Business Highlights


Drug executive takes the Fifth on Capitol Hill, angers lawmakers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Infuriating members of Congress, a smirking Martin Shkreli took the Fifth at a Capitol Hill hearing Thursday when asked about his jacking up of drug prices, then promptly went on Twitter and insulted his questioners as “imbeciles.”

The brash, 32-year-old entrepreneur who has been vilified as the new face of pharmaceutical industry greed was summoned by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is investigating soaring prices for critical medicines.

Four times, he intoned: “On the advice of counsel, I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question.”


US productivity fell at sharp 3 per cent rate in Q4

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. productivity fell sharply in the final three months of 2015, closing out a fifth straight year of weak gains in worker efficiency.

The Labor Department said Thursday that productivity — the amount of output per hour of work — fell at an annual rate of 3 per cent in the fourth quarter. It was the biggest quarterly decline in nearly two years.

Productivity last year edged up a slight 0.6 per cent after a tiny 0.7 per cent gain in 2014. It has been weak since 2011, a troubling development given that productivity is a key ingredient needed for rising living standards. Rising productivity enables businesses to pay employees higher wages without having to boost the cost of the products and services they sell.


CEO Dauman takes over chair at Viacom, replacing Redstone

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Aging media mogul Sumner Redstone stepped down as executive chairman of Viacom on Thursday and was replaced by CEO Philippe Dauman, a move that immediately disappointed investors.

Although the decision mimicked a similar move at sister company CBS, Thursday’s action has the potential to set off a future board fight. Redstone’s daughter Shari said Wednesday she was against Dauman’s promotion to the role because of his deep involvement in Redstone family affairs.


Orders to US factories fell sharply in December

WASHINGTON (AP) — Orders to U.S. factories fell sharply in December, closing out a year in which demand for American manufactured goods retreated for the first time in six years.

Factory orders dropped 2.9 per cent in December, the fourth decline in the past five months, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Orders were down 6.6 per cent for the full year, marking the first annual fall since 2009, a year when the country was struggling to emerge from the Great Recession.

The 2015 decline underscores the problems American manufacturers are facing from spreading global weakness and the rising strength of the dollar.


Applications for US jobless aid rise, but levels still low

WASHINGTON (AP) — More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, but applications stayed near historically low levels in a positive sign for the job market.

Weekly applications for jobless aid rose 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 285,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased slightly to 284,750. The number of people collecting aid has dropped 5.5 per cent in the past year to 2.3 million.


Average long-term US mortgage rate falls fifth straight week

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates fell for the fifth straight week amid volatility in world financial markets.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage slid to 3.72 per cent this week, down from 3.79 per cent last week and the lowest since it averaged 3.68 per cent in April 2015.

The average rate on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage slid to 3.01 per cent from 3.07 per cent last week.


LinkedIn shares tumble on weak forecast for 2016

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — LinkedIn shares plunged as much as 28 per cent in after-hours trading Thursday after the company reported better-than-expected results for the fourth quarter but provided a weak forecast for 2016.

The professional networking service’s adjusted earnings and revenue beat Wall Street’s estimates for the last three months of 2015, thanks to strong demand for its hiring and recruiting software. But it issued a forecast that was far below what analysts were expecting.

LinkedIn also said it will phase out a new online advertising product that hasn’t worked out as planned, which will cause it to forego roughly $50 million in near-term revenue.


Dunkin’s preps for a deal fight as customer visits slip

NEW YORK (AP) — Dunkin’ Donuts, feeling sidelined by a discounting fight in the fast-food industry, is planning to jump into the game with its own deals.

The coffee-and-doughnut chain said Thursday that customer visits slipped at U.S. stores open at least 18 months in the last three months of the year. Dunkin’ CEO Nigel Travis blamed the loss on aggressive promotions at burger chains, which he said were sparked by McDonald’s highly anticipated rollout of all-day breakfast.

Wendy’s, for instance, launched a “4 for $4” deal in October, which Burger King later one-upped with a “5 for $4” offer. McDonald’s more recently introduced its “McPick 2” deal that lets people pick two items for $2.


Buffett’s firm now owns nearly 14 per cent of Phillips 66

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Berkshire Hathaway has purchased nearly 1.7 million more shares of Phillips 66 to give it ownership of almost 14 per cent of the oil refiner.

The conglomerate led by Warren Buffett reported the latest stock purchases this week. Berkshire now owns 73.98 million Phillips 66 shares worth roughly $5.9 billion.

Berkshire revealed owning over 10 per cent of Phillips 66 stock in August when it disclosed a stake of 55 million shares. But before Berkshire began its recent string of purchases in January it owned only 61.49 million Phillips 66 shares.


Tribune Publishing gets $44.4 million from Chicago investor

CHICAGO (AP) — Tribune Publishing, the troubled owner of the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers around the country, said it received a $44.4 million cash infusion from a Chicago investor who has a stake in its rival newspaper the Chicago Sun-Times.

The company also suspended its quarterly dividend Thursday to free up more money in the aftermath of a difficult year. Revenue has slumped as readers and advertisers continue to migrate online and the company has trimmed staff to cut costs. Its stock has plummeted 68 per cent in the last year.


Salt mining still idle at New York site where workers were rescued

LANSING, N.Y. (AP) — Mining operations remain suspended at a central New York salt mine nearly a month after 17 workers were rescued from an elevator stuck 900 feet underground.

Minneapolis-based Cargill Inc. says work continues on the elevator system at the mine in the Finger Lakes town of Lansing, 40 miles southwest of Syracuse.

The mine at the southern end of Cayuga Lake is the deepest salt mine in the nation, employing about 200 people. There’s no estimate on when mining will resume.


Tesla gigafactory job creation slower than first projected

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Electric carmaker Tesla’s northern Nevada battery plant is creating jobs more slowly than first projected, although state officials say it’s still making satisfactory progress.

A progress report issued this week by the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development said there were 272 people working at the Tesla and Panasonic factories at the end of the year. That’s lower than the 700 jobs initially projected for the end of 2015, according to a September 2014 report available to state lawmakers when they were deciding whether to approve a $1.3 billion tax incentive package for Tesla.


The Dow Jones industrial average rose 79.92 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 16,416.58. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 2.92 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 1,915.45 and the Nasdaq composite rose 5.32 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 4,509.56.

Benchmark U.S. crude edged down 56 cents to $31.72 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oil prices, fell 58 cents to $34.46 a barrel in London.

Heating oil rose less than a penny to $1.081 a gallon, wholesale gasoline rose 1.5 cents to $1.0284 a gallon and natural gas fell 6.6 cents to $1.972 per thousand cubic feet.