Avis to buy Zipcar to get into car-sharing

Avis Budget Group Inc. is leaping into the car-sharing service business by buying Zipcar for $491.2 million, aiming to capture a new type of customer and technology that will vastly expand its car rental options. Car sharing has become a popular alternative to traditional rentals in metropolitan areas and on college campuses, allowing members to get a vehicle for an hour or two for short trips instead of renting a car for a day or using mass transit. Zipcar, which was founded in 2000, has more than 760,000 members, triple what it had in 2008. It went public in 2011 and 2012 is expected to be its first-ever profitable year.

Construction outlays ticked down in Nov.

Spending on U.S. construction projects unexpectedly dropped in November, restrained by declines in non-residential building and public works. Outlays fell 0.3 percent to $866 billion annual rate after increasing a less-than-previously estimated 0.7 percent in October, the Commerce Department reported. The median forecast of 41 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 0.6 percent increase. Homebuilding outlays increased 0.4 percent to a $295.3 billion annual rate, the most since November 2008. Private non-residential projects decreased by 0.7 percent, reflecting declines in the building of factories, power plants and educational facilities.

Warm wave sends natural gas down

Natural gas futures tumbled the most in five weeks on forecasts of moderating temperatures that may reduce demand for the power-plant fuel. Gas fell as much as 9 percent, the biggest intraday drop in more than three years, after Commodity Weather Group said cold weather in most of the U.S. this week would give way to above-normal temperatures next week. Natural gas for February delivery fell 11.8 cents, or 3.5 percent, to settle at $3.233 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On a settlement basis, the drop was the biggest since Nov. 26.

Google's Schmidt plans N. Korea trip

Eric Schmidt, Google's ambassador in chief, is going where few Internet executives have gone: North Korea. Google's executive chairman will take part in a private trip led by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, sources told the Associated Press. North Korea does not have diplomatic relations with the United States, and it has some of the tightest restrictions of any country on citizens' access to the Internet. Richardson has long sought to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula, and Schmidt has become a vocal advocate for Internet freedom.

Buffett invests $2.5B in Calif. solar projects

Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy Holdings agreed to spend as much as $2.5 billion to build two solar projects in California that are set to be the world's largest photovoltaic development. MidAmerican acquired the 579-megawatt Antelope Valley projects in Kern and Los Angeles counties from SunPower, according to a statement. MidAmerican will pay SunPower $2 billion to $2.5 billion for the projects and a three-year contract to build them.

Hyundai, Kia foresee weaker sales growth

Hyundai and smaller affiliate Kia, South Korea's two largest automakers, forecast their weakest sales growth in seven years as a slowing global economy and strengthening won saps demand. The companies plan combined sales to rise 4.1 percent to 7.41 million cars in 2013, Chung Mong Koo, chairman of both Kia and Hyundai, told employees. That's the lowest growth since 2006, when deliveries shrank 1.2 percent. Chung told employees to brace for a "very difficult year."