Business Highlights


Solid gain in February US retail sales eases concerns

WASHINGTON (AP) — Thanks to solid job creation, Americans spent more at retailers in February despite smaller paychecks. The surprisingly strong increase helped allay fears that higher Social Security taxes and gasoline prices might chill spending early this year.

Much of the increase in February retail sales compared with January reflected higher gas prices. But even excluding the volatile categories of gas, autos and building supply stores, so-called core retail sales rose strongly.

Economists were encouraged by the healthier-than-expected numbers from the Commerce Department on Wednesday, and some revised their estimates of U.S. economic growth for the January-March quarter.


US CEOs optimistic about economy, wary of hiring

WASHINGTON (AP) — Chief executives at the largest U.S. companies are much more optimistic about their sales prospects than they were three months ago, though many remain cautious about hiring.

The Business Roundtable said Wednesday that 72 per cent of its members expect sales to increase in the next six months. That’s up from 58 per cent at the end of last year. And 38 per cent plan to invest more in plants and equipment, up from 30 per cent in the October-December quarter, when the Roundtable released its last report.

The better outlook hasn’t made the group more optimistic about hiring. Twenty-nine per cent of CEOs plan to increase hiring over the next six months, the same percentage as the last two surveys.


Insurers warn of overhaul-induced sticker shock

Some Americans could see their insurance bills double next year as the health care overhaul law expands coverage to millions of people.

The nation’s big health insurers say they expect premiums — or the cost for insurance coverage — to rise from 20 to 100 per cent for millions of people due to changes that will occur when key provisions of the Affordable Care Act roll out in January 2014.

To be sure, there will be no across-the-board rate hikes for everyone, and there’s no reliable national data on how many people could see increases. But the biggest price hikes are expected to hit a group that represents a relatively small slice of the insured population. That includes some of the roughly 14 million people who buy their own insurance as opposed to being covered under employer-sponsored plans, and to a lesser extent, some employees of smaller companies.


New Samsung phone to face stronger competition

NEW YORK (AP) — Samsung Electronics is going to the Big Apple to reveal its next big challenge to Apple Inc.: a successor to its top-selling Galaxy S III smartphone.

The Korean company has rented New York’s Radio City Music Hall for an event Thursday evening. The company has hinted that it will reveal the Galaxy S IV phone. Judging by the announcement of the S III in last May, this means the new phone will be available in stores in a month or two.

It’s not known what the new phone will look like or how it will differ from its predecessor, but there’s speculation that Samsung will once again increase the screen size. Every successive generation of the Galaxy line has been bigger than the one before, and the S III has a screen that measures 4.8 inches on the diagonal, substantially larger than the iPhone 5’s 4-inch screen.


Pursuit of hackers who took credit reports expands

WASHINGTON (AP) — The pursuit of hackers who audaciously stole and published credit reports for Michelle Obama, the attorney general, the FBI director and other U.S. politicians and celebrities crisscrossed continents and included a San Francisco-based Internet company, Cloudflare, The Associated Press has learned.

The sensational crime caught the attention of Congress and President Barack Obama.

Obama said he could not confirm that the first lady’s credit report was published earlier this week on a Russian website, along with what appeared to be the credit reports of nearly two dozen others, including Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and celebrities Britney Spears, Jay Z, Beyonce and Tiger Woods.

If accurate, as widely suspected, the leaked records put each victim at significant risk of identity theft. Included in the reports are Social Security numbers, dates of birth and a list of previous home addresses. The records also include such personal information as the first lady’s monthly payments on a student loan 10 years ago and that she once held a Banana Republic credit card.


US businesses boost restocking 1 per cent

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. companies increased their restocking in January from December, an encouraging signal that they expect consumers to spend more this year and help the economy grow faster.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that business stockpiles grew 1 per cent in January. That’s up from 0.3 per cent in December and the biggest gain since May 2011.

Total business sales fell 0.3 per cent in January after a slight 0.1 per cent rise in December.


US budget deficit jumps in February by $204 billion

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. federal budget deficit jumped in February from January, though it is still running well below last year’s pace. Higher taxes and an improving economy are expected to hold the annual deficit below $1 trillion for the first time since President Barack Obama took office.

The Treasury Department said Wednesday that the deficit grew in February by $203.5 billion. That followed a small surplus of $2.9 billion in January. And February’s gap was $28 billon smaller than the same month a year ago.

Through the first five months of the budget year that began on Oct. 1, the deficit is $494 billion. That’s nearly $87 billion lower than the budget gap for the same period a year ago.


Report: More young people use smartphones as route to Web

CHICAGO (AP) — Keep computers in a common area so you can monitor what your kids are doing. It’s a longstanding directive for online safety — but one that’s quickly becoming moot as more young people have mobile devices, often with Internet access.

A new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds that 78 per cent of young people ages 12 to 17 have cellphones. Nearly half of those are smartphones, a share that’s increasing steadily — and that’s having a big effect on how and where many young people access the Web.

The survey released Wednesday finds that one in four young people say they are “cell-mostly” Internet users, a percentage that increases to about half when the phone is a smartphone.


BlackBerry gets biggest order ever

BlackBerry, formerly known as Research In Motion Ltd., says it has received an order for one million of its new smartphones, marking the largest ever single purchase in the company’s history.

The Canadian company is relying on the redesigned BlackBerry to fuel a comeback. The pioneering brand lost its cachet not long after Apple’s 2007 release of the iPhone, which reset consumers’ expectations for what a smartphone should do.

Blackberry unveiled the new BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10 in January. The Z10 is available for purchase in a number of markets around the world and will be available in the U.S. this month.


Google’s top Android executive unexpectedly steps down

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Andy Rubin has stepped down as the executive in charge of Google’s Android operating system for smartphones and tablet computers, ending a seven-year reign that reshaped the technology industry.

The unexpected change announced Wednesday may raise new questions about the Android’s direction as Google duels with Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp. and a long list of companies in the increasingly important mobile computing market.

Google is replacing Rubin with Sundar Pichai, an executive in charge of the company’s Chrome Web browser and operating system for lightweight laptop computers. That move may heighten recurring speculation that the Chrome operating system eventually will supplant Android. Google executives haven’t ruled out the possibility of the two operating systems eventually merging together, although they have stressed there are no immediate plans to do so within the next couple years.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial up 5.22 points, or 0.04 per cent, to 14,455.28. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 2.04 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 1,554.52. The Nasdaq composite rose 2.80 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 3,245.12.

Benchmark oil for April delivery fell 2 cents to close at $92.52 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, fell 99 cents to end at $108.24 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline lost 1 cent to finish at $3.14 a gallon. Heating oil fell 2 cents to end at end at $2.92 a gallon. Natural gas added 4 cents to finish at $3.68 per 1,000 cubic feet.