Business briefs: Amazon raises Prime price $20, to $99 a year

  • Updated: March 13, 2014 - 7:49 PM

Amazon raises Prime price $20, to $99 a year

Amazon is betting that shoppers will pay $20 more for its popular Prime two-day free shipping and video streaming service of movies and TV shows. The mega online retailer said that it is raising the price of Prime to $99 a year as it seeks to offset rising costs to ship products to customers. It’s the first price hike since Amazon rolled out the service in 2005. The move could please investors at a time when Amazon continues to face pressure to boost its bottom line after years of furious growth. As more Americans shop online, Amazon has spent heavily to expand its business into new areas — from movie streaming to e-readers and groceries — often at the expense of its profit. But the price increase also threatens to scare away online shoppers who tend to resist fee hikes.

Retail sales climbed 0.3 percent last month

U.S. retail sales bounced back in February after suffering a steep decline during a bitterly cold January. Shoppers spent more on autos, clothing and furniture. The Commerce Department said that seasonally adjusted retail sales rose 0.3 percent in February. Spending had fallen 0.6 percent in January, revised down from the 0.4 percent decline initially reported. Retail spending also fell 0.3 percent in December. The increase suggests that consumer spending has started to recover after being tempered by snowstorms and freezing temperatures that blanketed much of the country. Auto sales rose 0.3 percent. Excluding volatile spending on autos, gas and building supplies, retail sales increased 0.3 percent from December.

Initial jobless claims dip to a 3-month low

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 315,000, its lowest level in three months. It was the second straight decline, and it added to evidence that the job market is picking up after a winter slump. The Labor Department said that the four-week average of applications, a less volatile figure, fell 6,250 to 330,500, the lowest point since early December. Applications are a rough proxy for layoffs. The declines indicate that most companies are confident enough about consumer demand to avoid layoffs. Employers are also hiring more after harsh winter weather depressed job gains in January and December, the government said last week. The economy gained 175,000 jobs last month, up from just 129,000 in January.

McDonald’s workers claiming underpayment

McDonald’s workers in three states filed lawsuits against the fast-food chain this week, saying the company engages in a variety of illegal practices to avoid paying them what they’re owed. The suits in California, Michigan and New York come amid growing attention on the country’s wealth disparities. Taken together, the suits seeking class action status could affect roughly 30,000 workers, lawyers said during a conference call arranged by organizers of the recent fast-food protests. They seek back pay and other damages. McDonald’s, based in Oak Brook, Ill., said in a statement that it is investigating the allegations and will take any necessary actions. “McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a concern and commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants,” the company said..

BP reaches deal to qualify for U.S. contracts

The oil company behind the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history can once again perform work for the federal government. Under an agreement, more than two dozen BP entities and its Houston-based oil production and exploration arm can secure new government contracts. The company had been suspended from performing any new government work since November 2012. That’s when BP agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges involving the death of 11 workers and lying to Congress about how much oil was spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. For five years, BP will have to abide by a series of ethics, safety and other requirements. An independent auditor will also verify its compliance with the deal.

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