Business Highlights


Celebrities are going to be huge in Super Bowl ads

NEW YORK (AP) — The Big Game is more than a week away, but Super Bowl advertisers are already out in force online, playing up celebrity cameos to drive buzz for their brands.

Amazon has teased its ad with Alec Baldwin, Hyundai will showcase Kevin Hart and Ryan Reynolds. Skittles will have Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler promote the candy. Bud Light is even creating its own fake political party with actors Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen.

Pre-game buzz is crucial; ads will cost as much as an estimated $5 million for a 30-second spot, up from $4.4 million last year.


For the world’s most scrutinized body, Barbie has a new look

NEW YORK (AP) — At 57, Barbie is getting a major makeover.

The iconic plastic doll, whose small waist and long legs have been criticized for creating unrealistic expectations for girls, will soon be sold with three new bodies — curvy, tall and petite. Barbie will also be more diverse, coming in seven skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 hairstyles.

Mattel Inc. has been searching for ways to recharges sales of Barbie, which fell 4 per cent in the most recent quarter. The company hopes more kids will be able to relate to the new dolls.


US stocks rise as oil prices jump again; tech climbs

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks rose Thursday as the price of oil climbed for the third day in a row while key oil-producing nations discussed cuts in production. Tech and consumer stocks traded higher, led by Amazon and PayPal, while drugmakers fell.

Facebook made its biggest leap in two and a half years after it said its profit more than doubled in the fourth quarter. The social network finished 2015 with almost 1.6 billion users. Sports apparel maker Under Armour also surged. Energy prices and companies rose as Russia, Saudi Arabia and OPEC discussed production cuts.


Fewer people seek US jobless aid, sign of stable job market

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week, a sign that employers aren’t cutting jobs in response to global economic weakness and sharp stock market drops.

Weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 278,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 2,250 to 283,000. The number of Americans receiving aid rose 49,000 to 2.27 million. That’s still 4.5 per cent lower than a year ago.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, and the decline suggests that businesses remain confident enough in future economic growth to hold onto their staffs.


US pending home sales inch up in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people signing contracts to purchase homes managed to inch up last month, thanks to unseasonably warm weather in the Northeast.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index crept up 0.1 per cent to 106.8. Signed contracts jumped 6.1 per cent in the Northeast, while they declined in the other three major U.S. regions.

Last month was one of the warmest Decembers on record on the East Coast.

The tiny bump is consistent with many analysts’ views that home sales may rise only slightly this year after a solid increase in 2015.


Average US rate on 30-year mortgage falls to 3.79 per cent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates fell this week for a fourth straight week amid persisting turmoil in stock markets and global economic worries.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage slipped to 3.79 per cent from 3.81 per cent a week earlier. That means it stays below the symbolically significant 4 per cent level. The rate has increased from its 3.66 per cent average a year ago but remains well below its historic average of 6 per cent.

The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages declined to 3.07 per cent from 3.10 per cent.


6 brokers cleared of market rate-rigging in UK

LONDON (AP) — A British court on Thursday cleared six brokers of trying to fix the benchmark interest rate known as Libor, the London interbank offered rate.

The six men had been accused of helping convicted banker Tom Hayes manipulate the Libor rate — the key rate that banks use to borrow money from each other — over four years.

Hayes was sentenced to 14 years in prison last year for manipulating the rate while working at UBS and Citigroup between 2006 and 2010. He was the first to be convicted by a British jury of Libor rigging, but he said he was made a scapegoat for a common practice.


Amazon profit falls short

SEATTLE (AP) — Amazon shares tumbled in aftermarket trading Thursday after the e-commerce company said its profit more than doubled, but still fell well short of analyst expectations.

Amazon’s strategy has long been to invest most of the money it makes back into its businesses. After operating at or near a loss for years, it has finally also demonstrated the ability to turn a consistent profit recently.

Yet it wasn’t able to match investor expectations in the fourth quarter. The Seattle company’s net income more than doubled to $482 million, or $1 per share, from $214 million, or 45 cents per share last year. But that fell far short of the $1.55 analysts expected, according to FactSet.


Microsoft’s big Windows 10 push is part of broader strategy

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Microsoft’s aggressive campaign to promote the latest version of its flagship software has already led to the deployment of Windows 10 on more than 200 million devices since its release last summer. It’s also part of a multi-pronged strategy that analysts credit with contributing to the early stages of a financial turnaround, as evidenced by Microsoft’s latest earnings report on Thursday.

The Redmond, Washington-based tech company reported nearly $5 billion in profit on nearly $24 billion in sales for the holiday quarter of 2015. Revenue was down 10 per cent from a year ago, but after adjusting for deferred revenue, the numbers were better than Wall Street analysts expected.


Alibaba 3Q net income jumps on strong holiday season

NEW YORK (AP) — Alibaba is hoping its better-than-expected third-quarter results help reassure investors worried about the state of the Chinese economy.

The Chinese e-commerce powerhouse third-quarter net income jumped ahead of analyst expectations as mobile shopping continued to grow and Chinese customers snapped up items during the holidays. Annual active buyers rose 22 per cent to 407 million.

But investors were still spooked by any possible signs of weakness. Growth in gross merchandise volume, or the total value of items bought on Alibaba’s Chinese retail sites, rose 23 per cent, but that was slower growth than the 28 per cent rise in the prior quarter.


AP sources: Panel proposes ban on air shipments of batteries

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.N. panel has recommended that cargo shipments of rechargeable lithium batteries be banned from passenger airliners because the batteries can create fires capable of destroying planes, said aviation officials familiar with the decision.

The International Civilian Aviation Organization’s air navigation commission, the agency’s highest technical body, also proposed in a closed-door meeting Wednesday that the ban be lifted if new packaging can be developed that provides an acceptable level of safety.

Final approval from the ICAO top-level council is still needed. The council is scheduled to take up the matter in late February.


The Dow Jones industrial average gained 125.18 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 16,069.64. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 10.41 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 1,893.36. The Nasdaq composite index added 38.51 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 4,506.68.

U.S. crude rose 92 cents, or 2.8 per cent, to $33.22 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, gained 79 cents, or 2.4 per cent, to $33.89. In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline rose 3.3 cents to $1.079 a gallon. Heating oil rose 0.6 cents to $1.031 a gallon. Natural gas rose 2.5 cents to $2.182 per 1,000 cubic feet.