Business Highlights


Nepal economy shattered by quake, recovery to take years

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — What took moments to flatten will take years to rebuild.

In mere seconds a powerful earthquake devastated a swathe of Nepal. Rebuilding the impoverished Himalayan nation’s fragile economy will require a long slog, financed by foreign aid and money from its army of overseas workers.

Initial estimates peg the economic damage from the temblor that killed more than 5,000 people at billions of dollars. The tourism industry, a pillar of the economy, has been shattered and it’s unclear when the travellers will return.


Tesla to expand battery technology to homes, businesses

FOSTER CITY, Calif. (AP) — Tesla CEO Elon Musk is trying to steer his electric car company’s battery technology into homes and businesses as part of an elaborate plan to reshape the power grid with millions of small power plants made of solar panels on roofs and batteries in garages.

Musk, a billionaire, is expected to announce Tesla’s expansion into the home battery market Thursday evening in southern California. He is renowned for pursuing far-out projects. For instance, colonizing Mars is one of Musk’s goals at Space X, a rocket maker that he also runs.


Baltimore riot damage adds burden to small businesses

BALTIMORE (AP) — Richard Sung Kang’s American dream came crashing down in a shower of broken glass.

His West Baltimore liquor store and bar, the Oxford Tavern, was hit by looters during a riot over the police-involved death of neighbourhood resident Freddie Gray.

The business wasn’t torched like the nearby CVS pharmacy, but its doors and windows were broken and cash and inventory stolen, leaving shelves bare.

Now the 49-year-old South Korean immigrant must decide whether to reopen. If so, it could mean taking on more debt and paying higher insurance premiums.


$100 million for a home? Luxury buyers reach a new threshold

WASHINGTON (AP) — The poshest of luxury homes are acquiring the cachet of a masterwork by Picasso or Matisse.

Rather than settle for garages of antique cars or a museum’s worth of paintings, billionaires are increasingly willing to pay $100 million for homes that can serve as showcases for their fortunes, according to an analysis issued Thursday by Christie’s International Real Estate.


Spring awakening: US consumer spending rose in March

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumers boosted spending in March by the largest amount in four months, a hopeful sign that this key sector of the economy is reviving after a frigid winter.

Consumer spending increased 0.4 per cent in March, the strongest gain since a similar increase in November, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Spending fell in December and January before climbing a modest 0.2 per cent in February.


Applications for US unemployment aid plunge to 15-year low

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid plummeted to the lowest level in 15 years last week, evidence that employers are laying off few workers despite a sharp slowdown in economic growth.

Weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped 34,000 to 262,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the lowest level since April 2000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dipped 1,250 to 283,750, near a 15-year low.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the sharp fall indicates that employers remain confident enough in the economy to hold onto their workers.


Average US rate on 30-year mortgage rises to 3.68 per cent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates rose slightly this week, but remain near historic lows with the spring home-buying season underway and showing strong sales.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday that the national average for a 30-year fixed -rate mortgage increased to 3.68 per cent from 3.65 per cent last week.

The average rate for a 15-year mortgage, popular with homeowners who refinance, ticked up to 2.94 per cent from 2.92 per cent.

A year ago, the 30-year mortgage rate averaged 4.29 per cent while the 15-year mortgage averaged 3.38 per cent.


Mortgage giants seen needing up to $157B in aid in disaster

WASHINGTON (AP) — Results of financial “stress tests” show that mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, rescued by taxpayers in the 2008 crisis, would need as much as $157.3 billion in additional aid in a severe U.S. and global recession.

The agency that oversees Fannie and Freddie, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, announced Thursday the results of the second annual stress tests. Fannie and Freddie are required to conduct the tests under the 2010 law that overhauled financial regulation following the crisis.


Puerto Rico in economic limbo as legislators reject tax plan

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Legislators struck down a key part of a plan to overhaul the island’s tax system early Thursday, raising concerns about the U.S. territory’s economic future and its ability to pay off a heavy public debt.

Legislators rejected Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla’s call for a 16 per cent value-added tax, and then voted 28-22 against an alternative way to raise revenue, including a 13 per cent goods-and-services tax, after some nine hours of debate.

Garcia issued a sharply worded statement accusing certain legislators in the island’s House of Representatives of being irresponsible and warning that economic development could stagnate.


Cleveland jock tax on out-of-town athletes unconstitutional

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The way Cleveland taxes professional athletes who work for short periods of time in the city is unconstitutional because it violates athletes’ due process rights, the Ohio Supreme Court said Thursday.

The city unfairly imposed a 2 per cent income tax on ex-Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer based on games played in the city as a percentage of total games played, the ruling said.

Hillenmeyer is due a partial refund under the method used by most cities — in which athletes are taxed based on games played as a percentage of the season, according to the unanimous decision.


FDA seeks more data on safety of hospital hand cleaners

WASHINGTON (AP) — To fight infections, hospital workers can hit the hand sanitizer a hundred times or more a day. Now, the government wants more study of whether that is safe and how well it actually fights the spread of germs.

The Food and Drug Administration is asking manufacturers to submit additional data about medical hand washes and sanitizers, including the long-term health effects of their daily use on the skin.


GM to spend $5.4B on US factories over 3 years, add 650 jobs

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors plans to spend $5.4 billion to improve its U.S. factories during the next three years, creating about 650 new jobs.

The company gave details of $783.5 million of the investments on Thursday and says the rest will be announced in the coming months.

The investments come as Detroit automakers prepare for contract talks with the United Auto Workers union that will start this summer, and as many automakers including GM are announcing plans to build or expand factories in lower-cost Mexico. GM, like the others, is walking a line between moving more production south of the border and of keeping the union happy with additional investments in the U.S.


Labor organizers seek unusual ally in fast-food franchisees

NEW YORK (AP) — Labor organizers are opening a new front in their campaign for a $15-an-hour wage for fast-food workers with a push to mobilize an unusual ally: franchisees.

The Service Employees International Union on Thursday launched a website in hopes of building a national network of fast-food franchisees who want stronger protections for their businesses. The push has the potential to create more unrest within the ranks for companies like McDonald’s, which are already dealing with ongoing demonstrations calling for higher pay and a union for workers.


Eurozone period of falling prices ends in April

LONDON (AP) — Well that didn’t last long.

The drop in consumer prices in the eurozone has come to an end after four months, easing concerns about a long-term decline that can choke the economy.

Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics agency, said Thursday that consumer prices were unchanged in the year through April, up from the 0.1 per cent fall recorded the previous month.

The flat reading was in line with market forecasts and reinforces expectations that the impact of lower oil prices is moderating. In the year to April, energy costs were 5.8 per cent lower, against the 9.3 per cent fall recorded in January.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 195.01 points, or 1.1 per cent, to close at 17,840.52. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 21.34 points, or 1 per cent, to 2,085.51. The Nasdaq declined 82.22 points, or 1.6 per cent, to 4,941.42.

U.S. oil gained $1.05, or 1.8 per cent, to $59.63 a barrel. Brent crude rose 94 cents to $66.78 a barrel. Analysts say recent reports showing fewer rigs drilling for oil in the U.S. and supplies levelling off are supporting higher prices. Wholesale gasoline gained 3.18 cents to $2.05 a gallon. Heating oil rose 2.82 cents to $1.976 a gallon. Natural gas rose 14.5 cents to $2.751 per 1,000 cubic feet.