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Business Highlights

  • Article by: The Associated Press
  • July 10, 2013 - 5:20 PM

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NY judge: Apple conspired to raise e-book prices

NEW YORK (AP) — Apple Inc. broke antitrust laws and conspired with publishers to raise electronic book prices significantly in spring 2010, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, citing "compelling evidence" from the words of the late Steve Jobs.

U.S. District Judge Denise Cote said Apple knew that no publisher could risk acting alone to try to eliminate Amazon.com's $9.99 price for the most popular e-books, so it "created a mechanism and environment that enabled them to act together in a matter of weeks to eliminate all retail price competition for their e-books."

"Apple seized the moment and brilliantly played its hand," Cote said. She wrote that Apple's deals with publishers caused some e-book prices to rise 50 percent or more virtually overnight.

The Manhattan jurist, who did not determine damages, said the evidence was "overwhelming that Apple knew of the unlawful aims of the conspiracy and joined the conspiracy with the specific intent to help it succeed."

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What the government pays industry to snoop

WASHINGTON (AP) — How much are your private conversations worth to the government? Turns out, it can be a lot, depending on the technology.

In the era of intense government surveillance and secret court orders, a murky multimillion-dollar market has emerged. Paid for by U.S. tax dollars, but with little public scrutiny, surveillance fees charged in secret by technology and phone companies can vary wildly.

AT&T, for example, imposes a $325 "activation fee" for each wiretap and $10 a day to maintain it. Smaller carriers Cricket and U.S. Cellular charge only about $250 per wiretap. But snoop on a Verizon customer? That costs the government $775 for the first month and $500 each month after that, according to industry disclosures made last year to Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

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Oil rises 3 percent on signs of rising US demand

NEW YORK (AP) — The price of oil has shot up $11 a barrel in two weeks on rising demand in the U.S. and political upheaval in the Middle East. Gas prices are about to follow.

There's another factor: Bottlenecks that had trapped increasing amounts of domestically produced oil in the middle of the country are loosening. As that oil reaches the coasts, it can command prices more in line with costlier imported crudes.

An improving U.S. economy, highlighted by last week's encouraging data on hiring, is also supporting higher oil prices.

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Royal Mail privatization pushes the envelope

LONDON (AP) — The Royal Mail can trace its history back 500 years to the time of Henry VIII and its bright red "pillarboxes" grace streets across the UK — from the Scilly Isles to Scotland.

But change is coming as the British icon seeks to adapt to the decline in traditional "snail mail" and compete with the likes of Federal Express and UPS.

The UK's coalition government laid out plans Wednesday to privatize the Royal Mail. Analysts have speculated that the company could be worth 3 billion pounds ($4.5 billion). The government plans to sell a majority stake but it has yet to decide on the exact amount — it'll leave that to market conditions.

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Minutes of Fed policy meeting show sharp divisions

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve officials seem far from a consensus on the question that's consumed investors for months: When will the Fed slow its bond purchases?

Minutes of their June 18-19 policy meeting show many of the 19 officials felt the job market's improvement would have to be sustained before the Fed would scale back its bond purchases, which have helped support spending and growth, lifted stocks and kept mortgage rates near record lows.

Many thought the purchases should extend into 2014, according to a summary of economic forecasts that are released with the minutes.

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North American firms detail Bangladesh safety pact

NEW YORK (AP) — A group of nearly 20 North American retailers and clothing makers has agreed to a five-year pact aimed at improving safety conditions at Bangladesh factories that seeks to spread accountability across a wide spectrum from the local government to factory owners.

As part of the pact, the group — which includes Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Gap Inc. and Target Corp. — agreed to inspect all the factories they do business with within a year and set up basic safety standards within three months. They're also requiring that the inspection results of the factories be made public. They will then develop action plans for the factories that need improvement.

The alliance has provided a total of $42 million so far in funding and said that figure is growing. The mandatory costs of the program for each company will depend on how much business each of the retailers does in Bangladesh, but will be capped at $1 million per year. Some companies will offer an additional $100 million in loans to help factories improve safety.

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Yum's profit falls in 2Q but China trends improve

NEW YORK (AP) — KFC's parent company Yum Brands Inc. says its profit fell in the latest quarter but that sales trends were improving in its critical China division, which has been reeling from a bird flu scare.

The company, which also owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, said sales in China were down 10 percent at restaurants open at least a year for June. That's better than the 19 percent drop in May.

In addition to the bird flu scare, Yum is still trying to shake off the lingering effects of a controversy over its chicken supply. That trouble sprang up after a Chinese TV report revealed in December that some suppliers were giving chickens unapproved levels of antibiotics. The fallout was so damaging that Yum dramatically revised down its forecast, saying it expects its earnings per share for the year to decline. That would snap a years-long streak of double-digit growth.

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Investigators look into pairing of Asiana pilots

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — As Flight 214 descended over San Francisco Bay, both Asiana Airlines pilots were in new roles.

In the left seat of the cockpit sat Lee Gang-kuk, a 46-year-old pilot with just 35 hours of experience flying a Boeing 777 who was landing the big jet for his first time at San Francisco International Airport. At his right was Lee Jeong-Min, a trainer making his first trip as an instructor pilot.

While the two men had years of aviation experience, this mission involved unfamiliar duties, and it was the first time they had flown together. The flight came to a tragic end when the airliner crash-landed Saturday, killing two passengers and injuring many others.

Experts say investigators trying to piece together what went wrong will consider, among other factors, the pairing of the pilots, who were assigned to work together through a tightly regulated system developed after several deadly crashes in the 1980s that were blamed in part on inexperience in the cockpit.

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Tribune plans to split into 2 companies

CHICAGO (AP) — Tribune Co. said Wednesday that it wants to split its broadcasting and publishing businesses into two companies.

Tribune said the move will let one company take advantage of growth in broadcasting and allow the other to focus on newspapers, an industry where revenue has been declining for years.

Chicago-based Tribune owns 23 TV stations and cable network WGN America. Earlier this month, it announced plans to buy Local TV Holdings and its 19 television stations for $2.73 billion. It also owns eight daily newspapers, including The Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.

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Gartner, IDC say 2Q PC shipments fell 11 percent

NEW YORK (AP) — Worldwide shipments of personal computers fell 11 percent in the April-June period, according to data from research firms Gartner and IDC, as people continued to migrate to tablets and other mobile devices.

Gartner Inc. said Wednesday that the PC industry is now experiencing the longest decline in its history, as shipments dropped for the fifth consecutive quarter. Computer makers shipped 76 million PCs in the April-June period, down from 85 million in the same three months of 2012, according to Gartner.

International Data Corp., which uses slightly different methodology, essentially came to the same conclusion, though it noted that the decline was slightly smaller than expected.

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