Business Briefcase

AOL reports email security breach

NEW?YORK?(AP) -AOL says a security breach may have exposed the private information of a “significant number” of its email users’ accounts.

The company said Monday that the email addresses, postal addresses, address books, encrypted passwords and encrypted answers to security questions of users may have been exposed, along with some employee information.

AOL believes spammers used this contact information to send “spoofed” emails. Spoofing is a tactic used by spammers to make an email look like it is from someone the recipient knows to trick him or her into opening it. These emails do not originate from the sender’s email – the addresses are just edited to make them appear that way.

The company estimates these emails came from about 2 percent of its accounts. The investigation is still underway.

Gold prices slip ahead of meeting

NEW?YORK?(AP)?-Gold prices are settling lower as traders look ahead to a Federal Reserve policy meeting this week.

Gold dipped $1.80 to settle at $1,299 an ounce on Monday. Silver slipped 10 cents to $19.59 an ounce.

The Fed starts its two-day policy meeting Tuesday. When it’s finished, the Fed is expected to continue scaling back its support for the economy. Gold prices have dropped as the Fed has pulled back on its bond-buying program.

A surprise move from the Fed could jolt the price of gold.

Other metals were slightly lower. Platinum sank $4.60 to $1,419.70 an ounce, while palladium lost $10.50 to $800.70. Copper was unchanged at $3.09 a pound.

In other trading, agricultural contracts were little changed. Crude oil rose 24 cents to $100.84 a barrel.

New job grants to states announced

WASHINGTON (AP) – Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez says the government is making a fresh $150 million installment to a federal program to help train workers who have lost their jobs in high-demand industries through no fault of their own.

Perez told reporters on Monday that states can apply for grants ranging from $500,000 to $6 million so they may, in his words, “connect job-seekers with well-paying jobs so they can return to the workplace.”

It brings federal spending on related programs to roughly $1 billion over just the past three months.

Perez said the job picture is steadily improving – if slowly.

In the depths of the 2008-2009 recession, seven or eight job-seekers competed for each opening. Perez said it’s down to 2 1/2 workers per opening now.

New megamall to be done in 2016

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – The developer of a massive New Jersey megamall has signed a union agreement to jumpstart work on the long-delayed project.

Triple Five and the Bergen County Building & Construction Trades Council signed the deal Monday in East Rutherford. The American Dream mall is projected to create 9,000 to 10,000 new jobs and be finished in late 2016.

The mall at the Meadowlands was originally known as Xanadu and scheduled to open in 2007. It languished during the economic downturn before Triple Five took over at the end of 2010.

Gov. Chris Christie was on hand for Monday’s announcement. A few years ago he called the mall the ugliest building in New Jersey, if not America.

Business Briefcase

Retailers get creative with Pinterest

NEW YORK (AP) – Target, Nordstrom and other big chains are pinning their hopes of attracting shoppers on social media.

Retailers increasingly are using Pinterest, a social media site that allows users to create collections of photos, articles, recipes and more as “pins”, to draw business to their own sites.

Target, the nation’s No. 2 discounter, is creating exclusive party-planning collections with top Pinterest users. Shoes, handbags and other popular items on Pinterest are being prominently displayed in Nordstrom stores with special tags. And Caribou created a coffee blend that was inspired by the coffee chain’s Pinterest fans.

HK bankers add to calls for democracy

HONG KONG (AP) – A group of Hong Kong finance industry professionals are pledging to join an Occupy-style movement to protest growing influence from Beijing that they say is undermining the Asian financial hub’s economy.

The bankers, traders and stockbrokers who make up Hong Kong’s financial-worker class are notoriously apolitical. But the group, which currently numbers about 70 people, added their voices to wider calls for full democracy in an open letter to China’s President Xi

Jinping.

Worried that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is being eroded, they urged China’s Communist leaders to stop interfering in the city’s administrative affairs. They also expressed fears about growing threats to the city’s freedom of speech and the press, rule of law and strong anti-corruption culture.

Ford’s profit falls in first quarter

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) – Ford Motor Co.’s worldwide sales rose in the first quarter, propelled by growing strength in Asia and Europe. But weakness in North America dragged down the company’s profit.

Its earnings missed Wall Street’s expectations, while revenue beat them.

Also Friday, CEO Alan Mulally said that there is no change in the plan for him to stay with the company at least through the end of this year.

In 2012, Ford named former North America chief Mark Fields as chief operating officer to handle day-to-day duties, and Fields became the heir apparent to take over for Mulally. Recent reports suggested that Mulally plans to leave the company sooner than expected and that Fields would become CEO.

Burger King’s profit rises on cost cuts

NEW YORK (AP) – Burger King reported a higher first-quarter profit on Friday as new restaurant openings overseas and lower costs offset weak sales in the U.S.

The Miami-based chain on Friday said sales at established U.S. locations edged up just 0.1 percent, dampened by bad weather.

McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Dunkin’ Donuts also reported underwhelming domestic sales for the first three months of the year, citing the severe weather.

Business Briefcase

Facebook 1Q

results soar

NEW YORK (AP) – Facebook’s first-quarter earnings and revenue grew sharply, surpassing Wall Street’s expectations thanks to an 82 percent increase in advertising revenue.

The social network said Wednesday that it earned $642 million, or 25 cents per share, in the January-March quarter, up from $219 million, or 9 cents per share, in the same period a year ago. Adjusted earnings were 34 cents per share. Revenue rose 71 percent to $2.5

billion.

Analysts anticipated earnings of 24 cents per share on revenue of $2.36 billion.

Facebook also said that its finance chief, David Ebersman, is leaving on June 1 after five years. He’ll be replaced by David Wehner, currently vice president of corporate finance and business planning.

Wellness programs grow more popular

NEW?YORK?(AP)?- The little voice nagging you to put down the cake and lace up the running shoes is increasingly coming from your employer. It is likely to grow louder with a looming change under the federal health care overhaul.

Companies are using wellness programs to improve employees’ health as a means to reduce their medical costs. They’re asking workers to take physical exams and control conditions like diabetes. Some are also dangling the threat of higher monthly premiums to prod workers into action.

The Affordable Care Act calls for a 40 percent tax on expensive benefit plans starting in 2018. In turn, many companies that offer employer-based coverage already have begun looking for ways to lower costs and avoid that tax.

Russian social media CEO quit

MOSCOW (AP) – The founder of Russia’s leading social media network – often described as Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg – has left his post as CEO and fled the country as cronies of President Vladimir Putin have made steady inroads into the company’s ownership.

The slow-motion ouster of Pavel Durov from the network known as VKontakte is the latest sign that independent media outlets in Russia have become increasingly imperiled.

The loss of Durov’s leadership in VKontakte means that the space for free speech on the Russian web could shrink even further.

As one of his final acts of defiance, Durov posted online last week what he said were documents from the security services, demanding personal details from 39 Ukraine-linked groups on VKontakte.

A economist’s grim view of wealth gap

NEW YORK (AP) – Thomas Piketty, the French economist who helped popularize the notion of a privileged 1 percent, sounds a grim warning in his new book: The U.S. economy has begun to decay into the pattern of aristocratic Europe of the 19th century. Hard work will matter less, inherited wealth more. The fortunes of the few will unsettle the foundations of democracy.

The research Piketty showcases in his book, “Capital in the 21st Century,” has set the economics field ablaze. Supporters cite his work as proof that the wealth gap must be

narrowed.

Business Briefcase

AT&T earnings unchanged

NEW YORK (AP) – AT&T says its first quarter earnings were unchanged from the first three months of last year, but revenue grew as the wireless business added more than 1 million subscribers.

First-quarter net income was $3.7 billion, or 70 cents per share, compared with $3.7 billion, or 67 cents, a year earlier, when AT&T had more shares outstanding. Adjusting for one-time items, income was 71 cents per share, compared with 64 cents in the same period last year. Analysts expected 70 cents.

Revenue grew 4 percent to $32.5 billion, better than the $32.4 billion analysts expected, according to FactSet.

AT&T Inc. said Tuesday that it added 1,062,000 wireless subscribers in the quarter. That includes 625,000 smartphones and tablets in “post-paid” plans. These are the high-value customers on contracts or long-term installment plans.

Google challenges nonprofits on ideas

WASHINGTON (AP) – Google has a challenge for U.S. nonprofits.

On Tuesday, the tech giant is asking nonprofit groups to propose ideas for how to use the Web-connected eyewear Google Glass in their work. Five charities that propose the best ideas by May 20 will get a free pair of the glasses, a trip to Google for training and a $25,000 grant to help make their project a reality.

Already, Google has been testing Glass with nonprofits in their field work.

Conservationists at the Washington-based World Wildlife Fund have been using Google Glass for hands-free field research. In Nepal, a research officer has been using Google Glass to track, photograph and monitor rhinos to help protect them from poaching in areas that are inaccessible by

vehicles.

Amgen misses 1Q views as higher costs

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) – Despite higher sales, biotech drugmaker Amgen’s first-quarter profit fell 25 percent as production and research costs rose sharply, while the year-ago quarter enjoyed a tax benefit. The company badly missed Wall Street’s expectations for both earnings per share and revenue.

The maker of injected osteoporosis treatment Prolia says net income was $1.07 billion or $1.40 per share, down from $1.43 billion, or $1.88 per share, in 2013’s first quarter.

Excluding one-time items, income would have been $1.44 billion, or $1.87 per share. Analysts expected $1.94.

Business Briefcase

Warmer temperatures lift nation’s economy

WASHINGTON (AP) – Spring’s thaw is reviving the economy, too.

A recent batch of government and business reports show a U.S. economy emerging from winter’s deep freeze.

Economists had expected growth to accelerate in 2014 after two years of slow and steady improvement. But an unusually bitter winter sent factories, hiring and consumer spending into

hibernation.

Now, as temperatures rise, the economy is regaining momentum. Factories are busier. Consumers are spending more.

Banks are making more loans to businesses. Companies have bigger plans to invest in plants and equipment. And the improvement appears to be widespread across the country.

Eeconomy up for 3rd straight month

WASHINGTON (AP) – A measure of the U.S. economy’s health rose in March for the third consecutive month, a sign of stronger growth after harsh winter weather caused the economy’s pace to slow.

The Conference Board said Monday that its index of leading indicators increased 0.8 percent in March after a 0.5 percent rise in February and modest 0.2 percent gain in January. It was the best showing since a 0.9 percent gain in November.

Both hiring and consumer outlooks have improved, which along with interest rates fueled much of the index’s improvement. That offset a negative contribution from building permits. The index looks at a series of different indicators to spot peaks and troughs in economic growth.

Union drops appeal of defeat in vote

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The United Auto Workers dropped its appeal of a worker vote against unionizing at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, a move that the union said should put pressure on Republican politicians to quickly approve incentives the German automaker is seeking to expand its lone U.S. assembly plant.

The prolonged fight over labor issues at the Chattanooga facility appeared headed for a lengthy National Labor Relations Board appeal until the UAW announced an hour before a scheduled hearing that it was ending its challenge. The February vote went against the union 712-626.

Some Republican lawmakers had blamed the appeal for holding up expansion plans at the plant – and the UAW says that perceived obstacle is now out of the way.

Business Briefcase

Chocolate store: Tax issue resolved

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – A Philadelphia chocolate maker and candy store says it has resolved a tax issue that threatened to shutter the establishment days before Easter.

Blasius Chocolate Factory says on its Facebook page that the problem had been solved and the store “is open now forever. No more tax issues.”

Mark McDonald, spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter, told Philly.com that the shop signed an agreement to pay delinquent taxes and made a down payment on Thursday afternoon.

City officials had moved to close the store in the city’s Kensington neighborhood Wednesday over $12,000 in unpaid taxes. Owner Phil Kerwick had disputed the amount.

The firm has been hand-making chocolates since the 1920s. It’s noted for buttercreams and giant Easter eggs.

Metro-North

improves safety

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) – A spokeswoman for Metro-North says the nation’s second-largest commuter railroad has made tremendous strides in improving its safety culture after two derailments last year.

Marjorie Anders says Metro-North did a thorough inspection of its tracks and other infrastructure and tightened safeguards on when tracks are put back into service.

She says it is implementing other improvements such as anonymous reporting of near-accidents.

She spoke as U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal announced that Metro-North has been fined $552,000 over the past decade for safety violations and defects. The Connecticut Democrat says there were 139 violations since 2004.

Anders says Metro-North shares Blumenthal’s goals to have a safe

railroad.

A derailment in New York City left four passengers dead and one in Bridgeport injured dozens.

American can’t end retiree benefits yet

DALLAS (AP) – A federal judge is telling American Airlines that it can’t yet act alone to cut off benefits for many retirees.

American wants retirees who wish to keep their benefits to pay all the cost. Now the dispute could go to negotiations or a trial.

On Friday, bankruptcy court Judge Sean Lane in New York rejected a request made by former parent AMR Corp. for summary judgment allowing it to immediately eliminate benefits for retired pilots, flight attendants and other union workers.

He granted AMR’s request for a group of nonunion workers.

American says it will review the ruling before deciding its next move, which could include negotiations with a committee representing the retirees.

Business Briefcase

FDA OKs tablet to reduce allergies

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. (AP) – Merck & Co. says the Food and Drug Administration has approved its new tablet for grass allergies, Grastek, for patients five to 65 years old.

Meant as an alternative to weekly allergy shots, the tablet dissolves under the tongue. Taken daily for a few years, it gradually reduces sensitivity to common grasses, instead of temporarily relieving symptoms including sneezing, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes.

Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., will market the tablet in North America. Its partner, ALK-Abello, sells it in Europe as Grazas.

Merck said Grastek will be available in U.S. pharmacies in late April. However, it’s best to start taking it three months before grass pollen season begins.

The drug can cause severe allergic reactions and shouldn’t be used by patients with severe asthma.

Dish to refund $2M in settlement

SEATTLE (AP) – The state attorney general’s office says Dish Network Corp. will reimburse Washington state customers about $2 million for what it calls a deceptive surcharge.

Under the agreement announced Tuesday, the Colorado-based satellite TV company will also give existing customers cash credits or free programming and pay the state nearly $570,000.

DISH didn’t immediately return an email or phone message seeking comment.

The TV provider charged its Washington customers a dollar fee between May and December 2012. The item was listed on bills as a “Washington surcharge” and not advertised in the total cost of TV packages.

The attorney general’s office says DISH didn’t accurately advertise true sales prices because it listed the surcharge separately. The fee aimed to recoup the company’s increased tax liability.

Judge won’t stop new Vidalia onion rule

REIDSVILLE, Ga. (AP) – A Georgia judge says he won’t stop the state agriculture commissioner from enforcing a new regulation aimed at stopping unripe Vidalia onions from reaching store shelves.

Superior Court Judge Jay Stewart ruled Tuesday against one of Georgia’s most prominent Vidalia onion growers, who argued Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black should be stopped from enforcing the new rule because an Atlanta judge struck it down last month. Black says the regulation is still in effect while state attorneys file an appeal.

Farmer Delbert Bland said he still plans to ship onions Wednesday despite the rule, which says no Vidalia onions can be packed for shipping before the last full week of April. Other farmers support the regulation as a means of protecting the reputation and quality of Vidalia onions.

Union fights push to hire tax collectors

WASHINGTON (AP) – A public employees union is fighting a bipartisan effort in Congress to force the Internal Revenue Service to hire private contractors to collect some delinquent taxes.

The IRS stopped using private tax collectors in 2009 after determining that agency employees could do a better job.

The Senate Finance Committee passed a bill two weeks ago that included an amendment requiring the IRS to revive the program. The amendment was offered by Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

It was accepted without opposition.

Business Briefcase

U.S. retailers get the cold shoulder

NEW?YORK?(AP) -For years, Canadians would cross the border to the U.S. to shop at Target. Exporting its cheap chic there seemed like a no-brainer.

But a year after opening more than 100 stores north of the border, Target has found business isn’t so easy.

Shelves are hard to keep stocked. Shoppers complain the prices are higher than at U.S. stores. Sales have been weak, and the retailer lost nearly a billion dollars in Canada for the year.

Cracking the Canadian retail market, about one-tenth the size of the United States’, looks simple. The two countries are neighbors. They are culturally similar. And Canada’s malls generate 20 percent more sales per square foot, because there are fewer of them.

Late flights are up, complaints down

DALLAS (AP) – A big drop in customer complaints helped U.S. airlines post their best ratings ever even though more flights were late and more bags were mishandled, according to a report released Monday by university researchers.

Virgin America topped the ratings, and three regional airlines scored at the bottom.

Among the four biggest airlines, Delta ranked best followed by Southwest, American and United, according to researchers from Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The researchers have graded airlines since 1991 on government figures for on-time performance, mishandled bags, bumping passengers, and complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Australia, Japan agree on trade deal

TOKYO (AP) – Japan and Australia have agreed on a free trade deal that both sides say will yield windfalls for their economies.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, announced the pact, Japan’s first with a major agricultural economy, at a news conference Monday.

The deal calls for Japan to gradually phase out its nearly 40 percent tariffs on Australian exports of beef. In turn, Australia is to end its tariffs on Japanese-made vehicles, household appliances and electronics.

Consumer borrowing up $16.5 billion

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. consumers increased their borrowing in February on autos and student loans by the largest amount in a year. But for a second straight month, they cut back on their credit card use.

Consumer borrowing climbed $16.5 billion in February, up from a $13.5 billion gain in January, the Federal Reserve reported Monday.

The category that includes credit cards fell $2.4 billion after a $241 million drop in January. But this decline was offset by an $18.9 billion increase in borrowing in the category that covers autos and student loans, the biggest one-month gain since February 2013.

The overall increase in consumer debt pushed total borrowing to a record $3.13 trillion.

Oil prices slip below $101 after deal

NEW YORK (AP) – Oil prices fell below $101 a barrel Monday following reports that four Libyan oil terminals under militia control could soon open and possibly boost global supplies.

The official Libyan news agency said the country’s main militia in the east agreed to hand back control of four oil terminals it captured and shut down last summer to demand a share in oil revenues.

The shutdown has cost Libya billions of dollars.

Under the deal reached late Sunday, the militia would immediately hand over two terminals to the national government and return two others in a few weeks.

Survey: US health insurance gains pick up

WASHINGTON (AP) – A growing share of Americans got health insurance as sign-up season for President Barack Obama’s health care law neared its end last month, a major survey released Monday has found.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index provides independent validation for White House claims that the law is expanding access, particularly for working people with no health coverage on the job. But the improvement, while substantial, doesn’t appear as large as some of the numbers claimed by the law’s supporters.

Gallup found that the share of adults without health insurance shrank from 17.1 percent at the end of last year to 15.6 percent for the first three months of 2014.

The decline would translate roughly to more than 3.5 million people gaining coverage. The trend accelerated as the March 31 enrollment deadline loomed.

GOP seeks coverage choices in health law they hate

WASHINGTON (AP) – At the prodding of business organizations, House Republicans quietly secured a recent change in President Barack Obama’s health law to expand coverage choices, a striking, one-of-a-kind departure from dozens of high-decibel attempts to repeal or dismember it.

Democrats describe the change involving small-business coverage options as a straightforward improvement of the type they are eager to make, and Obama signed it into law. Republicans are loath to agree, given the strong sentiment among the rank and file that the only fix the law deserves is a burial.

Obama tests work policies on federal contractors

WASHINGTON (AP) – Sidestepping Congress, President Barack Obama is using the federal government’s vast array of contractors to impose rules on wages, pay disparities and hiring on a segment of the private sector that gets taxpayer money and falls under his control.

Obama this week plans to issue an order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their pay. He will also direct the Labor Department to issue new rules requiring federal contractors to provide compensation data that includes a breakdown by race and gender.

Cement makers Holcim, Lafarge create Swiss merger

GENEVA (AP) – Two of the world’s largest suppliers of building materials announced plans for a “merger of equals” Monday that would create an industry giant with a combined 32 billion euros ($44 billion) in annual revenues.

Swiss-based Holcim and its French counterpart, Lafarge, said the new company would be named LafargeHolcim and be headquartered in Switzerland. They said the merger would create the most advanced group in the building materials industry – the two companies are already global leaders in the supply of cement, crushed stone, sand and gravel.

Mallinckrodt buying Questcor for about $5.6B

ANAHEIM, California (AP) – Mallinckrodt is buying California-based Questcor Pharmaceuticals Inc. for a combination of stock and cash valued at about $5.6 billion that will help to further diversify the Irish company’s business.

Mallinckrodt makes a range of specialty pharmaceuticals. Questcor’s primary product is H.P. Acthar Gel, which is used in the management of autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. It is approved in the U.S. for treating 19 indications.

By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average dropped 166.84 points, or 1 percent, to 16,245.87. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 20.05 points, or 1.1 percent, to close at 1,845.04. The Nasdaq slipped 47.97 points, or 1.2 percent, to 4,079.75.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil for May delivery slipped 70 cents to $100.44 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of oil, dropped 90 cents to $105.82 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline fell 1 cent to $2.93 a gallon.

Natural gas rose 4 cents to $4.48 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Heating oil shed 2 cents to $2.89 a gallon.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.