Business Highlights


Small investors add fuel to China’s big stock boom

BEIJING (AP) — Gong Bin, a marketing employee in Shanghai, watched Chinese stock prices gallop upward for months before he finally gave in and put the equivalent of 2 1/2 months’ salary into the surging market.

In two months, Gong made a 10 per cent return on his 20,000 yuan ($3,300) investment.

Even as a downturn in the world’s second-largest economy deepens, Gong and a growing army of other small investors are riding a boom in China’s volatile stock markets.

Buoyed by hopes for an economic rebound combined with outright cheerleading by the state press, the market benchmark has soared 49 per cent since June, including 8 per cent last week alone.

Economic growth fell to a five-year low of 7.3 per cent last quarter but investor sentiment was recharged by Beijing’s surprise interest rate cut Nov. 22 that is expected to put a floor under the slump.


More Americans to buy homes with 3 per cent down

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some Americans will soon be able to buy a home with a down payment as low as 3 per cent, compared with the current minimum of 5 per cent, the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac say.

The new lending guidelines announced by the companies Monday are designed to help more low-income and first-time buyers afford homes. Millions of Americans lost their savings or no longer had the income needed to set aside money for a home in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession. That has held down the sales of houses and condominiums and slowed the economic recovery.

The guidelines are designed to prevent the kind of reckless lending that fueled a housing bubble and eventually triggered the recession. Borrowers must have enough income to repay loans on a monthly basis for homes that would be their main residence. This guideline would be intended to limit financial speculation.


Big Mac hurting as customers get pickier

NEW YORK (AP) — Hold the pickles, onions and special sauce. The Big Mac is becoming a victim of finicky tastes.

As sales continue to slide in the U.S., McDonald’s plans to expand a test that lets people build their own burgers by tapping on a touchscreen to pick the bread, cheese and toppings they want. The company says it will bring the option to 2,000 of its more than 14,000 U.S. locations next year.

The “Create Your Taste” program is a departure for McDonald’s, which was built to deliver food consistently, quickly and affordably. That model has come under pressure as people gravitate toward places like Chipotle, which lets people pick what goes on their bowls and burritos as they walk down a line.


Scarecrows outnumber people in dying Japan town

NAGORO, Japan (AP) — This village deep in the rugged mountains of southern Japan once was home to hundreds of families. Now, only 35 people remain, outnumbered three-to-one by scarecrows that Tsukimi Ayano crafted to help fill the days and replace neighbours who died or moved away.

At 65, Ayano is one of the younger residents of Nagoro. She moved back from Osaka to look after her 85-year-old father after decades away.

“They bring back memories,” Ayano said of the life-sized dolls crowded into corners of her farmhouse home, perched on fences and trees, huddled side-by-side at a produce stall, the bus stop, anywhere a living person might stop to take a rest.

Even more than its fading status as an export superpower, Japan’s dwindling population may be its biggest challenge. More than 10,000 towns and villages in Japan are depopulated, the homes and infrastructure crumbling as the countryside empties thanks to the falling birthrate and rapid aging.


E-cigarette tech takes off as regulation looms

RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) — Just a few years ago, early adopters of e-cigarettes got their fix by clumsily screwing together a small battery and a plastic cartridge containing cotton soaked with nicotine.

Now, the battery-powered contraptions have computer chips to regulate puffs and temperature, track usage, talk to other electronic devices and even blink when “vapers” are near each other.

U.S. officials say the technology race could make creating standards the devices, which heat a liquid to create vapour rather than burning tobacco, more difficult in the future. Unlike traditional smokes that are simply chopped tobacco rolled in paper with a filter, e-cigarettes come in many shapes and sizes and the technological changes only make regulating them more of a headache.


Merger momentum to continue in 2015, EY says

NEW YORK (AP) — A banner year for mergers and acquisitions will be followed by more deals next year as executives grow more confident in the strength of the U.S. economy, according to the consultancy firm EY.

On Monday, drugmaker Merck announced that it was spending $8.4 billion to buy Cubist Pharmaceuticals in another sign of the recovering confidence in the market for mergers and acquisitions.

The tie-up helped boost the total value of global deals this year so far to $3.4 trillion. Even if there aren’t any more big deals announced in 2014, it would be the best year since a total of $4.6 trillion of deals were struck in 2007, according to financial data provider Dealogic.

Executives are becoming more confident about the prospects for growth as the U.S. economy continues to strengthen despite sluggishness overseas.


Eurozone extends Greek bailout for 2 months

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — European finance ministers on Monday gave bailed-out Greece a two-month extension of its financial lifeline as they argue about whether Athens should impose more budget austerity to meet conditions for the last installment of aid.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, head of the group of finance ministers from countries that use the euro, said after the meeting in Brussels that the group would say yes to a request from Greece to push its current bailout deal into next year.

Greece’s current bailout program was slated to run out at the end of the year and the country was to switch to a standby credit line with less onerous conditions. But its latest budget has failed to pass muster with international creditors. That means Greece hasn’t been able to pass the final review of its compliance with its rescue package and tap the last bailout loan installment of 1.8 billion euros ($2.2 billion).


Merck dives into ‘superbug’ chase with Cubist

Merck will spend $8.4 billion to buy Cubist Pharmaceuticals and move deeper into treating so-called “superbugs” that have drawn dire warnings from global health organizations.

The company said Monday that the deal will give it stronger footing in hospital acute care and help it address antibiotic resistance, which the Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, drugmaker called a critical area of unmet medical need.

Antibiotic-resistant infections are linked to 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses in the United States annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC has called the problem a threat to both health and economic stability, and President Obama in September ordered the government to create a national plan to fight them by early 2015.


As US cleans up, it’s exporting more pollution

GARDI SUGDUP, Panama (AP) — Heat-trapping pollution released into the atmosphere from rising exports of U.S. gasoline and diesel dwarfs the cuts made from fuel efficiency standards and other efforts to reduce global warming in the United States, according to a new Associated Press investigation.

Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. has reduced more carbon pollution from energy than any other nation, about 475 million tons between 2008 and 2013, according to U.S. Energy Department data. Less than one-fifth of that amount came from burning less gasoline and diesel fuel.

Yet the U.S. is sending more fuel than ever to other parts of the world, where efforts to address resulting pollution are just getting underway, if advancing at all. U.S. exports of gasoline and diesel released roughly 1 billion tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere elsewhere during the same period, according to AP’s analysis.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 106.31 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 17,852.48. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 15.06 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 2,060.31. The Nasdaq composite fell 40.06 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 4,740.69.

U.S. benchmark oil fell $2.79, or 4.2 per cent, to $63.05, the lowest closing price since July 16, 2009. Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell $2.88, or 4.2 per cent, to $66.19 a barrel, also a five-year low. Wholesale gasoline dropped 6.68 cents to $1.707 a gallon. Heating oil fell 5.29 cents to $2.055 a gallon. Natural gas plunged 20.7 cents to $3.595 per 1,000 cubic feet.