Japanese industry lags forecast

Japan's industrial production rose less than economists forecast, suggesting a recovery in the nation's manufacturing sector is lagging a weakening yen. Output rose 2.5 percent from November, when it declined 1.4 percent, the Trade Ministry said in Tokyo on Thursday. The median estimate of 25 economists was for a 4.1 percent gain. Production fell 7.8 percent from the previous year. The outlook for the economy may improve this year as the depreciating yen and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's fiscal stimulus measures help support corporate profits and stoke growth. Goldman Sachs last week raised its growth forecast for the year starting in April to 2 percent from 1.2 percent.

Bids for Hostess at $858M and counting

Hostess Brands Chief Executive Officer Greg Rayburn said initial bids for assets of the bankrupt maker of Twinkies and Wonder bread now total $858 million, with about $100 million more for sale. Hostess, based in Irving, Texas, announced Wednesday that it had chosen a joint offer from Apollo Global Management and C. Dean Metropoulos & Co. as lead bid for Twinkies and other cake brands in a March auction. Apollo and Metropoulos offered as much as $410 million for the Hostess snack-cake business. The $858 million is almost double officials' 2011 estimated value of $450 million mentioned at a Nov. 29 court hearing. Financial adviser Joshua Scherer of Perella Weinberg Partners said interest from 110 potential buyers was "fast and furious."

Chinese hackers access N.Y. Times systems

Chinese hackers repeatedly penetrated the New York Times' computer systems over the past four months, stealing reporters' passwords and hunting for files on an investigation into the wealth amassed by the family of a top Chinese leader, the newspaper reported Thursday. Hackers routed the attacks through computers at U.S. universities, installed a strain of malicious software associated with Chinese hackers and initiated the attacks from Chinese university computers previously used by the Chinese military to attack U.S. military contractors. The attacks coincided with a Times investigation into how relatives of Premier Wen Jiabao built a fortune worth over $2 billion. Over the months of incursions, the hackers lifted the computer passwords of all Times employees and used them to get into the personal computers of 53 employees. The Wall Street Journal said Thursday that Chinese hackers also had infiltrated its computer system.

Russian economy saw weak growth in 2012

Russia's economy grew more slowly than analysts forecast last year, expanding at the weakest pace since a 2009 contraction after record oil prices failed to offset $56.8 billion of net capital outflows and investment sagged. Gross domestic product expanded 3.4 percent in 2012, down from 4.3 percent a year earlier, the Federal Statistics Service in Moscow said Thursday. That missed the 3.6 percent median forecast of 18 analysts in a Bloomberg survey and the Economy Ministry's estimate of 3.5 percent.

Labor groups suspend Wal-Mart picketing

Labor groups say they will end picketing at Wal-Mart stores for at least 60 days as part of a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board. But they vowed they will continue to press the retailer to improve overall working conditions, including wages. The agreement comes after the discounter filed a complaint Nov. 20 against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. It said demonstrations at the stores organized by union-backed OUR Walmart threatened to disrupt its business and intimidate customers and workers. OUR Walmart filed its own charge with the labor board. It cited attempts by Wal-Mart to deter workers from participating in what the group called legally protected walkouts. At issue were what constitutes picketing and whether the activity was aimed at gaining recognition for the union.

Apple's slice of tablet market shrinks

Apple continues to dominate in tablet computers, although its market share is shrinking because of growing competition from Samsung and others, research firm IDC said Thursday. Apple Inc. shipped 22.9 million iPads worldwide in the October-December quarter, during which it released a smaller version and updated its full-size models. That's growth of 48 percent from the same period a year earlier. But IDC said Apple's market share fell to 44 percent, from 52 percent. Samsung, maker of Galaxy devices, saw shipments more than triple to 7.9 million. Its market share expanded to 15 percent from 7. AsusTek Computer, maker of Transformer and Google's Nexus 7, also saw shipments and market share increase. Amazon.com's share fell despite shipping more Kindle Fires. Barnes & Noble, maker of the Nook tablets, saw both market share and shipments fall. IDC said Microsoft Corp. didn't make the top 5.

Gasoline prices on rise across U.S.

The average U.S. retail gasoline price rose 13 cents over the past two weeks to $3.42 per gallon, and within a few days it will likely set a record for this time of year. The culprits: Rising crude oil prices, slowing output at refineries and low supplies of gasoline. Crude oil has risen 14 percent since mid-December, to $97.49 on Thursday. Brent crude, the benchmark used to price oil that most U.S. refineries use to make gasoline, is up 9 percent since then to $115.55.

Judge nears OK of Beechcraft plan

A New York bankruptcy judge made clear Thursday that he's close to signing off on a reorganization plan for Kansas aircraft-maker Hawker Beechcraft that will preserve thousands of jobs. Judge Stuart Bernstein heard no major objections from creditors. He said he wanted minor changes. Lawyers for the Wichita, Kan.-based company said it expects to emerge from Chapter 11 in the second half of February. As of Dec. 31, Hawker Beechcraft employed 5,400 people companywide. The company plans to rename itself Beechcraft Corp. Hawker Beechcraft filed for bankruptcy protection in May.

MasterCard makes earnings comeback

MasterCard's net income rebounded strongly in the fourth quarter as its overseas business continued to expand, the company said Thursday. The results benefited by comparison to the year-earlier quarter, which was weighed down by a massive legal charge. Net income in the three months ended Dec. 31 rose to $605 million, or $4.86 per share, from $19 million, or 15 cents per share, a year earlier. Net revenue rose 10 percent to $1.90 billion. For 2012, MasterCard earned $2.76 billion, or $21.94 per share, on revenue of $7.39 billion.