Business Highlights


Apple challenges government encryption demands alone for now

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Although many tech companies have voiced concerns over assisting in government surveillance, Apple is facing the latest battle alone.

Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo have been conspicuously silent after a U.S. magistrate ordered Apple help investigators hack into an iPhone used by a mass shooter. A few trade groups that count those companies as members issued brief statements of concern about efforts to weaken encryption. And Google’s CEO said in a tweet that the case “could be a troubling precedent.”

But it was Apple CEO Tim Cook who posted a 1,117-word open letter on how the request might have implications “far beyond the legal case at hand.”


Yahoo CEO tries to reassure mobile partners amid turmoil

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer found herself in an awkward situation Thursday at the struggling Internet company’s annual conference for the makers of mobile apps.

She had to persuade an auditorium full of programmers and advertising partners that Yahoo will grow into an increasingly important player in the mobile market. This while the company is dramatically shrinking to appease restless shareholders threatening to overthrow management unless things get better.

Yahoo is exploring “strategic alternatives” that could include a sale while the Sunnyvale, California, company sheds 15 per cent of its workforce and closes unprofitable services.


Air travel booms in India, strains creaky infrastructure

NEW DELHI (AP) — A fast-growing economy and an expanding middle class have made India the world’s fastest-growing air travel market. The number of passengers grew 20 per cent last year and airlines are announcing flights to new destinations almost every week.

And yet, Indian airlines are in distress. Experts say the explosion in air travel has happened despite major hurdles such as lack of aircraft maintenance infrastructure, choked airports and fierce fare wars.

Although the problems appear huge, the size and potential of the Indian market continues to draw new players and several foreign airlines have also entered the market.


Stocks slip as 3-day rally ends; Wal-Mart sinks retailers

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks slipped Thursday as a three-day rally ran out of steam. A surge in oil prices also slowed down, and consumer stocks fell after Wal-Mart reported disappointing sales and cut its projections for the year.

The losses were small but spread across many industries. Energy stocks fell the most, followed by banks. Those stocks had made big gains over the last three days as the market rallied. Wal-Mart’s weak results put pressure on other retailers as well as supermarket chains.

Wal-Mart is the first major retailer to report its quarterly results. Competitors including Target, JC Penney and Macy’s will follow next week.


World Bank sees modest economic drag from Zika

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The spread of Zika will have a modest drag on economies in Latin America, with tourism-dependent Caribbean nations most at risk, the World Bank said Thursday.

The World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency in response to the Zika outbreak. But it says the epidemic’s economic impact is limited.

It estimates that lost revenue will total only $3.6 billion, or about 0.6 per cent of the region’s gross domestic product. That would come from reduced travel to the region and sick employees missing work, while anti-mosquito efforts will strain already tight national budgets.


Applications for US jobless benefits fall to 3-month low

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking unemployment aid fell last week to the lowest level since November, evidence that stock market turmoil and slow growth overseas haven’t caused U.S. businesses to cut jobs.

Weekly applications for jobless benefits fell 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 262,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 8,000 to 273,250. The overall number of people receiving aid increased, to 2.26 million, from 2.25 million the previous week.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the low reading suggests that employers are confident enough in future growth to hold onto their workers, and possibly hire more.


Wal-Mart’s 4 Q results test investor patience

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart is spending billions of dollars to pay its hourly workers more and spruce up its stores and online services. But its latest results show that it’ll take time to fix its business.

The world’s largest retailer’s adjusted fourth-quarter results beat Wall Street estimates. But profit fell 8 per cent as the company faces higher costs.

Wal-Mart also reported a revenue shortfall for the quarter and lowered its annual sales forecast because of the negative impact of a strong U.S. dollar and the company’s move to close some stores globally.


US airlines on schedule slightly more often in December

U.S. airlines are doing a slightly better job of keeping flights on schedule although more than one in five flights still arrives late.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Thursday that 77.8 per cent of domestic flights in December arrived within 15 minutes of schedule — on time, according to the government.

That is up from 75.3 per cent the previous December, although it is down from November’s 83.7 per cent on-time rate.


Panasonic decides to recognize employee’s same-sex marriages

TOKYO (AP) — Panasonic Corp. said Thursday it will recognize same-sex marriages in its employment policies in a rare move for a major Japanese manufacturer.

Although details are being worked out, some of the benefits currently allocated to married employees include maternity leave, health insurance and a small cash bonus. Panasonic said the new policy will come into effect from April.

Japan doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages, but a handful of local governments allow same-sex couples to register their unions.

The technology company is one of Japan’s biggest companies and its decision may influence other companies to follow suit.


Oregon lawmakers weigh landmark minimum wage proposal

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon is trailblazing a national debate with a proposal that would not only make the state’s minimum wage the highest in the U.S., but would do so through a unique tiered system based on geography.

As the federal minimum wage has sat unchanged since the start of the Great Recession, a number of states have raised their rates or are considering doing so.

Oregon lawmakers will soon vote on a unique system that would introduce increases over six years. Oregon’s current $9.25 an hour minimum would jump to $14.75 in metro Portland, $13.50 in smaller cities and $12.50 in rural communities by 2022.


IBM to spend $2.6B on Truven Health, boost Watson system

ARMONK, N.Y. (AP) — IBM is paying $2.6 billion to buy Truven Health Analytics and bolster the health care capabilities of its Watson cognitive computing system.

IBM has been promoting Watson and related technology as a powerful tool that also can be used in retailing and other industries.

The company says the deal will bring in more than 8,500 clients and allow it to house health-related data representing an aggregate of about 300 million patient lives.

The deal for privately-held Truven Health will be IBM’s fourth health-related acquisition since launching its Watson Health cloud computing platform last April.


The Dow Jones industrial average lost 40.40 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 16,413.43. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slipped 8.99 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 1,917.83. The Nasdaq composite index fell 46.53 points, or 1 per cent, to 4,487.54.

U.S. crude added 11 cents to close at $30.77 a barrel in New York. The price of U.S. oil has climbed 17 per cent over the last week. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, lost 22 cents to close at $34.28 a barrel in London.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline fell 3.1 cents to 97.2 cents a gallon. Heating oil declined 0.9 cents to $1.079 a gallon. Natural gas slipped 9 cents, or 4.6 per cent, to $1.852 per 1,000 cubic feet.