Business Highlights


WhatsApp: A $19 billion bet for Facebook

NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook is placing a $19 billion bet on reaching its next billion mobile users with the acquisition of WhatsApp, a popular messaging service that lets people send texts, photos and videos on their smartphones.

The deal is by far Facebook’s largest yet and bigger than any completed by Google, Microsoft or Apple. But its price tag also raises some concerns that Facebook and other technology companies are creating a type of bubble in their zealous pursuit of promising new products and services.

Facebook, for its part, is taking the long view, saying it expects WhatsApp will reach a billion users based on its rapid growth and any services that reach that level “are all incredibly valuable.”


Wealth gap is widest in some affluent US cities

WASHINGTON (AP) — The gap between the wealthy and the poor is most extreme in several of the United States’ most prosperous and largest cities.

The economic divides in Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are significantly greater than the national average, according to a study released Thursday by the Brookings Institution, the Washington-based think-tank . It suggests that many sources of both economic growth and income inequality have co-existed near each other for the past 35 years.

These cities may struggle in the future to provide adequate public schooling, basic municipal services because of a narrow tax base and “may fail to produce housing and neighbourhoods accessible to middle-class workers and families,” the study said.


US consumer prices rose 0.1 per cent last month

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumer prices barely rose last month as a sharp increase in energy costs was offset by cheaper clothing, cars and air fares. The figures indicate inflation remains mild.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the consumer price index rose just 0.1 per cent in January, down from a 0.2 per cent gain in December. Prices have risen 1.6 per cent in the past 12 months. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core prices also rose just 0.1 per cent last month and 1.6 per cent in the past year.

The year-over-year increase in core prices was the smallest in seven months.


Wal-Mart offers weak outlook on sales shortfall

NEW YORK (AP) — Much like its low-income shoppers, Wal-Mart can’t seem to catch a break as the U.S. economy rebounds.

The world’s largest retailer on Thursday posted a 21 per cent drop in fourth quarter profit and gave a subdued forecast for the current year as it continues to be weighed down by a number of factors.

Winter has been marked by severe weather and slow spending over the holidays. Growing competition from dollar stores and grocers also has chipped away sales. And the latest headache? Wal-Mart said the Nov. 1 expiration of a temporary boost in food stamps is hurting its shoppers’ ability to spend.


Gauge of US economy’s health up 0.3 per cent

WASHINGTON (AP) — A measure of the U.S. economy’s health posted a moderate gain in January, suggesting that the economy will continue to expand in the first half of this year.

The Conference Board reported Thursday that its index of leading indicators rose 0.3 per cent last month following no change in December and a solid 0.9 per cent increase in November. The index is designed to signal economic conditions over the next three to six months.

Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein said the advance reflects an economy that is expanding moderately. But he said growth was held back over the past two months by severe winter weather in many parts of the country.


Pilots reported fatigue, erred in UPS jet crash

WASHINGTON (AP) — The pilots of a UPS cargo jet that crashed last August complained about the company’s tiring work schedules at the start of the fatal flight, and then made errors shortly before the plane flew into a hillside and burst into flames, according to information presented at a hearing Thursday.

UPS officials cautioned against concluding the pilots were fatigued, and therefore prone to error.

The pilots were killed in the pre-dawn crash as they tried to land at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Ala., where the main runway was closed for maintenance. The captain attempted to land on a second, shorter runway that wasn’t equipped with a full instrument landing system to keep planes from coming in too high or too low.


Porsche tells 911 GT3 owners to stop driving them

DETROIT (AP) — Porsche is asking owners of its 911 GT3 models to stop driving them because they can develop engine problems and catch fire.

The German sports car maker says it will pick up the cars and take them to a dealership for inspection. The problem affects 785 GT3 cars from the 2014 model year.

Porsche says engines were damaged on two cars in Europe, and both caught fire. The company says there were no crashes or injuries. The company said oil caught fire in both cars and engineers are doing studies to figure out what caused the problem.


EPA seeks tougher safety standards for farmworkers

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed strengthening 20-year-old standards aimed at protecting farmworkers from toxic pesticides.

Jim Jones, head of the agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said the current rule is not working the way it should.

The changes would bar almost anyone 16 and younger from handling the most toxic pesticides and require no-entry zones around fields to protect workers from drift and fumes. Farms would also have to post no-entry signs to prohibit workers from entering fields until pesticide residues declined to safe levels.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 92.67 points, or 0.6 per cent, to close at 16,133.23. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 11.03 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 1,839.78. The Nasdaq composite climbed 29.59 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 4,267.55.

U.S. crude for March delivery fell 39 cents to close at $102.92 a barrel in New York on the last day of trading for the contract. Wholesale gasoline rose 2.2 cents to close at $2.847 a gallon. Heating oil rose 3.1 cent to close at $3.178 a gallon. Natural gas fell 1.4 per cent to close at $6.06 per 1,000 cubic feet. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oil used by many U.S. refineries, fell 17 cents to close at $110.30 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.