Business Highlights


Airlines restore tiny perks, like pretzels, to pacify fliers

NEW YORK (AP) — After 15 years of near austerity, U.S. airlines are restoring some small perks for passengers crammed into coach.

Don’t expect ample legroom or free checked bags. But fliers will find improved snacks, a larger selection of free movies and — on a few select routes — the return of free meals.

Monday, American Airlines became the latest carrier to add something back. It announced the return of free snacks in the economy section and more free entertainment options on some aircraft.


Google parent tops Apple as world’s most valuable company

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Alphabet, Google’s new parent company, topped Apple as the world’s most valuable business in after-hours trading Monday after reporting surging earnings.

Alphabet Inc. earned $4.9 billion in net income on revenue of $21.3 billion in the fourth quarter. If not for employee stock expenses and certain other items, Google said it would have earned $8.67 per share. That figure easily topped the average estimate of $8.10 per share among analysts surveyed by FactSet.

The earnings report provided the most detailed breakdown yet on the profits pouring in from Google’s dominant search engine and ad network. (Google reorganized itself under Alphabet last October.) Investors pushed up Alphabet stock $44.23, or more than 5 per cent, to $815 in extended trading.


Hotels expand options to keep guests healthy on the road

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Running concierges, a hotel mini bar stocked with produce from the local farmers market and a training wall that comes standard in every room. The hotel industry is moving beyond basement gyms and basic spa menus to accommodate guests’ growing requests to stay healthy while on the road.

The trend has been a mainstay at spas and wellness resorts for years, but now hotels frequented by business travellers and families are showing that life on the go doesn’t have to mean sacrificing spin class or a quinoa superfood bowl. Boutique and luxury hotels along with big name brands including Westin and Wyndham have vastly expanded fitness programs and dining options in recent years. The luxury gym Equinox is even opening its own hotel in New York.


China company accused of fleecing investors of $7.6 billion

BEIJING (AP) — Police arrested the maverick founder of China’s largest online finance business on suspicion of fleecing 900,000 investors of $7.6 billion, in what could be the biggest financial fraud in Chinese history.

State media outlets reported the arrest of Ding Ning and 20 of his employees late Sunday. State broadcaster CCTV aired purported confessions from two former employees at Ezubao, an Anhui Province outfit that rose from obscurity to become China’s largest online financing platform in the span of about 18 months.

Ezubao was the most spectacular player in a booming online investment industry that Chinese authorities have been struggling to regulate. Firms ranging from established Internet companies such as Alibaba to virtually unknown upstarts have flooded into the business, promising higher returns than those at state-run banks, which often offer interest rates below inflation.


CDC says Chipotle-linked outbreak of E. coli appears over

WASHINGTON (AP) — Looks like it’s safe to bite into that burrito.

The federal agency that monitors public health says the outbreak of E. coli illness linked to Chipotle restaurants that sickened 60 people appears to be over.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday the most recent illness reported to the agency started on Dec. 1.


US consumer spending flat, savings rate at 3-year high

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumers kept their spending flat in December and instead boosted their savings rate to the highest level in three years.

Consumer spending was unchanged in December after rising 0.5 per cent in November, the Commerce Department reported Monday. Incomes increased 0.3 per cent, matching November’s gain.

Higher incomes and flat spending pushed the savings rate to 5.5 per cent of after-tax income in December. That was the highest level since December 2012.


US manufacturing weakens in line with China factory slowdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — Factory activity in the world’s two biggest economies — the United States and China — slowed in January, a discouraging trend for the global economy.

U.S. factory activity shrank in January for a fourth straight month as a strong dollar and weak demand overseas pinched American manufacturers, the Institute for Supply Management said Monday.

The ISM’s manufacturing index ticked up to 48.2 from a revised 48 in December, but any reading below 50 signals a contraction. The index has remained below 50 since September.


US construction spending hit 8-year-high in 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. construction spending rebounded slightly in December, helping push total spending for 2015 to the highest level in eight years.

Construction spending increased 0.1 per cent in December after falling in October and November, the Commerce Department said Monday.

The December increase was driven by gains in home construction and spending on government projects. That offset declines in spending on private construction of shopping centres, office buildings and hotels.


Lumber Liquidators to pay more than $13 million for illegal imports

NEW YORK (AP) — Lumber Liquidators will pay more than $13 million for illegally importing hardwood flooring, after the company pleaded guilty to environmental crimes last year.

The Department of Justice said that Lumber Liquidators made hardwood floors in China from illegally cut Mongolian oak trees in Russia. Those trees are needed to protect endangered Siberian tigers and Amur leopards because their prey eats the acorns from them, the Justice Department said.

Lumber Liquidators, which was sentenced Monday in federal court, will pay $7.8 million in criminal fines, more than $1.2 million in community service payments and nearly $970,000 in criminal forfeiture. It will also pay about $3.2 million through a related civil forfeiture. The company also agreed to a five-year probation period.


Dominion Resources buying Questar for about $4.4 billion

NEW YORK (AP) — Dominion Resources will spend approximately $4.4 billion to acquire Questar in a big reach to the West for the East Coast energy company.

Dominion is a power producer in the mid-Atlantic region. Questar is in the Rockies and a principal source of gas supply to Western states.

There was a rush of deals last year among energy companies who are bulking up with demand weak and energy prices plunging.


Abbott to buy medical test provider Alere

NEW YORK (AP) — Abbott Laboratories will buy Alere for $4.8 billion as it tries to expand its medical-testing business.

The deal is worth $5.8 billion when restricted stock, stock options and preferred shares are included, the company said Monday.

Alere Inc., based in Waltham, Massachusetts, makes tests used to diagnosis the flu, HIV, malaria and several other diseases that are used in doctor’s offices, clinics and at home.


The Dow Jones industrial average fell 17.12 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 16,449.18. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 0.86 of a point, or 0.04 per cent, to 1,939.38. The Nasdaq composite index rose 6.41 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 4,620.37.

The price of U.S. benchmark oil plunged $2, or 5.9 per cent, to $31.62 a barrel in New York. Natural gas also fell about 6 per cent, dropping 14.6 cents to $2.152 per 1,000 cubic feet. In London, Brent crude fell $1.75 to $34.24 a barrel.

Wholesale gasoline lost 4.9 cents to $1.083 a gallon, heating oil fell 4.2 cents to $1.037 a gallon and natural gas plunged 14.6 cents to $2.152 per 1,000 cubic feet.