Business Highlights


AirAsia boss applies deft touch in crash response

SURABAYA, Indonesia (AP) — If AirAsia bounces back from its first fatal disaster, much of the credit will go to its effusive founder Tony Fernandes and a well-oiled communications machine.

From the highly visible compassion shown by Fernandes to details such as changing the airline’s bright red logo to a sombregrey online, experts say the Malaysia-based budget carrier’s initial response to the tragedy is a textbook example of how to communicate in a crisis.

AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed into the Java Sea on Sunday with 162 people on board. The airline’s handling of the disaster has drawn favourable comparisons with the bungled communications by Malaysia Airlines after Flight 370 disappeared March 8. But experts say the situations faced by the two airlines are so different it’s unfair to liken them.


Fast-food resolution: Transform junk food image

NEW YORK (AP) — Fast-food chains have a New Year’s resolution: Drop the junk.

As people express distaste for food they think is overly processed, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and other chains are trying to shed their reputation for serving reheated meals that are loaded with chemicals. That includes rethinking the use of artificial preservatives and other ingredients customers find objectionable.

Recasting fast food as “fresh” and “real” will be tricky, in large part because it’s so universally regarded as cheap and greasy. Another problem is that terms like “fresh,” ”real” and “healthy” have nebulous meanings, making it hard for companies to pin down how to approach transformation.


McDonald’s campaign looks to rekindle ‘lovin”

NEW YORK (AP) — McDonald’s, fighting to hold onto customers, on Friday unveiled a new marketing strategy and ads it says will emphasize the “love” in its long-running “I’m Lovin’ It” slogan.

The world’s biggest hamburger chain released TV ads it says will begin airing this week and is rolling out new uniforms for workers and packaging for its food that features images of popular items like Big Macs against a white backdrop.

The push to identify itself with love and positivity in the minds of customers comes at a challenging time for McDonald’s, which is facing shifting eating habits, intensifying competition and growing calls by workers and labour organizers for higher pay and a union.

Sales for its flagship U.S. division have continued to struggle even after McDonald’s replaced its president twice in less than two years.


Medical marijuana a challenge for legal pot states

A year into the nation’s experiment with legal, taxed marijuana sales, Washington and Colorado find themselves wrestling not with the federal interference many feared, but with competition from medical marijuana or even outright black market sales.

Officials in both states say they must do more to drive customers into the recreational stores.

They’re looking at reining in their medical systems and fixing the big tax differential between medical and recreational weed without harming patients. And in some cases, they are considering cracking down on the proliferating black market.


Low oil prices unlikely to hurt railroads much

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The stunning collapse in oil prices over the past several months won’t derail the railroads’ profit engine even if it does slow the tremendous growth in crude shipments seen in recent years.

But even with oil prices falling off a cliff, industry analysts and railroad executives point out that crude shipments still make up just a sliver of the overall freight delivered by rail. What’s more, because fuel is such a huge cost in the industry, railroads are a direct beneficiary of those falling prices.


LGBT-owned businesses get diversity boost

Federal agencies, organizations such as the National Football League and more than one-third of Fortune 500 companies are now trying to expand their vendor pools by explicitly encouraging bids from gay, lesbian and transgender contractors.

The little-known outreach efforts mirror long-standing “supplier diversity” initiatives aimed at creating economic opportunities for businesses owned by racial minorities, women and disabled veterans.

The trend has not been without controversy.


FDA drug approvals reached 18-year high in 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration approved 41 first-of-a-kind drugs in 2014, including a record number of medicines for rare diseases, pushing the agency’s annual tally of drug approvals to its highest level in 18 years.

FDA drug approvals are considered a barometer of industry innovation and the federal government’s efficiency in reviewing new therapies.

The record-setting number reflects the drug industry’s ongoing shift toward specialty drugs for niche conditions, which often come with extra patent protections, streamlined approvals and higher price tags.


US factories grow at slowest pace in 6 months

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. factory activity grew at the slowest pace in six months in December, weakened by declines in orders and production. Yet growth was still healthy, a sign manufacturing may help drive the economy’s expansion in 2015 as it did last year.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said Friday that its manufacturing index fell to 55.5 in December from 58.7 in November. Any reading above 50 signals expansion. November’s figure was just below a three-year high reached in October.

December’s reading is the lowest since June. But it is also close to the average for all of 2014 and remains at a solid level. Americans are buying more cars and appliances, boosting demand for factory-made goods. Economists also forecast that businesses may spend more on industrial equipment this year, which would also lift output.


US construction spending slips 0.3 pct. in November

WASHINGTON (AP) — A sharp slowdown in government-built schools and infrastructure caused U.S. construction spending to fall slightly in November.

The Commerce Department said Friday that construction spending slipped 0.3 per cent in November, after having climbed an upwardly revised 1.2 per cent in October and 0.6 per cent in September.

Much of the decline came from a 1.7 per cent retreat in government expenditures. Publicly built school spending fell 2.5 per cent, while the transportation, health care and public safety sectors also fell.


Euro sinks after ECB chief gives stimulus hint

LONDON (AP) — The euro slid to a 4-1/2 year low against the dollar on Friday after the head of the European Central Bank hinted at plans to fight alarmingly low inflation across Europe.

In an interview with Germany’s financial daily Handelsblatt, Mario Draghi, the ECB’s president, said that the bank is more at risk of failing to keep prices stable than it was just six months ago.

The euro fell to levels last seen in June 2010. Back then, Europe’s financial markets were reeling as Greece, Ireland and other countries struggled under their debts.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 9.92 points, or 0.06 per cent, to 17,832.99. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 0.70 points, or 0.03 per cent, to 2,058.20. The Nasdaq composite fell 9.24 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 4,726.81.

U.S. oil fell 58 cents to $52.69 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the global benchmark, slipped 91 cents to $56.42 in London.

In other energy futures trading:

— Wholesale gasoline dropped 3.9 cents to $1.433 a gallon.

— Heating oil fell 3.8 cents to $1.796 a gallon.

— Natural gas rose 11.4 cents to $3.003 per 1,000 cubic feet.