gain in January, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Sales dropped 0.2 per cent following a 3.6 per cent decline in January, which was the largest decrease in six years. Sales have either fallen or been flat for the past seven months.


Walgreens aims to close about 200 US stores

Walgreens will shutter about 200 U.S. stores as part of an expanded cost reduction push, but the nation’s largest drugstore chain has no plans to shrink in the wake of its combination with European health and beauty retailer Alliance Boots.

The Deerfield, Illinois, company expects to open roughly the same number of stores and will consider more mergers and acquisitions, even as it continues to digest a nearly $16 billion deal that finalized its combination with Alliance Boots, which runs the United Kingdom’s largest pharmacy chain.


Utility won’t appeal $1.6 billion penalty for deadly blast

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California regulators approved a record $1.6 billion penalty Thursday against PG&E for a 2010 gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed more than three dozen homes in suburban San Francisco.

The punishment comes as the state’s top utility regulator, Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker, told The Associated Press he has called for a larger review into whether the state’s biggest power utility should be broken up to improve safety.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 56.22 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 17,902.51. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index climbed 9.28 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 2,091.18. The Nasdaq composite gained 23.74 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 4,974.56.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 37 cents to close at $50.79 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose $1.02 to close at $56.57 in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 2 cents to close at $1.759 a gallon. Heating oil fell 2.9 cents to close at $1.727 a gallon. Natural gas fell 9.1 cents to close at $2.528 per 1,000 cubic feet, the lowest since June of 2012.