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Business Highlights

  • Article by: The Associated Press
  • Associated Press
  • April 1, 2014 - 4:20 PM

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Congress demands answers on delay in GM recall

WASHINGTON (AP) — The piece needed to fix a defective ignition switch linked to 13 deaths would have cost just 57 cents, according to documents submitted by General Motors to lawmakers investigating why the company took 10 years to recall cars with the flaw.

Members of a House subcommittee demanded answers Tuesday from new GM CEO Mary Barra about why the automaker used the switch in some of its cars even though it knew the part didn't meet GM's own specifications.

GM has said that company engineers proposed solutions to the switch problem years ago, but the company concluded that none represented "an acceptable business case."

The automaker has recalled 2.6 million cars since February over the faulty switch.

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US auto sales accelerated as March moved along

DETROIT (AP) — U.S. auto sales went out like a lion in March.

Automakers said Tuesday that new car and truck sales picked up speed halfway through the month, culminating in a strong final weekend.

March sales helped rescue what was otherwise a disappointing first quarter. Analysts had predicted flat growth for the first three months of this year after harsh weather in January and February hurt sales.

The surprisingly strong March results could help the first quarter pull off a sales increase, but it's not likely to top the 6-percent increase that the industry saw during the same period in 2013.

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Sen. Paul: Give Caterpillar award for tax strategy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Caterpillar Inc. executives defended a tax strategy Tuesday that has saved the manufacturing giant billions in U.S. taxes. They got support from Republican senators, including one who said the company deserves an award.

Caterpillar has avoided paying $2.4 billion in U.S. taxes since 2000 by shifting profits to a wholly-controlled affiliate in Switzerland, according to a report released by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. Levin chairs the Senate investigations subcommittee. Levin grilled Caterpillar executives and their accountants at a hearing Tuesday on the company's tax strategy.

Caterpillar is the world's leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment.

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Craft beer reaches for the skies on US airlines

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Attention passengers, craft beer has reached 35,000 feet.

As the airline industry works to improve its food and beverage options, a new trend has emerged — airlines adding craft beers to their in-flight offerings. The assumption is that as more drinkers switch from mass market beers to specialty brews, they'll be happier if they don't have to give up the good stuff when they're in the air.

It's another sign that airlines are getting better at responding to changing consumer tastes. U.S. craft beer retail sales reached $14.3 billion in 2013, an increase of 20 percent from a year earlier, according to the Brewers Association, the trade group for the majority of U.S. brewing companies.

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Eurozone unemployment stuck near record high

BRUSSELS (AP) — The 18-country eurozone may have emerged from recession last year, but that has done little good to the jobs market, with unemployment stuck near a record high since then.

A new report on Tuesday showed that while the number of jobless in the currency union dipped in February, the unemployment rate remained at 11.9 percent — where it has been since October after peaking at 12.1 percent earlier in the year.

The figures, published by the Eurostat statistical agency, illustrate how long it will take for the continent's hardest-hit countries to return to economic health after years of financial upheaval.

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US manufacturing expanded more quickly in March

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. manufacturing grew at a slightly faster pace in March compared with February as factory output recovered from disruptions caused by severe winter weather. Manufacturers also received more orders, suggesting that production could strengthen a bit in the months ahead.

The Institute for Supply Management, a group of purchasing managers, said Tuesday that its manufacturing index increased to 53.7 from 53.2 in February. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

The increase suggests that manufacturing is growing at a steady but modest pace after cold winter weather caused a sharp slowdown in the first two months of the year. Even so, factories are hiring at the slowest pace in nine months, the survey found.

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US home prices rose in Feb. despite weaker sale

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices rose in February from a year earlier at a solid pace, suggesting that a tight supply of homes for sale is boosting prices despite slowing sales.

Real estate data provider CoreLogic says prices for existing homes rose 12.2 percent in February from a year ago. That was up slightly from January's year-over-year pace of 12 percent.

Snowstorms, rising prices and higher mortgage rates combined to reduce home sales in February to their lowest level in 19 months. The number of available homes remains below the level typical of a healthy market.

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FBI investigates high-speed stock traders

NEW YORK (AP) — The FBI is looking into the practices of high-frequency stock trading firms, adding to the scrutiny of the practice.

Brokerage firms use high-frequency trading to get a jump on their competitors. Powerful computers analyze market information and then execute buy and sell orders for stocks within a fraction of a second.

One way that high-frequency traders have gained an edge is by receiving market-moving information, such as corporate earnings releases, before other traders and investors. They then exploit that advantage by placing buy or sell orders before other investors.

That practice has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months though. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says high-frequency trading gives firms an unfair advantage and erodes public confidence in the stock market.

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Industry group seeks continuous flight tracking

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — An aviation industry group is creating a task force to make recommendations this year for continuously tracking commercial airliners because "we cannot let another aircraft simply vanish" like Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

The 25-day-old search has turned up no sign of the Boeing 777, which vanished March 8 with 239 people aboard bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. A multinational team of aircraft and ships are searching the southern Indian Ocean for the plane, which disappeared from radar and veered off-course for reasons that are still unexplained.

The aviation mystery has highlighted the need for improvements in tracking aircraft and security, according to the International Air Transport Association, a trade association for the world's airlines meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

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Starbucks bringing back cake slices

NEW YORK (AP) — Starbucks has found that Americans really like their sliced cake.

The Seattle-based coffee company says it will start bringing back its cake slices in response to customer feedback. It had been eliminating the slices as part of a staggered rollout of its pricier new baked goods. In their place, Starbucks offered what looked like miniature loaves.

But the company realized that people preferred the sliced cake and says they should return in the coming weeks.

The new baked goods have so far been rolled out to roughly half of the company's 11,500 U.S. locations. That means about half of stores never got rid of the cake slices.

© 2014 Star Tribune