Teen retailers get the cold shoulder for holidays

NEW YORK (AP) Being a teen can be tough, but catering to one is even more difficult.

Teen retailers are learning that lesson the hard way this holiday season.

The longtime CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch on Tuesday abruptly retired just a week after the retailer posted an 11.5 percent quarterly sales drop and slashed its annual profit forecast. And American Eagle and Aeropostale gave dismal forecasts for the quarter that includes the holiday shopping season after each posted weak sales for the fall.

Teen retailers are facing ho-hum results at a time when overall U.S. retail sales are up 5.1 percent over the past 12 months, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

It's a major shift for teen retailers. They became popular in the last decade for their logo tees and trendy jeans, which became a high school uniform of sorts. But since the recession, these stores have been losing favor with their core demographic.


Gangnam becomes hot spot for Korean startups

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) The uber-trendy Seoul neighborhood made famous by the "Gangnam Style" K-pop hit is known for status-conscious people, plastic surgery clinics and Ivy League prep schools. Now it's making a name as a bustling center for tech startups.

Many young South Koreans, some educated overseas, are going to Gangnam to start mobile or Internet businesses. Venture capitalists from Silicon Valley and Japan are opening offices in the area to find promising Korean services or apps to bet their money on. Hardly a day passes in Gangnam without a meeting or event related to startup businesses.


Why rift on derivatives is blocking US budget bill

WASHINGTON (AP) At the heart of the impasse in Congress over a must-pass spending bill is a provision involving the sorts of high-risk investments that ignited the 2008 financial crisis.

The dispute occurred after Republicans inserted into the bill a provision to relax the regulation of investments known as derivatives. Democrats, led by their House leader, Nancy Pelosi, have demanded that the provision be removed. They argue that it would let big banks gamble with depositors' federally insured money and could make it likelier that banks, if undone by their risky bets, would need another taxpayer bailout.

The provision is part of a broader Republican drive to erode the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law, which Congress enacted in 2010 to try to tighten regulation and prevent another crisis. Republicans have denounced Dodd-Frank as an excessive expansion of regulatory authority that's stifling the competitiveness of the U.S. financial industry.


Ferrari looks to burnish brand value ahead of IPO

MILAN (AP) Ferrari's sleek sports cars and souped-up Formula 1 racing machines have made the prancing horse logo among the world's most powerful brands. Now, as the company prepares for a public listing, it wants to cash in on the cachet.

The aim: position Ferrari not just as a car-maker, but as a luxury goods company. Think Armani, Hermes ... Ferrari.

Analysts say that could mean refining its line of merchandise or creating a chain of exclusive clubs and hotels catering to Ferrari owners and the wealthy.

Chairman Sergio Marchionne will present his vision to investors in the coming weeks, but the potential already has the two worlds spinning in anticipation.


42.9 million Americans have unpaid medical bills

WASHINGTON (AP) Nearly 20 percent of U.S. consumers with credit records 42.9 million people have unpaid medical debts, according to a new report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The findings suggest that many Americans are being trapped by debt because they are confused by the notices they get from hospitals and insurance companies about the cost of treatment. As a result, millions of Americans may be surprised to find they are stuck with lower credit scores, making it harder for them to borrow to buy a home or an automobile.

"When people fall ill and end up at the hospital with unexpected bills, far too often they have entered into a financial maze," CFPB director Richard Cordray said in a speech to be delivered Thursday in Oklahoma City.


Holiday shopping boosts US retail sales

WASHINGTON (AP) U.S. retail sales perked up in November, as cheaper gas and an improving job market fueled a promising start to the holiday shopping season.

Retail sales rose a seasonally-adjusted 0.7 percent, the most in eight months, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Falling gasoline prices dented gas stations receipts by 0.8 percent, but that appears to have freed up money that consumers took elsewhere.

Excluding gas stations, sales climbed a healthy 0.9 percent. Spending on motor vehicles accelerated 1.7 percent, while purchases at clothiers, online retailers, electronics stores and department stores all expanded. Non-store retailers, which include online and mail-order outlets, rose 1 percent.


Americans' wealth slips in 3Q as stock values fall

WASHINGTON (AP) Americans' net worth slipped in the July-September quarter as shrinking stock portfolios overwhelmed a solid gain in home values.

U.S. household wealth declined 0.2 percent in the third quarter to $81.3 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. Americans' stock and mutual fund portfolios shrank $700 billion. The value of their homes increased $245 billion.

The slight drop comes after Americans' wealth rose to a record in the April-June quarter. A booming stock market and a rebound in home values have enabled the nation's net worth to rebound from the Great Recession and reach new highs.

Yet other data shows that those gains have mostly benefited wealthier households, while leaving middle-class wealth largely unchanged.


Weekly US unemployment aid applications fall to 294,000

WASHINGTON (AP) Fewer people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, as the continued low levels of applicants reflect growing job security.

The Labor Department says weekly applications fell 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 294,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, ticked up a slight 250 to 299,250.

Over the past 12 months, the four-week average has plunged 10 percent.

Weekly applications have been under 300,000 for 12 of the past 13 weeks, a historically low level indicating that employers foresee continued economic growth. Still, analysts noted that the number of people collecting benefits jumped 142,000 in the last week of November to 2.51 million, the largest weekly increase in two years.


ECB stimulus seen as too small, more expected

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) The European Central Bank has handed out 130 billion euros ($162 billion) in cheap, long-term loans to banks part of its effort to stimulate the struggling eurozone economy.

Analysts said the amount was too small and made it more likely the ECB will soon have to take more drastic steps such as large-scale bond purchases.

The figure for Tuesday's loan offering was closely watched in the markets because ECB president Mario Draghi has said the bank will add roughly 1 trillion euros in new stimulus in coming months.

Banks took money for four years at the very low interest rate of 0.15 percent. The ECB hopes the banks will lend the money on to companies so they can expand, hire people and get the economy going again.


By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 63.19 points, or 0.4 percent, to 17,596.34. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 9.19 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,035.33. The Nasdaq composite added 24.14 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,708.16.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 99 cents to close at $59.95 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 56 cents to close at $63.68 in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 1.8 cents to close at $1.624 a gallon. Heating oil rose 1.5 cents to close at $2.061 a gallon. Natural gas fell 7.2 cents to close at $3.634 per 1,000 cubic feet.