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Corporate earnings keep falling, but there are signs of life

NEW YORK (AP) — Are we there yet? It’s another weak quarter on Wall Street, but there are some signs corporate America will come out of its recent funk.

Earnings at big U.S. companies are on track to tumble 6.4 per cent in the first quarter, the worst since the financial crisis. That would also be the third straight decline in profits while revenue is on pace to fall for the fifth quarter in a row.

Much of the blame lies in plunging oil prices and a sagging global economy. The beleaguered U.S. energy sector, which includes giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, is expected to report an overall loss, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, something that hasn’t happened since the firm began collecting data in 1999.

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Honda, Nissan break records as auto sales stay hot in April

DETROIT (AP) — America’s love of trucks and SUVs helped push most automakers to healthy sales gains last month as Honda and Nissan reported best-ever April sales. Ford posted record SUV sales, while Toyota broke a record for SUV and truck sales.

Honda led major automakers with a 14.4 per cent sales increase as both its cars and SUVs sold well, while Nissan’s sales rose 12.8 per cent. Fiat Chrysler was up 6 per cent on record Jeep sales, and Ford rode an April record for SUV sales to a 4 per cent increase. Toyota sales rose 3.8 per cent largely because of the RAV4 small SUV, which broke a monthly record with sales up nearly 32 per cent.

General Motors, Volkswagen and Hyundai were the only major automakers to report sales declines. GM blamed its 3.5 per cent drop on a strategy of cutting low-profit sales to rental car companies. VW sales fell almost 10 per cent as its emissions-cheating scandal continued. Hyundai sales were off 8.5 per cent from a record April last year.

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Target faces backlash on stance on transgender bathrooms

NEW YORK (AP) — Consumer backlash is growing against Target’s stance on what type of bathrooms its transgender customers and employees can use.

Two weeks ago, the Minneapolis-based discounter issued a statement that said customers and employees can use the restroom or fitting room that “corresponds to their gender identity.” The move made Target the first major retailer to take such a prominent position on the issue, and won praise from supporters of transgender rights. But Target’s position has also sparked criticism on social media.

One online petition started by a group called The American Family Association, a conservative Christian advocacy group, calls for a boycott of Target stores. And customer surveys from two research firms separately show that Target’s reputation has taken a hit.

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Pfizer tops Street 1Q forecasts on higher sales, lower taxes

NEW YORK (AP) — Pfizer easily beat Wall Street expectations as the biggest U.S. drugmaker’s first-quarter net income jumped 27 per cent due to higher sales, lower taxes and one-time gains. The company raised its 2016 financial forecasts, citing the strong quarter and an improved business outlook, sending shares up more than 3 per cent.

Four weeks after dropping its record $160 billion deal to buy fellow drugmaker Allergan PLC and move its headquarters on paper to Ireland to reduce its taxes, New York-based Pfizer Inc. surprised investors with the better-than-expected results and forecast.

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CVS Health tops Street 1Q forecasts

NEW YORK (AP) — Specialty drugs and retail expansions boosted CVS Health’s first-quarter revenue by 18.9 per cent, helping to offset higher costs and push results above Wall Street expectations.

The nation’s second-largest drugstore chain also confirmed its full-year profit outlook, though second-quarter forecasts are short of expectations.

First-quarter profit fell 6.1 per cent during the period to $1.15 billion, or $1.04 per share, mainly on higher acquisition-related costs. Excluding certain expenses, the company earned $1.18 per share.

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Suspended executive at Volkswagen’s Porsche brand is replaced

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Volkswagen’s Porsche division has replaced a top vehicle development manager suspended since the start of the Volkswagen group’s scandal over diesel cars rigged to cheat on emissions tests.

Porsche said in a news release that Wolfgang Hatz, 57, would be replaced by Michael Steiner, 51.

Hatz served both as Volkswagen’s head of engine development as well as at Porsche head of development. He terminated his employment contract “on his own initiative” due to the ongoing investigation.

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Lights out: Philips to launch IPO for lighting division

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Royal Philips NV announced Tuesday that it is spinning off its iconic lighting division in an initial public offering so it can focus on its future as a health technology provider.

The listing on Amsterdam’s Euronext exchange will involve the company selling at least 25 per cent of its stock in Philips Lighting, which had sales of 7.5 billion euros ($8.7 billion) in 2015, Philips said in a statement. After the IPO, Philips aims to sell the remaining shares in its lighting division over the coming years. The price of the stock and timing of the IPO were not announced.

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St. Louis jury awards $55 million in Johnson & Johnson cancer suit

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay $55 million to a woman who claims its talcum powder caused her ovarian cancer, the second such judgment against the manufacturer in three months.

The ruling in St. Louis late Monday comes amid ongoing debate about the link between the bathroom staple and deadly disease that is often detected too late for treatment. Some studies suggest that women who regularly use talc face up to 40 per cent higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Meanwhile, New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson cites other medical evidence showing its products such as Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower are blameless.

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Tampa Bay Times purchases main competitor, the Tampa Tribune

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s largest newspaper, The Tampa Bay Times, said Tuesday it has purchased its main competitor, the Tampa Tribune, ending a decades-long newspaper rivalry.

Times chairman and CEO Paul Tash said he intends to create one financially secure, locally owned daily newspaper in the Tampa Bay region. Tash did not disclose the purchase price.

The Times bought the paper from Revolution Capital Group, which bought the Tribune in 2012 for $9.5 million.

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MetLife fined $20 million for variable annuities switches

WASHINGTON (AP) — MetLife has been fined $20 million by Wall Street’s policing body for misleading customers in switching them from variable annuities contracts into more expensive ones.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority said Tuesday the decision was its largest fine related to variable annuities, popular yet complex investments that have grabbed the attention of regulators in recent years. FINRA has taken hundreds of disciplinary actions against brokers and investment firms for abuses in sales of variable annuities.

FINRA also ordered MetLife Securities Inc. to return $5 million to customers “for making negligent material misrepresentations and omissions” on applications for switching into new variable annuities contracts. Tens of thousands of customers were affected, the regulators said.

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Jim Beam fills 14 millionth barrel of bourbon

CLERMONT, Ky. (AP) — Jim Beam has filled and sealed its 14 millionth barrel of bourbon since the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, achieving a first in the bourbon industry.

Seventh-generation master distiller Fred Noe and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin sealed the barrel Monday at the company’s flagship distillery in Clermont, Kentucky, about 20 miles south of Louisville.

The milestone comes two years after the distillery filled its 13 millionth barrel.

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The Dow Jones industrial average lost 140.25 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 17,750.91. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 18.06 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 2,063.37 and the Nasdaq composite lost 54.37 points, or 1.1 per cent, to 4,763.22.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil lost $1.13, or 2.5 per cent, to close at $43.65 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 86 cents, or 1.9 per cent, to close at $44.97 a barrel in London. In other energy trading in New York, wholesale gasoline fell 5 cents to $1.51 a gallon, heating oil fell 2 cents to $1.33 a gallon and natural gas rose 4 cents to $2.086 per 1,000 cubic feet.