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Business Highlights

December 24, 2014 - 12:07 PM


Auto industry acts globally — except on recalls

DETROIT (AP) — When it comes to making and selling cars, the auto industry thinks and acts globally: There is near-seamless co-ordination between parts suppliers, factories and dealerships.

But when an unsafe car needs to be recalled, that global co-ordination breaks down — in part because governments do not demand it. The consequences are sometimes deadly.

There are no international standards for determining what's unsafe and should be recalled, or how car owners should be notified. Some countries have strict safety regulations and a clear process that automakers must follow when they learn about a defect. But many do not.


Sony broadly releases 'The Interview' in reversal of plans

LOS ANGELES (AP) — In an unprecedented move, Sony Pictures broadly released "The Interview" to digital platforms Wednesday, a reversal of its previous plan not to show the film after hackers released thousands of documents online and threatened violence at theatres showing the comedy that depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The move means easier access for viewers — and may further erode the studio's symbiotic relationship with theatres: A day earlier, Sony and independent theatres agreed to release the movie in over 300 venues Thursday. The three largest theatre chains have been largely silent since deciding not to show the film, which was originally set to open on Christmas on up to 3,000 screens.

"The Interview" became available for rental on a variety of digital platforms Wednesday afternoon, including Google Play, YouTube Movies, Microsoft's Xbox Video and a separate Sony website, Sony Pictures announced.


Bad Santa? 5 tips to tackle your holiday gift returns

As anyone who's received a drugstore cologne gift set well knows, even Santa Claus gets it wrong sometimes.

Friends and relatives? Yes, them too.

Hence the throng of customers who flock to shopping malls soon after the holidays to exchange or return less-than-ideal presents. Retailers generally try to accommodate their wishes, or provide store credit. But it's not always easy.

A recent National Retail Federation survey of 60 merchant loss-prevention executives estimated that fraud related to returned items this holiday season will cost the industry $3.8 billion. That's one reason many retailers are increasingly asking for identification and restricting how long a customer has to return an item, among other measures.


More 'Help Wanted' signs up at small businesses

NEW YORK (AP) — If you're looking for signs that the U.S. economy is growing and that the job market is improving, just talk to small business owners.

After cutting back on spending for years, people are splurging again. That's evident at Lady M Cake Boutiques.

Revenue is up 40 per cent this year at the New York-based company with more customers paying $60 to $85 — three or four times what a supermarket cake costs — for confections made of paper-thin pastry dough and flavoured with ingredients like green tea and chestnuts. Business is so good that owner Ken Romaniszyn, who has two locations in Manhattan and one in Los Angeles, plans three or four next year in New York, Boston and Charlotte, North Carolina. He'll hire 60 new employees to staff the stores, adding to Lady M's current staff of 145.


Incense trees flourish again in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AP) — On land deep in Hong Kong's lush green northern suburbs near the border with mainland China, farmer Koon-wing Chan is working to keep a legendary scent alive in the city known as the Fragrant Harbor.

Chan runs Hong Kong's last commercial plantation of agarwood trees, prized throughout the centuries for aromatic resin used to make incense, perfume and medicine.

He has no hope his sons will carry on the labour intensive business and also faces an increasing threat from Chinese poachers. But the tree's rich history that intersects with the lives of his forefathers gives Chan a sense of mission. And the trade in the wood and oil is seriously lucrative.


Applications for US jobless aid fall to 7-week low

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits has reached its lowest level in seven weeks, a sign that the U.S. economy and job market are steadily improving.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that applications for unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 280,000.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined 8,500 to 290,250. That average has plunged 16 per cent in the past 12 months.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The number of people seeking jobless benefits has been at historically low levels — below 300,000 — for 14 of the past 15 weeks. That indicates that companies are retaining their workers and potentially looking to hire with the expectation that economic growth will continue.


Average US 30-year mortgage edges up slightly

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average U.S. mortgage rates rose slightly this week but the benchmark 30-year low remained very close to the 19-month low hit last week.

Mortgage company Freddie Mac said Wednesday that the nationwide average for a 30-year mortgage edged up to 3.83 per cent this week from 3.80 per cent last week, which had been the lowest level since May 2013.

Other mortgage rates were also up by small amounts but all remained near historically low levels that should be a boon to potential homebuyers.

The average for a 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, stood at 3.10 per cent, compared to 3.09 per cent last week. The rate for a one-year adjustable rate mortgage rose to 2.39 per cent, compared to 2.38 per cent last week.


MF Global Holdings to pay $1.21B in restitution

MF Global Holdings Ltd. must pay $1.21 billion to reimburse customers for losses sustained when the brokerage firm failed in 2011.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission said Wednesday that a New York court required the payment to ensure that claims made of its subsidiary, MF Global Inc., are paid. The order also imposed a $100 million civil penalty on MF Global Holdings. The company admitted to unlawful use of customer funds as charged by the CFTC.

MF Global Inc. had already settled with the CFTC in 2013. It was required to repay $1.21 billion to its customers, plus a $100 million penalty.


Unions make push to recruit protected immigrants

CHICAGO (AP) — Unions across the U.S. are reaching out to immigrants affected by President Barack Obama's recent executive action, hoping to expand their dwindling ranks by recruiting millions of workers who entered the U.S. illegally.

Labour leaders say the president's action, which curbs deportation and gives work permits to some 4 million immigrants, will give new protection to workers who have been reluctant to join for fear of retaliation.

SEIU, whose more than 2 million members include janitors and maintenance workers, recently announced a website where immigrants can learn about the action. The AFL-CIO says it's training organizers to recruit eligible workers. And the United Food and Commercial Workers and other unions are planning workshops and partnering with community groups and churches to reach out to immigrants.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 6.04 points, or 0.03 per cent, to 18,030.21. The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 0.29 points, or 0.01 per cent, to 2,081.88. The Nasdaq composite gained 8.05 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 4,773.47.

Benchmark U.S. crude lost $1.28 to close at $55.84 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $1.45 to close at $60.24 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 5.8 cents to close at $1.513 a gallon. Heating oil fell 6.7 cents to close at $1.924 a gallon. Natural gas fell 14.1 cents to close at $3.030 per 1,000 cubic feet.

News from © The Associated Press, 2014
The Associated Press

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