News

Business Highlights

___

Fed finally lifts key interest rate from near zero

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates from record lows set at the depths of the 2008 financial crisis, a shift that heralds modestly higher rates on some loans.

The Fed coupled its first rate hike in nine years with a signal that further increases will likely be made slowly as the economy strengthens further and inflation rises from undesirably low levels.

The central bank said in a statement after its latest meeting that it was lifting its key rate by a quarter-point to a range of 0.25 per cent to 0.5 per cent. Its move ends an extraordinary seven-year period of near-zero borrowing rates.

___

Lamar Odom’s downfall tops Google’s list of 2015 searches

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Lamar Odom’s bizarre downfall from a former Los Angeles Lakers star to a lost soul in a Nevada brothel had the world searching Google for answers more than any other topic this year.

A four-day binge that culminated in Odom being found unconscious placed him atop Google’s list of hottest searches during 2015. The annual breakdown released Wednesday ranks the inquiries that triggered the biggest spikes in traffic on Google’s dominant search engine, excluding queries about sexually explicit subjects.

Odom eclipsed January’s lethal attacks in France at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a mobile game called “Agar.io” that lets multiple players devour cells in a virtual petri dish.

___

November home construction recovers after October slide

WASHINGTON (AP) — A big jump in apartment construction in the Midwest and South boosted the pace of homebuilding in November, marking a solid bounce back after tumbling in October. Construction of single-family houses also increased and reached an eight-year high.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that total housing starts — both houses and apartments— climbed 10.5 last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.17 million homes. The increase reversed much of drop in stars during October.

There has been a sharp growth in homebuilding, with starts having increased 11 per cent so far this year.

___

US industrial production registers worst month since 2012

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. industrial output fell for the third straight month in November, another sign that American manufacturers are under stress.

American industrial production dropped 0.6 per cent last month, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday. It was the biggest drop since March 2012. Manufacturing output was flat after expanding 0.3 per cent in October.

American industry is being hurt by economic weakness overseas and a strong dollar that makes U.S. goods more expensive in foreign markets. Still, the American economy is relatively healthy thanks to solid consumer spending.

___

Stocks jump after Fed finally raises interest rates

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks climbed Wednesday after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates, a long-expected vote of confidence in the U.S. economy. At the same time investors were encouraged that the Fed emphasized that further increases will be gradual.

The market was slightly higher at midday and rose steadily through the afternoon after the Fed released its policy statement and as Fed Chair Janet Yellen gave a news conference explaining the Fed’s decision.

The market finished higher for the third day in a row, something that hadn’t happened in almost two months.

___

FedEx tops Street 2Q forecasts, helped by online shopping

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — FedEx said that its quarterly profit rose 4 per cent, helped by growth in online shopping and lower costs in its core express-delivery business.

The latest results cover the three months ending Nov. 30, capturing a sliver of the key holiday-shipping period. FedEx has predicted that holiday shipments would rise 12.4 per cent over last year because of the continuing growth in online shopping.

The Memphis company on Wednesday reaffirmed its forecast for earnings in the fiscal year that ends in May.

___

Valeant’s outlook for the quarter, year and 2016 grows grim

Embattled Valeant Pharmaceuticals Inc. has slashed its expectations for the fourth quarter and all of 2015 and issued a guarded outlook for 2016, primarily due to lower sales after Congressional and media scrutiny forced it to end a questionable distribution arrangement for its lucrative dermatology and ophthalmology medicines.

Chief Executive Officer Michael Pearson said Wednesday that Valeant should be judged based on its ongoing growth and strategy and its “great brands,” not its small research budget or the controversial business practices that have triggered government probes and created turmoil.

___

California: Self-driving cars must have driver behind wheel

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California unveiled precedent-setting draft rules Wednesday that would slow the public’s access to self-driving cars of the future until regulators are confident the technology is safe.

That cautious approach requires that the cars have a steering wheel, and a licensed driver must be ready to take over if the machine fails.

The draft sets out the framework for how the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles wants to move from the current small-scale testing of prototypes on roads and highways to giving consumers access to the fast-evolving technology.

___

Prosecutors: ex-coal CEO may have to pay tens of millions

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Prosecutors say ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship may have to pay tens of millions of dollars after a conviction carrying up to one year in prison.

In U.S. District Court in Beckley Wednesday, prosecutors opposed Blankenship’s plea to reduce his $5 million bond to $250,000 and drop travel restrictions. Prosecutors say restitution could ruin his wealth and make him a flight risk for sentencing in April.

Prosecutors say if it weren’t for Blankenship’s conspiracy, most of the 29 deaths from the Upper Big Branch Mine explosion in West Virginia in 2010 could’ve been avoided.

___

FDA approves cheaper version of top-selling diabetes drug

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal health officials have approved a cheaper version of the world’s top-selling insulin from Sanofi for U.S. patients with the most common form of diabetes.

The Food and Drug Administration approved a new form of Sanofi’s pen-like injector, called Lantus, from drugmakers Eli Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim.

Those companies received tentative FDA approval for their drug in August 2014. But the launch was delayed by a patent dispute with Sanofi.

___

Amazon warns UK hoverboard owners over unsafe plugs

LONDON (AP) — Amazon is warning British customers that their hoverboards may be unsafe, the latest in a string of warnings about the popular scooters.

Amazon says some of the boards it sold are unsafe because they have “a non-compliant U.K. plug” and should be disposed of at a recycling centre. The company also says British officials have expressed concerns about the safety of hoverboards’ rechargeable lithium batteries.

The skateboard-sized, motorized, two-wheeled scooters are increasingly popular, but concerns have been raised about their safety.

___

The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 224.18 points, or 1.3 per cent, to close at 17,749.09. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index jumped 29.66 points, or 1.5 per cent, to 2,073.07. The Nasdaq composite rose 75.77 points, or 1.5 per cent, to 5,071.13.

Benchmark U.S. crude dropped $1.83, or 4.9 per cent, to close at $35.52 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, lost $1.26, or 3.3 per cent, to $37.19 a barrel in London. Natural gas lost 3.2 cents to close at $1.79 per 1,000 cubic feet. The price of wholesale gasoline fell 1.2 cents to $1.233 a gallon and heating oil lost 3.5 cents, or 3 per cent, to $1.112 a gallon.