Business Highlights

By: The Associated Press

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January 4, 2016 Updated: January 4, 2016 at 4:22 pm

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Factory slumps in US and China heighten global economy fears

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fears escalated Monday that the global economy could struggle more than expected this year — a prospect that contributed to a plunge in financial markets.

The anxiety was heightened by reports that manufacturers extended their slumps last month in the United States and China, the world's two largest economies. Factory activity contracted for a second straight month in the United States and for a 10th straight month in China.

Chinese stocks fell 7 percent before trading was halted. The Dow Jones industrial average ended down 1.6 percent, its biggest loss in two weeks. Markets in Asia and Europe were down more.

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US sues VW over emissions-cheating software in diesel cars

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department sued Volkswagen on Monday over emissions-cheating software found in nearly 600,000 vehicles sold in the United States, potentially exposing the company to billions in fines for clean air violations.

The civil complaint against the German automaker, filed on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency in U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleges the company illegally installed software designed to make its "clean diesel" engines pass federal emissions standards while undergoing laboratory testing. The vehicles then switched off those measures to boost performance in real-world driving conditions, spewing greenhouse gases at up to 40 times what is allowed under federal environmental standards.

The company is in the midst of negotiating a massive mandatory recall with U.S. regulators and potentially faces more than $18 billion in fines for violations of the federal Clean Air Act.

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General Motors invests $500 million in Lyft, forms partnership

DETROIT (AP) — The automotive industry is placing its biggest bet yet that using a device to hail a ride — with or without a driver — is the future of transportation.

General Motors Co. said Monday it is investing $500 million in ride-hailing company Lyft Inc. and forming an unprecedented partnership that could eventually lead to on-demand, self-driving cars. It's the largest investment yet by a traditional automaker in a new mobility company, and is an acknowledgement by GM that the transportation landscape is changing fast.

GM made the investment as part of a $1 billion round of fundraising by Lyft.

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Severe sell-off does not slow rise in shares of gunmakers

With all major markets in a severe sell-off Monday, shares of companies that make guns surged as new data pointed to strong sales at the close of 2015, a year marked by mass shootings in Paris and California, and new political pressure to tighten regulations.

President Barack Obama is slated to finalize new executive actions Monday aimed at curbing gun violence and unregulated sales. The president has taken nearly two dozen executive actions to tighten gun laws but has been unable to push measures like expanded background checks through Congress.

Recently released numbers from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System show that background checks jumped about 38 percent last month compared with December 2014.

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First-of-a-kind drug approvals continued rise in 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — Approvals for first-of-a-kind drugs climbed last year, pushing the annual tally of new U.S. drugs to its highest level in 19 years. The rising figures reflect an industry-wide focus on drugs for rare and hard-to-treat diseases, which often come with streamlined reviews, extra patent protections and higher price tags.

The Food and Drug Administration approved 45 drugs with never-before-sold ingredients in 2015, edging past the previous year's tally of 41, which had been the highest number since 1996. FDA drug approvals are considered a barometer of industry innovation and the government's efficiency in reviewing new therapies

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Ferrari completes spinoff with stock listing in Milan

MILAN (AP) — Sports carmaker Ferrari is following up its successful Wall Street listing with a stock market launch in Milan, as it begins a new era as a stand-alone company.

The company famed for its Formula 1 racing machines and coveted red roadsters began trading Monday morning, the first business day of the year, at 43 euros ($47) under the RACE ticker. After a volatile day, the shares closed at 43.24 euros.

The listing, which comes after Ferrari made its public debut on the New York Stock Exchange in October, completes the company's separation from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles SpA.

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Insurer: 2015 saw lowest natural disaster losses in 6 years

BERLIN (AP) — Last year saw the lowest financial costs from natural disasters worldwide since 2009, a leading insurer said Monday.

Insurer Munich Re said in an annual survey that both insured losses and overall costs resulting from disasters were the lowest since 2009. It said that there were some $27 billion in insured losses, while overall costs — including losses not covered by insurance — totaled $90 billion. Those figures were down from $31 billion and $110 billion respectively in 2014.

The year's most devastating disaster was the earthquake in Nepal, but only a fraction of the resulting losses was insured.

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80-year-old Tokyo fish market holds final New Year auction

TOKYO (AP) — It's among the biggest of Japan's many New Year holiday rituals: Early on Tuesday, a huge, glistening tuna will be auctioned for a lot of money at Tokyo's 80-year-old Tsukiji market. Next year, the tradition won't be quite the same.

The world's biggest and most famous fish and seafood market is due to move in November to a massive complex further south in Tokyo Bay, making way for redevelopment of the current downtown spot.

The closure of the Tsukiji market will punctuate the end of the postwar era for many of the mom-and-pop shops just outside the main market that peddle related wares.

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General Motors CEO Mary Barra adds chairman to her title

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors CEO Mary Barra is taking on the added role of chairman at the nation's largest automaker.

The company's directors Monday unanimously elected her to lead the board, effective immediately. She replaces former Cummins Inc. Chairman and CEO Theodore Solso as GM's chairman. He will stay on as the board's lead independent director, the company said Monday in a statement.

Barra, 54, took over as CEO in January of 2014, becoming the first woman to lead a major global automaker. Her appointment came shortly before GM became embroiled in a scandal over faulty small-car ignition switches. She led GM through the crisis and a related series of embarrassing safety recalls.

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Art dealer Wildenstein accused of huge French tax fraud

PARIS (AP) — International art dealer Guy Wildenstein went on trial in Paris Monday on charges of tax fraud and money laundering.

Wildenstein, 70, the Franco-American heir of a New York art-dealing empire, is accused of concealing much of his inherited fortune in trusts held in offshore tax havens. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Investigating judges say Wildenstein and his late brother Alec fraudulently undervalued the enormous family patrimony in the estate tax return after their father Daniel, a French citizen and a renowned art dealer, collector and historian, died in Paris in 2001.

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The Dow Jones industrial average fell 276.09 points, or 1.6 percent, to close at 17,148.94. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 31.28 points, or 1.5 percent, to 2,012.66. The Nasdaq composite fell 104.32 points, or 2.1 percent, to 4,903.09.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 28 cents to close at $36.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the international standard, edged down 6 cents to close at $37.22 a barrel in London. In other energy trading in New York, wholesale gasoline rose 2 cents to $1.291 a gallon, heating oil rose a quarter of a cent to $1.126 a gallon and natural gas edged down 0.3 cent to $2.334 per 1,000 cubic feet.