Lessons on salt for dietitians ... by a chip maker

HOUSTON (AP) Snack and soda makers that often are blamed for fueling the nation's obesity rates also play a role in educating the dietitians who advise Americans on healthy eating.

Frito-Lay, Kellogg, Coca-Cola and others are essentially teaching the teachers. Their workshops and online classes for the nation's dietitians are part of a behind-the-scenes effort to burnish the images of their snacks and drinks.

The practice has raised ethical concerns among some who say it gives the food industry too much influence over dietitians, who take the classes to earn the education credits they need to maintain their licenses.

A group of about a dozen dietitians, known as Dietitians for Professional Integrity, is calling for an end to the practice.


Old vans are dying, so small businesses are buying

Small business owners once too suspect of a wobbly economy to make big-ticket purchases are starting to invest in their companies again.

The willingness to spend is notable when it comes to small vans. Aging vans are simply wearing out and business confidence is growing. Plus tight credit for small businesses has loosened.

This all spells good news for the auto industry and a positive sign for the broader economy. Commercial van sales last year were up more than 40 percent since 2010, and they rose 9 percent in January even as U.S. auto sales dropped 3 percent, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank.


Data-breach costs take toll on Target profit

NEW YORK (AP) Target Corp. may be feeling the financial pain for a while from its recent data breach.

The nation's second-largest discounter said Wednesday that its profit in the fourth quarter fell 46 percent on a revenue decline of 5.3 percent as the breach scared off customers worried about the security of their private data.

Target said sales have been recovering since the incident was disclosed in mid-December, but the company expects business to be muted for some time. It issued a profit outlook for the current quarter and full year that was below Wall Street estimates.


Solid new-home sales lift hopes for housing market

WASHINGTON (AP) A surprisingly strong pace of new-home sales last month has boosted hopes that the spring buying season will be solid enough to lift the overall economy.

Sales of new homes rebounded in January to the fastest rate in more than five years. The strength in purchases followed a slowdown that had been linked to higher mortgage rates and severe winter weather.

The report Wednesday from the Commerce Department helped support stock prices, especially shares of homebuilders.

Many economists predict that sales of both new and existing homes will rise in 2014, lifted by an improving economy and steady job growth.


US bank earnings rise 17 pct. as loan losses fall

WASHINGTON (AP) U.S. banks' earnings rose 17 percent in the October-December quarter from a year earlier, as losses on loans fell to a seven-year low and banks set aside less to cover losses as well as legal costs.

The data provides fresh evidence of the banking industry's sustained recovery more than five years after the financial crisis struck. Still, the government says banks continue to have difficulty increasing revenues, and are relying on setting aside less for loan losses to boost earnings.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. reported Wednesday that the banking industry earned $40.3 billion in the final quarter of 2013, up from $34.4 billion in the same period in 2012.


Obama seeking $300 billion for roads, railways

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $300 billion to update roads and railways, arguing the taxpayer investment will help put Americans to work.

Funding for surface transportation programs expires later this year, and the White House says 700,000 jobs could be at risk unless it is renewed. The Highway Trust Fund, which finances federal highway and transit projects, is forecast to go broke at the end of this summer.

It needs an influx of $100 billion over the next six years just to maintain transportation spending levels. But Obama and Congress have been unwilling to raise federal gas and diesel taxes that have been the main source of federal transportation funding for decades.


Lowe's 4Q profit meets analysts' estimates

NEW YORK (AP) Lowe's fiscal fourth-quarter net income rose 6 percent, as the home-improvement retailer continued to benefit from the housing market's recovery. The company also announced a new $5 billion stock repurchase program on Wednesday.

The U.S. housing market has emerged from a deep slump, aided by rising home prices, steady job growth and fewer troubled loans dating back to the housing-bubble days. That has spurred customers to spend more to renovate their homes.

Housing market growth is expected to slow in 2014 but CEO Robert Niblock said in a call with investors he thinks consumer spending on home projects will stay strong.


JC Penney ekes out small profit in 4th quarter

NEW YORK (AP) J.C. Penney is reporting a small profit in the fourth quarter, but the beleaguered retailer suffered a revenue shortfall as it struggles to win back shoppers.

The retailer, based in Plano, Texas, says that it earned $35 million, or 11 cents per share, in the three-month period ended Feb. 1. That compares with a massive loss of $552 million, or $2.51 per share, in the year-ago period. Excluding a tax benefit and other items, Penney had a loss of 68 cents per share in the quarter.

Revenue slipped 2.6 percent to $3.78 billion.

Analysts had expected a loss of 81 cents on revenue of $3.84 billion.


Feds file suit against for-profit college chain

WASHINGTON (AP) The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed suit Wednesday against a large, for-profit college chain alleging that it pushed students into high-cost private student loans knowing they would likely end in default.

ITT Educational Services Inc. projected a default rate of 64 percent on the loans it provided, some of which had interest rates as high as 16 percent, according to the bureau. The Carmel, Ind.-based company has about 150 institutions in nearly 40 states, operating as ITT Tech, Daniel Webster College and other entities.

The lawsuit is the bureau's first action against a for-profit college. It seeks restitution for victims, an injunction against the company and a civil fine.


Big changes ahead for frequent fliers on Delta

DALLAS (AP) Delta Air Lines is changing its frequent-flier program to favor passengers who buy the priciest tickets instead of those who fly the most miles.

It's a bid to lure higher-spending business travelers, who often book flights on short notice and pay more than bargain-hunting leisure travelers.

Beginning next year, Delta will base miles toward free flights on the amount that passengers spend on tickets. Currently, members of its SkyMiles program earn miles based on how far they fly it doesn't matter whether they bought an expensive first-class seat or the cheapest ticket in economy.

Delta will become the biggest U.S. airline yet to make such a change. American and United are likely to watch to see how travelers respond.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average rose 18.75, or 0.1 percent, to close at 16,198.41. The S&P 500 finished the day a fraction of a point higher at 1,845.16. The Nasdaq composite rose 4.48 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,292.06.

Benchmark U.S. crude for April delivery rose 76 cents to $102.59 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Natural gas fell 15 cents to $4.54 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline was unchanged at $2.80 per gallon. Heating oil rose 2 cents to $3.13 a gallon. Brent crude, which is used to set prices for international varieties of crude, gained 1 cent to $109.52 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.