Hulu offers ad-free version for $12 a month

Video-streaming company Hulu is introducing an ad-free version of its subscription service for $4 extra a month as competition for streaming customers heats up. The service with ads costs $8 and the ad-free version costs $12. The company said customers asked for an ad-free option. Competition is getting tougher among video-streaming services as providers seek to add more offerings to attract viewers. On Tuesday, Amazon said subscribers of its $99 annual Prime membership program will be able to download some shows and movies to watch offline.

Fed's regional survey sees moderate growth

While U.S. housing and auto sales showed strength over the summer, manufacturers were feeling pressure from China's economic slowdown and the oil industry was squeezed by lower energy prices. That's the U.S. economic picture that emerges from the Federal Reserve's latest look at business conditions around the country. The Fed said 11 of its 12 regional banks reported that the economy grew at least modestly in July through mid-August. One of the Fed's regions — Cleveland — reported only slight growth. The Fed report, known as the beige book, will be used for discussion when the central bank meets next on Sept. 16-17. The gathering will be closely watched because of the possibility it will decide to start raising interest rates from record lows near zero.

U.S. factory orders rose modestly in July

Orders to U.S. factories posted a modest gain in July, helped by the biggest rise in motor vehicles orders in a year and a solid gain in a category that tracks business investment plans. Factory orders rose 0.4 percent in July, the Commerce Department reported. Orders had increased a much larger 2.2 percent in June. The modest increase in factory orders in July suggests that manufacturing is still grappling with a variety of challenges, from falling energy prices to a stronger dollar, which hurts exports. But a key category that tracks business investment plans climbed 2.1 percent, posting the strongest gain in 13 months.

Productivity climbed in second quarter

U.S. productivity in the spring rose at the fastest pace since late 2013, while labor costs declined. Worker productivity increased at an annual rate of 3.3 percent in the April-June quarter, the Labor Department reported. That was a rebound from the first quarter when productivity had fallen at a 1.1 percent rate and a sizable upward revision from the government's first estimate of a 1.3 percent growth rate. Labor costs fell at a 1.4 percent rate in the second quarter, indicating that wages are not rising even as unemployment declines. Even with the strong gain in the second quarter, productivity over the past year has increased by just 0.7 percent, far below the long-run average of 2.2 percent.

Job showed solid gains last month, ADP says

U.S. businesses added jobs at a steady pace last month, with construction and manufacturing showing solid gains, a private survey found. Payroll processor ADP said businesses added 190,000 jobs last month, up from 177,000 in July, but below a six-month high in June of 231,000. The figures suggest that turmoil in the financial markets and worries about faltering growth in China have not yet had much impact on the U.S. job market. The government will release its official jobs report for August on Friday. Economists forecast it will show that employers added 220,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate slipped to 5.2 percent from 5.3 percent. The ADP survey covers only private businesses, however, and frequently diverges from the official figures.

White-collar workers in for bigger raises

Even as the landscape for wages looks bleak, at least one rung of the compensation ladder is doing just fine. And 2016 may be even better. White-collar workers will get the biggest pay boost in eight years as employers compete for the best and brightest in America, according to staffing firm Robert Half. The 4.1 percent average advance for U.S. starting salaries across the five professional fields tracked by the company would follow a 3.8 percent projected gain in 2015. That's a big contrast with average hourly earnings, which have been mired in a measly 2 percent range since the recession ended in mid-2009.

Wal-Mart to reopen stores in union dispute

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it would reopen in late October to early November five U.S. stores whose closure had prompted a union to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming retaliation against workers for organizing. The retailer will start hiring for the stores in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and California, and will encourage previous employees and those that transferred to other stores to apply, company spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said. Wal-Mart announced the store closings in April to fix plumbing and other repair issues. The move affected about 2,200 workers, and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union filed a complaint claiming that the closings were in retaliation for union organizing activities. Wal-Mart denied the claim.