Business Highlights


Airlines go on a record new jet shopping spree

Airlines are on the largest jet-buying spree in the history of aviation, ordering more than 8,200 new planes with manufacturers Airbus SAS and The Boeing Co. in the past five years.

There are now a combined 24 planes rolling off assembly lines each week, up from 11 a decade ago, and the rate is expected to keep climbing. With the price of fuel nearly 4 times what it was 10 years ago, airlines need to replace aging gas-guzzlers.

The new planes allow the airlines to save on fuel, now their biggest cost, while offering passengers more amenities, some for a fee.

Passengers can plug in to work or be entertained by a seat-back TV and fly some international routes nonstop for the first time. Also the commercial divisions of Boeing and Airbus get a steady stream of cash for years, a key reason those two stocks have doubled in the past year.

The bulk of the planes are going to new or quickly-growing airlines that serve an expanding middle class in India and the rest of Asia. U.S. airlines are buying as well. Domestic carriers spent $11.6 billion last year on capital improvements, including new planes, up from $5.2 billion in 2010.


Food industry cuts calories four-fold over pledge

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some of the nation’s largest food companies have cut daily calorie counts by an average of 78 per person, a new study says, more than four times the amount the industry pledged to slash by next year.

The study, which was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that between 2007 and 2012 the estimated total cut in food product calories from a group of 16 major food companies was in the range of 6.4 trillion.

Seventy-eight calories would be about the same as an average cookie or a medium apple. The federal government estimates an average daily diet at around 2,000 calories.

The 2010 pledge taken by the companies — including General Mills Inc., Campbell Soup Co., ConAgra Foods Inc., Kraft Foods Inc., Kellogg Co., Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Hershey Co. — was to cut 1 trillion calories by 2012 and 1.5 trillion calories by 2015.


Weekly US unemployment benefit claims drop to 330K

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 15,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 330,000, signalling fewer layoffs and steady job growth.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average dropped 9,750 to 349,000.

A Labor Department spokesman said there was no indication that snow and freezing weather around much of the country caused the drop in applications.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. They appear to have stabilized near pre-recession levels after a period of volatility around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. That suggests recent job gains will continue.


Alcoa subsidiary pleads guilty to Bahrain bribery

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A subsidiary of Alcoa Inc. pleaded guilty Thursday and, along with the parent company, will pay a total of $384 million in penalties for bribing officials in the kingdom of Bahrain through a London-based middleman.

A company official entered the plea on behalf of Alcoa World Alumina LLC, which will pay $223 million in fines and criminal penalties for violating the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The law governs the conduct of American businesses abroad.

Parent company Alcoa Inc. must guarantee those payments and on Thursday also agreed to a separate $161 million civil penalty for related Securities and Exchange Commission violations.


Ford board raises quarterly dividend 25 per cent

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — Ford Motor Co. is raising the quarterly dividend it pays shareholders for the second time since restoring it in 2012.

The second-largest U.S. automaker said Thursday its board declared a first-quarter dividend of 12.5 cents per share, a 25 per cent increase from the previous dividend of 10 cents. The new dividend is payable on March 3 to shareholders of record at the close of business on Jan. 31.

Ford stopped paying a dividend in 2006, a year in which it lost $12.6 billion. After a restructuring, it returned to profitability in 2009. Ford restored its quarterly dividend at 5 cents per share in the first quarter of 2012 and doubled that dividend a year later.


McKesson raises bid to buy Celesio

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — McKesson Corp. has raised its bid for rival German pharmaceutical drug distributor Celesio with what it said Thursday was its best and final offer.

San Francisco-based McKesson is now offering 23.5 euros for each share of Celesio. That equates to about $31.97 per share and is up from an offer of 23 euros last month. That offer is currently worth about $31.29 per share.

McKesson said Thursday it had reached a deal with Franz Haniel & Cie. GmbH, which holds a 50 per cent stake in Celesio, on the higher bid. It also struck a deal with the hedge fund Elliott to acquire its Celesio convertible bonds if the latest takeover bid succeeds.

Elliott owns about a 25 per cent stake in Celesio and had contended that the company was worth more than the $8.3 billion value of the previous offer. The hedge fund didn’t specify an acceptable price, but it had vowed last month not to accept McKesson’s earlier bid, which was worth $31.65 per share in early December.


Former Northrop CEO Thomas Jones dies at 93

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Thomas V. Jones, who was Northrop Corp.’s chief executive officer for 30 years and took it to the top ranks of aerospace companies during the Cold War while weathering a series of scandals, has died. He was 93.

Northrop — now known as Northrop Grumman Corp. — announced that Jones died on Tuesday. He died of pulmonary fibrosis at his 16-acre wine-making estate in Los Angeles, his son Peter Jones told the Los Angeles Times (

Thomas Jones was a visionary and pioneer in U.S. aviation, said Wes Bush, Northrop Grumman’s CEO, chairman and president. “Tom Jones paved the way for Northrop Grumman and many in our industry.”


IBM’s Watson gets its own business

NEW YORK (AP) — One of the most famous “Jeopardy!” champs of all time is moving to Manhattan.

No, it’s not Ken Jennings.

IBM announced Thursday that it’s investing more than $1 billion to give its Watson cloud computing system its own business division and a new home in New York City.

The Armonk, N.Y.-based technology company said the new business unit will be dedicated to the development and commercialization of the project that first gained fame by defeating a pair of “Jeopardy!” champions, including 74-time winner Jennings, in 2011.

In the years since Watson’s TV appearance, IBM has been developing the computing system for more practical purposes and changed it to a cloud-based service. While still in the development phase, Watson’s massive analytical capabilities are currently being used in industries ranging from health care to banking.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 17.98 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 16,444.76.The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.64 points, or 0.03 per cent, to 1,838.13. The Nasdaq composite fell 9.42 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 4,156.19.

Benchmark U.S. oil for February delivery fell 67 cents to close at $91.66 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Wholesale gasoline dipped 1 cent to $2.64 a gallon. Heating oil slipped 3 cents to $2.92 a gallon. Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of crude, dropped 76 cents to $106.39 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.