Update on the latest in business:


Associated Press

Posted on March 4, 2013 at 5:02 AM


Volatility is the buzz word

NEW YORK (AP) — Investors are wondering if this week's market will be as volatile as last week's.

Stocks edged higher Friday, as an upturn in manufacturing outweighed the threat of looming cuts to government spending.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 35 points at 14,089 Friday, overcoming an early loss of 116 points.

The S&P 500 index rose 3 ½ to 1,518. The Nasdaq rose 9 ½ to 3,169.

Four stocks rose for every three that fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Trading volume was average, 3.7 billion shares.


Asia stocks fall amid US budget impasse

BANGKOK (AP) — Uncertainty about the outcome of a budget battle in Washington pushed Asian stock markets lower today.

President Barack Obama and his political opponents have failed so far to agree on a way to roll back automatic spending cuts that took effect Friday. Those cuts slash $85 billion from the nation's budget, which could slow down the economy.

U.S. lawmakers say they want to undo the cuts so that federal programs can be spared but are divided over whether higher taxes should be used to pay for them.

Evan Lucas of IG Markets in Melbourne said he believes the budget fight is just "another political distraction that will cause some investors to cash out and buy back in on the dips."

Benchmark crude oil fell and was below $91 per barrel. The dollar gained against the euro but fell against the yen.


Big week for economic reports

WASHINGTON (AP) — There are major economic reports coming out this week.

The big week starts Tuesday when the Institute for Supply Management releases its service sector index for February.

On Wednesday, the Commerce Department reports on factory orders for January and the Federal Reserve releases its Beige Book. Also Wednesday, the House Finance Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The Labor Department will release the weekly jobless claims on Thursday as well as fourth-quarter productivity data, and the Commerce Department reports international trade data for January. Also on Thursday, mortgage giant Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates and the Federal Reserve reports January consumer credit data.

On Friday, the Labor Department releases employment data for February and the Commerce Department reports on January wholesale trade inventories.


Economists were opposed to automatic spending cuts

WASHINGTON (AP) — Most business economists opposed the automatic spending cuts that took effect Friday night amid the gridlock between President Obama and Congress.

But they overwhelmingly support efforts to reduce the deficit over the next 10 years.

That's according to a survey released Monday of 196 members of the National Association for Business Economics.

The survey, done from Jan. 21 to Feb. 13, gave some support to both sides in the U.S. government budget debate.

About 56 percent said deficit reduction should be achieved "only" or "mostly" with spending cuts. More than half said the cuts should focus on entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.

But 95 percent said Congress should reform the individual tax code, with nearly three quarters believing the reforms should "slightly" or "significantly" increase revenue.


Calling spending cuts modest, Republicans suggest they're here to stay despite pledges to fix

WASHINGTON (AP) — The $85 billion in federal spending cuts that began kicking in Friday are here to stay if you believe the latest public statements from Washington.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell calls the cuts modest, while House Speaker John Boehner (BAY'-nur) says he's not sure they will really hurt the economy. And the White House's top economic adviser, Gene Sperling, says the pain isn't that bad, at least right now.

McConnell says the 2.4 percent cut in spending "is a little more than the average American experienced just two months ago" when the payroll tax holiday expired.

But Sperling cautions: "On Day One, it will not be as harmful as it will be over time."

Republicans and Democrats are blaming each other for the cuts, while both pledging to undo them. But no one is offering a specific proposal for rolling back the cuts.

Taxes are the dividing line. Republicans insist there will be no new taxes and Democrats refuse to talk about any bargain without increased revenue.

McConnell spoke to CNN's "State of the Union." Boehner was interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press." Sperling appeared on ABC's "This Week," NBC and CNN.


BOJ gov candidate says inflation target top goal

TOKYO (AP) — The veteran financial diplomat nominated to become the next governor of Japan's central bank says that achieving the government's 2 percent inflation target as soon as possible would be his top priority.

Haruhiko Kuroda, currently president of the Asian Development Bank, told lawmakers Monday that ending the deflation that is seen as a major obstacle to sustainable growth would be his "most important mission" as governor of the Bank of Japan.

Kuroda's appointment to replace the current BOJ governor, Masaaki Shirakawa, when he steps down on Mar. 19 must be approved by both houses of the parliament.

The ruling Liberal Democrats have a majority in the lower house, but must win support from the opposition Democratic Party to gain his approval in the upper house.


News Corp to sell stake in Sky in New Zealand

NEW YORK (AP) — News Corp. is selling its 44 percent stake in Sky Network Television Ltd., a pay TV broadcasting service in New Zealand.

The company said Sunday that a subsidiary, News Ltd., has hired investment banks to help with the share sale to institutional and retail investors.

No other terms were disclosed.

As a result of the sale, a News Ltd. regional director, Michael Miller, will resign from the Sky board.

News Corp. has been selling off minority stakes in companies as it prepares to separate into two companies, one holding its struggling newspaper and Australian assets, the other its faster growing film and TV assets.

The move is intended to boost the value of its entertainment company, which will be renamed Fox Group.


Obama to tap Walmart's Burwell for budget chief

WASHINGTON (AP) — A senior administration official says President Barack Obama will nominate Walmart's Sylvia Mathews Burwell as his next budget director today.

If confirmed by the Senate, she would take the helm at the Office of Management and Budget at a time of heated budget battles between the White House and congressional Republicans.

The president will announce Burwell's nomination during a White House ceremony this morning, says the official, who requested anonymity in order to confirm the nomination ahead of Obama.

Burwell is a Washington veteran, having served as OMB's deputy director in the Clinton administration and chief of staff to former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Burwell currently runs the Walmart Foundation, the retail giant's philanthropic wing, and previously served as president of the Gates Foundation's Global Development Program.

The official credits Burwell with being a principal architect of a series of budget plans in the 1990s that led to a budget surplus.


French official: No more austerity this year

PARIS (AP) — France's finance minister says his government won't enact any more austerity measures this year, even though it has acknowledged it won't meet its deficit goal because of slow growth.

The French government had promised to reduce its deficit to 3 percent of gross domestic product this year to bring it into line with European Union rules and help right the economy. But now France says that will be impossible and has asked the European Union for an extension.

Still, Pierre Moscovici says the government would not heap more tax hikes or spending cuts on the country this year. He said such measures would be counterproductive since they can slow growth even further.

He said on French television Sunday: "We refuse to add austerity to the recession."


Some leaders souring on nuclear power costs

ATLANTA (AP) — As the cost of building a new nuclear plant soars, there are signs of buyer's remorse.

The second-guessing from officials in Georgia and Florida is a sign that maybe the nation is not quite ready for a nuclear renaissance. On top of construction costs running much higher than expected, the price of natural gas has plummeted, making it tough for nuclear plants to compete in the energy market.

In Georgia, a lawmaker wants to penalize Southern Co. for going over budget with a proposal to cut into its profits by trimming some of the money a subsidiary makes.

In Florida, some lawmakers want to end the practice of utilities collecting fees from customers before any electricity is produced. The fees are used to build or expand nuclear plants.


ExxonMobil to begin defense in NH pollution trial

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — ExxonMobil's lawyers are set to begin presenting their defense in New Hampshire's suit for damages for groundwater contamination from a gasoline additive.

Attorneys for the state rested its case last month after six weeks of testimony from 13 witnesses and a string of videotaped depositions.

The state filed a products liability lawsuit in 2003 against 26 petroleum companies, alleging they failed to warn of the dangers of the additive MTBE. The other 25 defendants settled.

Lawyers for ExxonMobil contend MTBE did what it was supposed to: reduce air pollution.

The first defense witness is expected to be an ExxonMobil environmental specialist who warned of the additive's hazards in the 1980s.

Former Department of Environmental Services Commissioner Robert Varney testified he was shocked the findings were never shared with the state.


Strike affecting operations of Vegas taxi firm

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The chief operating officer of Las Vegas' second-largest taxicab company acknowledges striking drivers are affecting his operations.

Bill Shranko says Yellow-Checker-Star Transportation was only able to fill two-thirds of its 600 cabs the first shift after the strike took effect early Sunday.

Nevada Taxicab Authority spokeswoman Teri Williams didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the strike's overall effect on Las Vegas.

The chief negotiator for the union representing drivers says the main sticking points are over pay and working conditions.

Paul Bohelski (boe-hal-skee) says about 1,400 of the company's 1,700 drivers are union members and more than 1,000 of them are participating in the strike.

Last month, the company unilaterally implemented a contract rejected by 70 percent of members of Industrial Technical Professional Employees Union Local 4873.


'Jack the Giant Slayer' scares up a fee-fi-ho-hum $28 million to top box office

LOS ANGELES (AP) — It wasn't exactly a mighty victory, but "Jack the Giant Slayer" won the weekend at the box office.

The Warner Bros. 3-D action extravaganza, based on the Jack and the Beanstalk legend, made just $28 million to debut at No. 1, according to Sunday studio estimates. It had a reported budget of about $200 million.

"Jack" comes from Bryan Singer, director of "The Usual Suspects" and the first two "X-Men" movies. It stars Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Ian McShane and Stanley Tucci.

Among other new releases, the college romp "21 & Over" from Relativity Media made only $9 million this weekend to open in third place. And the horror sequel "The Last Exorcism Part II" from CBS Films debuted in fourth place with just over $8 million.


Splashy A-B ads tackle lawsuit over watery beer

UNDATED (AP) — The maker of Budweiser is using splashy newspaper ads to poke fun at a lawsuit that alleges its beer is watered down.

In full-page ads in U.S. newspapers nationwide Sunday, Anheuser-Busch InBev shows one of the 71 million cans of drinking water it has sent to the American Red Cross and other relief organizations in disasters.

"They must have tested one of these," the ad says.

The class action lawsuit, filed in several states, accuses the brewer of cheating consumers out of the stated alcohol percentage by adding water just before bottling its beers.

Anheuser-Busch InBev has called the claims groundless. In the ads, the company calls its beer "the best beer we know how to brew."

"We take no shortcuts and make no exceptions. Ever."