Business Highlights


Air bag maker refuses to expand recall coast to coast

WASHINGTON (AP) — Japan’s Takata Corp. rejected federal regulators’ demand Wednesday for an expanded, nationwide recall of millions of air bags, setting up a possible legal showdown and leaving some drivers to wonder about the safety of their cars.

Amid the standoff, Honda Motor Co. decided to act on its own and recall cars with the potentially defective equipment in all 50 states. But other automakers have yet to make a decision.

At issue are air bags whose inflators can explode with too much force, hurling shrapnel into the passenger compartment. At least five deaths and dozens of injuries have been linked to the problem worldwide.


Medicare Advantage enrolment deadline looms

Millions of Medicare Advantage customers are fast approaching a deadline for a task they’d rather avoid: Researching and then settling on coverage plans for 2015.

The annual enrolment window for the privately run versions of the government’s Medicare program for the elderly and disabled people closes on Sunday. This is the main opportunity most customers have each year to adjust their health coverage, and it may be worth paying extra attention to the details.

Insurers frequently tweak their coverage plans from year to year, but brokers and other industry insiders say they’re seeing more changes over the past few years as companies weed out lower-quality coverage and adjust to government funding cuts.


For holidays, seasonal flavours bring sales boon

NEW YORK (AP) — Lisa Hanock-Jasie turns into a coffee fiend during the holidays, mainly because she loves the peppermint lattes.

Those kinds of emotions have turned the last few months of the year into a flavour derby, with companies putting ever-expanding variations of cinnamon, gingerbread and peppermint in everything from pumpkin pie ChapStick to peppermint Pringles.

It’s not just snacks and drinks, either. Candles, lip balms and lotions let you literally bathe in holiday spirit — or at least smell like you did.

Consider the proliferation of pumpkin spice products, now as much a sign of fall as college football and the leaves turning colour. According to the industry tracker Technomic, there were 199 pumpkin-flavoured items at the country’s 500 biggest restaurant and coffee chains this fall. That’s up 58 per cent from the 126 just two years ago.


Western sanctions, ruble crash hit Russians hard

MOSCOW (AP) — Oyster Bar built a thriving business serving mollusks to well-heeled Muscovites. Then came Western sanctions, and the restaurant was forced to rechristen itself this fall. Today, it serves up burgers and pizza under a new name: No Oyster Bar.

Co-owner Ilya Sokhin said a Russian ban on European oyster imports hit hard, and the average check at his restaurant — a sleek new building in the famous Gorky Park — has more than halved.

Russia’s economy has been battered this year by uncertainty over the conflict in Ukraine, the falling price of oil, Western sanctions and retaliatory Russian import bans. Poor and middle-class Russians are increasingly challenging government insistence that a 40 per cent drop in the value of the ruble — now worth a record low of 54 to the dollar — will affect mainly the rich.


New Mexico struggles despite federal largess

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) — Tucked in the mountains of one of the poorest states is one of the nation’s wealthiest counties: Los Alamos, which, except for its landscapes, looks decidedly unlike the rest of New Mexico.

On a recent day in the county, which is dependent on the federal dollars that run Los Alamos National Laboratory, nannies, young mothers and children enjoyed the shade at Ashley Pond Park near a new county building and a renovated community centre. A mega-grocery store bore “help wanted” signs. And Melanie Bennett of Bennett’s Fine Jewelry and Gifts lamented that it’s hard to find good help because “the lab sucks everybody.”

Just to the north is Rio Arriba County, home to drug-and crime-plagued Espanola, whose main drag is a mix of fast-food restaurants, boarded-up businesses, a casino-hotel and a Wal-Mart.


How taking a small business risk creates rewards

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Catherine Lajara had no connections, no college degree and $4,000 in savings when she decided to start her own business in 2010.

It was daunting, but she felt passionate about her plan to open a clinical research centre in the Bronx. The company runs trials for pharmaceutical companies looking to develop new treatments.

Novel Research of New York now has five clinical studies and its revenue has grown several times over.

It has expanded enough that Lajara will soon draw a salary, enabling her to quit her day job as a mental health case manager to run the centre full time. She plans to use her added income to help pay for classes to finish her undergraduate degree and possibly graduate school. Lajara also hopes to surprise her parents with a vacation.


Survey: US companies added 208,000 jobs last month

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. businesses hired at a solid pace last month, according to a private survey, a signal that Friday’s November jobs report from the government will likely also show strength.

Payroll processer ADP said Wednesday that companies added 208,000 jobs in November, the third straight month that hiring has topped 200,000. The figures suggest that businesses remain confident enough in the economy and their customer demand to add workers despite sluggish growth overseas.

The report “adds to the evidence that employment growth remains solid,” said Jim O’Sullivan, an economist at High Frequency Economics, a forecasting firm.

The ADP numbers cover only private businesses and sometimes diverge from the government’s more comprehensive jobs report, which includes government agencies.


US services firms growing more quickly

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. services firms expanded at a faster pace in November, a signal that overall economic growth should remain robust.

The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday that its services index rose to 59.3 last month, up from 57.1 in October. The first gain in two months pulls the index close to the eight-year high of 59.6 reached in August. Any reading over 50 indicates expansion.

The index has consistently been pointing to stronger economic growth and hiring this year. Employers have added a solid average of 228,500 jobs a month so far this year, while gross domestic product has increased at an annual rate of more than 3.5 per cent in four of the past five quarters.


Fed survey finds improvement across US economy

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy kept expanding in October and November, helped by solid gains in consumer spending, manufacturing and overall employment, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest survey of business conditions around the country.

The Fed survey found many areas of strength and for the first time this year, the report did not see a need to qualify its summary of growth by using words like “modest” and “moderate.”

The Fed said that business executives remain optimistic about the prospects for growth in 2015. The gains in economic activity were coming as overall inflation remained subdued although the report did find upward wage pressures for some skilled workers.

The report, known as the Beige Book for the colour of its cover, will form the basis for discussion at the Fed’s final policy-making meeting of the year on Dec. 16-17.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average gained 33.07 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 17,912.62. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 7.78 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 2,074.33. The Nasdaq composite gained 18.66 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 4,774.47.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 50 cents to close at $67.38 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 62 cents to close at $69.92 on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 0.5 cents to close at $1.807 a gallon. Heating oil fell 2.1 cents to close at $2.133 a gallon. Natural gas fell 6.9 cents to close at $3.805 per 1,000 cubic feet.