Business Highlights


Yellen defends Fed policies from critical House lawmakers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Wednesday she is encouraged by signs that the economy is reviving after a brutal winter. And if the improvements stay on track, the Fed will likely start raising interest rates later this year.

Yellen, however, downplayed the importance of the timing of the first rate hike as she delivered the Fed’s mid-year economic outlook to Congress. Interest rates will remain at very low levels “for quite some time after the first increase,” she said.


What relief? Greek economy on its knees despite bailout deal

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece has a tentative rescue deal, but relief that it is not falling out of the euro is unlikely to last long: its economy has taken a huge hit.

Months of political brinkmanship, uncertainty and bank closures have hurt companies and brought everyday business to a standstill.

And new economic measures meant to secure the bailout are forecast to put the country, which emerged last year from six years of economic decline, through more misery.


Apple’s updates iPod Touch amid declining sales

NEW YORK (AP) — Although the iPod’s popularity has waned, Apple is updating its music player for the first time in nearly three years by giving the flagship Touch model a faster processor and better cameras.

The new iPod Touch also enables Apple Music, a $10-a-month service that offers unlimited playback of millions of songs. Apple Music launched June 30 as music fans increasingly embrace subscriptions over pay-per-song services such as Apple’s iTunes.


Robots do check-in and check-out at cost-cutting Japan hotel

SASEBO, Japan (AP) — From the receptionist that does the check-in and check-out to the porter that’s an automated trolley taking luggage up to the room, this hotel in southwestern Japan, aptly called Weird Hotel, is “manned” almost totally by robots to save labour costs.

Hideo Sawada, who runs the hotel as part of an amusement park, insists using robots is not a gimmick, but a serious effort to utilize technology and achieve efficiency.


Overtime proposal may force hard choices at small businesses

NEW YORK (AP) — A proposal to give millions of U.S. workers a raise is forcing restaurant owner Michelle Shriver to make some hard choices.

The Obama administration’s proposed change in overtime regulations could lead Shriver to put salaried managers on shifts, limiting their hours and making it more difficult to run her six Tropical Smoothie Cafes. Shriver says she can’t afford the overtime she’d have to pay under the proposal.

Some small business owners say it would force them to change how they pay staffers, cut their hours or eliminate perks like bonuses because they don’t have the money for overtime for employees who routinely work 45 or 50 hours a week. The proposed change would be particularly hard for owners who rely on managers to oversee their day-to-day operations. It could also force some owners to raise prices or cut the services.


US factory output flat for 2nd straight month

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. factory production was unchanged for a second straight month in June as a sharp drop in auto manufacturing was offset by greater output of furniture and chemicals.

The cutback in auto production comes after three months of healthy gains and is likely temporary.

Still, manufacturers are struggling to overcome several challenges, including the strong dollar, weak overseas growth, and cheaper oil. Sales at retail stores also fell in June, suggesting consumers are still cautious about spending, limiting demand for factory goods.


Egg prices blowing up because of avian flu

WASHINGTON (AP) — Eggs are getting much more expensive.

The outbreak of avian flu caused the cost of eggs to nearly double last month for producers. Wholesale prices for chicken eggs jumped 84.5 per cent in June, the Labor Department said Wednesday.

The spike comes amid otherwise tame inflation across the rest of the economy. The producer price index, which measures the costs of goods and services before they reach consumers, increased 0.4 per cent in June.


Netflix delivers strong 2Q with 3.3 million more customers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Netflix’s second-quarter performance followed a familiar script of rapid subscriber growth that has enthralled investors.

The world’s largest Internet video service added 3.3 million worldwide streaming subscribers during the three months ending to end the period with 65.6 million customers. About 900,000 of the additional subscribers were signed up in the U.S., where Netflix now has 42.3 million customers.

The increases were far better than Netflix’s management projected and represented the biggest subscriber gains during the second quarter since the company began streaming video over high-speed connections eight years ago.


Employee or contractor? Labor seeks to clarify rules

WASHINGTON (AP) — When are workers employees? When are they contractors?

The Labor Department issued new guidance Wednesday intended to help companies answer that increasingly fraught question.

The issue has taken on greater urgency with the growth of sharing-economy firms such as Uber and TaskRabbit, which increasingly rely on independent workers, often for short-term projects.


Farewell FAO Schwarz: Last day of business at NYC toy store

NEW YORK (AP) — Tom Hanks danced on a large floor piano there in the movie “Big.” Multitudes of children wandered through the aisles, wide-eyed with delight at the giant stuffed animals and other toys. And a fair number of parents winced at some of the price tags.

FAO Schwarz on Fifth Avenue, probably the best-known toy store in the world, is closing Wednesday night.

Owner Toys R Us announced the decision in May, citing the high and rising costs of running the 45,000-square-foot retail space on pricey Fifth Avenue. Though the flagship store is closing its doors for good, it may reopen elsewhere in midtown Manhattan.


Starboard Value suggests real estate transactions for Macy’s

NEW YORK (AP) — Activist investment firm Starboard Value says retailer Macy’s could boost its share price by spinning off its real estate into a separate company or forming a joint venture, saying the shares are worth almost double their current price.

Companies including Sears have made similar real estate moves, which are intended to let them get more revenue from property they own.


Shoppers disappointed in much-hyped ‘Prime Day’ sales

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Amazon aimed for Christmas in July with its much-hyped “Prime Day” sale. But some shoppers found a lump of coal instead.

The online retailer said Prime Day would offer bigger sales than those during the winter holiday shopping season. The goal was to boost $99 annual Prime loyalty program memberships during the sluggish summer months. The sale gained so much attention, other retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target, Macy’s and Best Buy, had sales of their own.

But some Amazon customers were disappointed by Prime Day.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 3.41 points, or less than 0.1 per cent, to 18,050.17. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 1.55 points, or less than 0.1 per cent, to 2,107.40. The Nasdaq composite dropped 5.95 points, or 0.1 per cent to 5,098.94.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.63, or 3 per cent, to close at $51.41 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, dipped $1.46 to close at $57.05 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 7 cents to close at $1.86 a gallon. Heating oil slipped 5.6 cents to close at $1.67 a gallon. Natural gas rose 8 cents to close at $2.92 per 1,000 cubic feet.