Business Highlights

By: The Associated Press
May 5, 2016 Updated: May 5, 2016 at 4:27 pm
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FDA will require e-cigarettes and contents to be reviewed

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government on Thursday announced sweeping new rules for electronic cigarettes that will for the first time require the devices and their ingredients to be reviewed, a mandate that could offer some protection for consumers and upend a multibillion-dollar industry that has gone largely unregulated.

Before brands are allowed to stay in the market, regulators would have to check the design, contents and flavor of the fast-growing devices, which have grown popular with teenagers.

The rules would also extend long-standing restrictions on traditional cigarettes to a host of other products, including e-cigarettes, hookah, pipe tobacco and nicotine gels. Minors would be banned from buying the products.

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Some howl over Alibaba's place in anti-counterfeiting group

SHANGHAI (AP) — The International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition's decision to welcome e-commerce giant Alibaba as a new member isn't sitting well with some. It so incensed the U.S. luxury brand Michael Kors that it severed its longstanding connection with the industry group.

The company said in a letter that IACC is providing cover to its "most dangerous and damaging adversary." Michael Kors employees will not attend IACC events as long as Alibaba is a member, and asked the brand's name scrubbed from all IACC materials.

It offers a rare glimpse of the deep loathing one of China's most successful global companies and attention to Alibaba's role in the global counterfeiting industry.

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Stocks close flat as investors wait for Friday's jobs report

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks closed mostly unchanged on Thursday, as an earlier rally in oil prices faded and investors waited for the release of a closely-watched jobs report on Friday.

As the week comes to a close, the market's focus is turning to the U.S. jobs report for April due out Friday. Investors will be watching closely to see if it could have any impact on the Federal Reserve's plans for raising interest rates at its next policy meeting in June. Economists expect the report to show jobs grew by 200,000 last month while the unemployment rate stayed at 5 percent.

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Average US rate on 30-year mortgages falls to 3.61 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Long-term U.S. mortgage rates fell this week, following the Federal Reserve's decision not to raise its benchmark interest rate.

The decline put long-term mortgage rates near their low levels for the year, offering an inducement to prospective home buyers during the spring buying season.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage declined to 3.61 percent from 3.66 percent last week. It's far below its level a year ago of 3.80 percent.

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Merck beats 1Q profit views with tight cost controls

Merck posted an 18 percent jump in first-quarter income, beating Wall Street expectations, as reduced spending on marketing, administration and research easily offset lower medicine sales outside the U.S.

The second-biggest U.S. drugmaker on Thursday raised its 2016 financial forecasts.

Merck & Co. reported first-quarter earnings of $1.13 billion, or 40 cents per share, up from $953 million, or 33 cents per share. Its adjusted earnings amounted to 89 cents per share, 4 cents more than analysts expected.

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SeaWorld loss widens, but adjusted results top expectations

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — SeaWorld's first-quarter loss widened as expenses climbed, but the theme park operator's adjusted results and revenue beat Wall Street's expectations.

President and CEO Joel Manby said that the company's recently announced decision to end all orca breeding and transition its shows toward more natural orca encounters — along with its partnership with the Humane Society of the United States — should help improve its performance over time.

SeaWorld has faced intense scrutiny ever since the 2013 release of "Blackfish," a highly critical documentary.

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Kellogg's sales decline as cereals remain sluggish

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — Kellogg's profit declined in the first quarter as the maker of Frosted Flakes and Pop Tarts continued to fight sluggish cereal sales.

The company said sales slipped 1.2 percent for its flagship U.S. Morning Foods segment, which includes cereals such as Froot Loops, Mini Wheats and Raisin Bran. The dip reflects the ongoing struggles as Americans increasingly reach for alternatives at breakfast.

Still, Kellogg CEO John Bryant expressed confidence that the company would end the year with positive cereal sales. That would mark the first time Kellogg's U.S. cereal sales were positive since 2012.

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Want to sue your bank? Regulators push to make it easier

NEW YORK (AP) — If government regulators get their way, it's going to become a lot easier to sue your bank.

U.S. bank customers have largely signed away their right to sue their bank, often without being aware of the arbitration clauses in the fine print. Customers are generally required to take disputes to a third-party mediator instead of court.

But the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau proposed a rule Thursday that would ban arbitration clauses, which would affect the entire financial industry and the hundreds of millions of bank accounts, credit cards and other financial services Americans use.

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Bitcoin's self-proclaimed founder backtracks

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The man who claimed to be the mysterious founder of bitcoin appears to be stepping back into the shadows, leaving numerous questions in his wake.

Three days after Australian entrepreneur Craig Wright came forward as "Satoshi Nakamoto," the unknown creator of the digital currency bitcoin, he has backtracked in a dramatic fashion. He wrote in a blog post that he does not "have the courage" to publish additional proof, as he promised Wednesday, that he is the elusive creator of the Internet currency.

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Wal-Mart brings back greeters at the store door

NEW YORK (AP) — Those smiley door greeters are back at Wal-Mart.

The nation's largest retailer said this week that it's bringing back door greeters to a majority of its 5,000 stores by mid-summer to improve customer service. For stores which have been selected as higher risks for thefts, Wal-Mart will position a "customer host," who will not only greet customers but also check receipts to prevent theft. The rollout follows a successful pilot program.

Four years ago, the discounter decided to remove the workers at the front of the store and relocated them to other areas.

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Zimbabweans hunt for US cash as shortages bite

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Severe shortages of U.S. dollars that are used as local currency in Zimbabwe have forced many residents to become cash hunter-gatherers.

This week, Zimbabwe's central bank imposed measures in an attempt to ease the cash crunch, which reflects the country's dire economic situation. The measures include reducing the amount of money that travelers can take outside the country and limiting daily cash withdrawals.

Long lines are frequent outside banks, where tellers limit daily withdrawals to $200, forcing people who need larger amounts to make repeat visits.

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The Dow Jones industrial average rose 9.45 points, or 0.05 percent, to 17,660.71. The Standard & Poor's 500 index closed down 0.49 of a point, or 0.02 percent, to 2,050.63. The Nasdaq composite index lost 8.55 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,717.09.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 54 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $44.32 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, was up 39 cents at $45.01 a barrel in London. In other energy commodities, wholesale gasoline rose less than 1 cent to $1.49 a gallon, heating oil was unchanged at $1.33 and natural gas fell 7 cents to $2.076 per thousand cubic feet.