Business Highlights


Oil slump weighing on housing markets in Texas, North Dakota

There’s a dark side to those delightfully low gas prices: Housing markets are slumping in communities that were recently flush from the U.S. shale oil fracking boom.

Home sales are down sharply this year in North Dakota and the West Texas cities of Midland and Odesa. Home sales have also slowed in El Paso and Houston.

The drilling boom, driven by high oil prices and new discoveries, brought tens of thousands of workers to oil fields to run drilling rigs and supply the equipment and services needed to produce crude. Then the price of oil tanked and oil companies abandoned drilling projects and began laying off workers.


Saudi Arabia posts $98B deficit, raises petrol prices

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi Arabia on Monday said this year’s budget deficit amounted to $98 billion (367 billion riyals) as lower oil prices cut into the government’s main source of revenue, prompting the kingdom to scale back spending for the coming year and hike up petrol prices.

A royal decree announced that petrol prices would go up by 50 per cent effective Tuesday. Even with that jump, Saudis will pay just 24 cents (0.90 riyals) for a litre of 95 octane gasoline, less than a dollar per gallon.


Holiday spending up 8 per cent; online sales surge

NEW YORK (AP) — Americans spent more on items like furniture during the holidays this year, with online shopping in particular seeing a big spike, according to a report released Monday.

Overall spending rose 7.9 per cent from a year ago, according to the MasterCard SpendingPulse report, which tracks retail sales across cards, cash and checks from Black Friday to Christmas Eve. The uptick was driven by people sitting in the comfort of their homes or at work, with online shopping up 20 per cent.


Cow dung patties selling like hot cakes online in India

NEW DELHI (AP) — Like consumers around the globe, Indians are flocking to the online marketplace in droves these days. And that is helping one unusual item fly off the virtual shelves: cow dung patties.

The patties — cow poop mixed with hay and dried in the sun, made mainly by women in rural areas and used to fuel fires — have long been available in India’s villages. But online retailers including Amazon and eBay are now reaching out to the country’s ever-increasing urban population, feeding into the desire of older city folks to harken back to their childhood in the village.


TSA increases screening of airport and airline employees

NEW YORK (AP) — The Transportation Security Administration is increasing random checks of airport and airline employees who hold badges that enable them to bypass security checkpoints.

The decision follows instances in the past two years in which employees used restricted entrances to smuggle guns and launder money. It’s also part of a larger push to increase airport security after the Paris terrorist attacks and the crash of a jet flying between Egypt and Russia, believed to have been brought down by a bomb.


Valeant CEO takes medical leave

NEW YORK (AP) — Valeant Pharmaceuticals CEO J. Michael Pearson is taking a medical leave of absence after he was hospitalized with pneumonia last week.

Shares of the troubled Canadian pharmaceutical company fell Monday. Valeant says three executives will take over for Pearson in his absence.

A representative for Valeant said that Pearson has a “severe case of pneumonia and is receiving treatment in the hospital.” The company declined to offer details on his condition or the expected length of his absence.


Deutsche Bank sells China bank stake for up to $4 billion

BERLIN (AP) — Deutsche Bank says it has agreed to sell its stake in China’s Hua Xia Bank to a Chinese insurer in a deal worth between 23 billion and 25.7 billion yuan ($3.6 billion-$4 billion).

Deutsche Bank AG said in October that it no longer considered its 19.99 per cent stake in Hua Xia Bank strategic. Germany’s biggest bank announced Monday that it will sell the entire stake to PICC Property and Casualty Company Limited.


Freeport-McMoRan chair and co-founder Moffett resigns

NEW YORK (AP) — James R. Moffett, the executive chairman and co-founder of the mining company Freeport-McMoRan, is stepping down as plunging commodity prices lead to mass layoffs across the entire industry.

The company is one of the world’s biggest producers of gold and copper, both of which have tumbled in value this year. And activist investor Carl Icahn also recently revealed a large stake in the company. Icahn had pushed for cost cuts and came to an agreement with the company that put his affiliates on the board.

Moffett, who helped form the company in 1969, will resign as chair and leave the board of directors Thursday.


Amazon holiday shipping, Christmas Eve deliveries set record

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Online retailer Amazon has benefited from increased online shopping and procrastinating.

Amazon Prime, the company’s $99-a-year loyalty program that includes unlimited free two-day shipping, gained 3 million new members in the third week of December alone. Christmas Eve was the biggest day yet for deliveries by the company’s Prime Now service, which now offers free two-hour delivery to more than 20 metropolitan areas. Seattle-based Amazon also said it shipped a record number of items worldwide for the holidays, with items going to 185 countries.


China fines global shippers on price-fixing charges

BEIJING (AP) — China fined seven foreign shipping companies that carry vehicles for automakers a total of $65 million on price-fixing charges Monday in its latest effort to end anti-competitive behaviour in the auto industry.

Investigators found Europe’s Wallenius Wilhelmsen, South Korea’s EUKOR, Japan’s Mitsui O.S.K. Lines and other shippers improperly co-ordinated bids and routes to keep prices high, the Cabinet’s planning agency said. An eighth shipper, Japan’s NYK, was found to have colluded but was spared a fine.


Health law reporting extension issued for employers

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department on Monday gave employers an extension of critical reporting requirements, as it seeks to manage some of the most complicated parts of the federal health care law.

Employers had previously faced deadlines in February and March to report 2015 health insurance information to their employees and the IRS. If they need more time, employers can now have until March 31 to get information to their workers and until June 30 in certain cases to get details to the IRS.

Treasury said it acted after many employers complained they might not be able to get the information processed in time.


The Dow Jones industrial average fell 23.90 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 17,528.27. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 4.49 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 2,056.50. The Nasdaq composite shed 7.51 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 5,040.99.

Benchmark U.S. crude shed $1.29, or 3.4 per cent, to close at $36.81 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, lost $1.27, or 3.4 per cent, to close at $36.62 per barrel in London. In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline fell 0.3 cents to close at $1.233 a gallon, heating oil fell 1 cent to close at $1.09 a gallon and natural gas rose 20 cents to close at $2.228 per 1,000 cubic feet.