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Business Highlights

January 30, 2015

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Consumers fuel steady US economy as rest of world struggles

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy slowed in the final three months of 2014, but a burst in consumer spending and the prospect of continued low energy prices are bolstering confidence that growth will strengthen this year.

The economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew at a 2.6 percent annual rate in the October-December period, the government said Friday. That was down from a sizzling 5 percent gain in the previous quarter.

Though business investment, government spending and trade weakened, consumers signaled rising confidence by stepping up their spending at the fastest rate in nearly nine years.

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Markets brace for Big Oil profit plunge

NEW YORK (AP) — It’s just a forecast, and for only one of 10 industry groups in the stock market. Yet it has almost singlehandedly turned what had been a strong earnings season into a weak one.

Profits for companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index are expected to have grown in the fourth quarter at one of the lowest rates in years, just 2.2 percent.

The culprit: Energy companies that suffered as oil prices plunged. Their profits are expected to have dropped 23 percent, a collapse of fortune nearly unheard of outside of a recession, and one that has weighed on the stock market.

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List: 10 Super Bowl ads you’ll be talking about

NEW YORK (AP) — When the Super Bowl kicks off on Sunday, 40-plus advertisers will be hoping to win over the more than 110 million viewers expected to tune in.

After paying $4.5 million for a 30-second spot, advertisers are hoping to have the ad everyone will be talking about Monday morning.

Here are 10 Super Bowl ads to watch out for.

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Shake Shack shares more than double in stock market debut

NEW YORK (AP) — Shares of Shake Shack, a burger chain that started as a New York City hot dog cart, more than doubled in their first day of trading. The small chain is now valued at more than $1.6 billion.

The company, which raised $105 million in its initial public offering, feeds into investors’ growing appetite for restaurants that are quick but also serve food consumers think is healthier or fresher than what a fast-food chain offers.

It now has 63 locations, mostly on the East Coast, with plans for more.

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Germany to Greece: Don’t mess with us over debt, austerity

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece and its European bailout creditors were in open dispute Friday.

Germany rejected suggestions that heavily-indebted Greece should be forgiven part of its rescue loans and warned against “blackmail” from Athens.

Greece’s five-day-old radical left government insists it will honor pre-election promises to seek a cut on most of the country’s rescue debt and scrap painful budget measures that were demanded in exchange for the loans.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, however, warned Athens against strong-arm negotiating tactics in its effort to win debt relief.

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Barbie blues gave Mattel holiday disappointment

Slumping sales of Barbie did little to bring a happy holiday to her maker, Mattel Inc.

Mattel’s fourth-quarter earnings release Friday drilled down into the details of a weak performance that led to the resignation of its chairman and CEO.

Barbie sales fell 12 percent, though that wasn’t as bad as the third quarter’s 21 percent drop. Fisher-Price sales fell 11 percent. While American Girl slipped 4 percent, it was better than the 7 percent decline in the third quarter.

Hot Wheels sales rose 5 percent.

Interim CEO Christopher Sinclair said he will spend the next few months evaluating the company’s businesses to “revitalize our brands.”

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FDA approves ADHD drug for binge-eating disorder

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal health regulators have approved an attention deficit disorder drug for a new use: A first-of-its kind treatment for binge-eating disorder.

About 2 percent of U.S. adults, or about 5 million people, have binge eating disorder, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Standard treatment for binge eating and other eating disorders usually involves counseling and psychotherapy. Some doctors also prescribe antidepressants to try and curb eating disorders, though they are not approved for that use.

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US pay and benefits rose at slightly faster pace last year

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wages and benefits rose at a slightly healthier rate last year, a sign strong job gains could be forcing companies to pay a bit more for workers.

The Labor Department said Friday that the employment cost index, which measures pay and benefits, rose 2.2 percent in 2014, up from 2 percent the previous year. It’s also ahead of inflation, which rose 1.3 percent.

Yet the increase is still sluggish by historical standards. In a healthy economy, the index usually rises at about a 3.5 percent pace.

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AT&T, Verizon get more airwaves: Expect more mobile capacity

NEW YORK (AP) — Consumers may see improved networks after AT&T and Verizon, the two largest U.S. wireless companies, spent billions in the government’s latest airwaves auction.

The additional airwaves, or spectrum, will allow wireless companies to offer more capacity for mobile data services, helping ease congested networks.

The auction, which ended Thursday, will raise $41.3 billion for the U.S. Treasury and various federal programs. AT&T Inc. bid $18.2 billion and Verizon Wireless $10.4 billion. T-Mobile US Inc. had $1.77 billion in winning bids. Sprint Corp. did not participate.

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Russia cuts key rate to help economy, leaving ruble to drop

MOSCOW (AP) — In a surprise decision, Russia’s central bank on Friday cut its key interest rate, which it had raised sharply last month to support the collapsing ruble, in order to help the fading economy.

The move triggered a drop in the ruble.

The central bank explained its decision to cut the rate, from 17 percent to 15 percent, by saying that the risks of an economic slowdown are now higher than the risks associated with the ruble’s drop. The currency’s 50 percent drop since the summer has caused a spike in inflation.

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Qatar Airways buys nearly 10 percent of BA, Iberia parent

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Qatar Airways said Friday it has bought nearly 10 percent of the parent company of British Airways and Spain’s Iberia, deepening wealthy Qatar’s business ties to Europe and intensifying competition with the airline’s fast-growing Gulf rivals.

The Qatari government-backed airline said the decision to buy 9.99 percent of International Consolidated Airlines Group, also known as IAG, was part of an effort to enhance its operations and strengthen commercial ties with the European company.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but the stake is worth about $1.7 billion given IAG’s market value.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 251.90 points, or 1.5 percent, to close at 17,164.95. The S&P 500 index lost 26.26 points, or 1.3 percent, to 1,994.99. The Nasdaq composite fell 48.17 points, or 1 percent, to 4,635.24.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $3.71 to close at $48.24 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose $3.86 to close at $52.99 in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 6.2 cents to close at $1.415 a gallon. Heating oil rose 6.8 cents to close at $1.686 a gallon. Natural gas fell 2.8 cents to close at $2.691 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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