Business Highlights

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO


European Central Bank surprises with broad stimulus action

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — European Central Bank launched an unexpectedly broad array of stimulus measures Thursday aimed at boosting a modest economic recovery in the 19 countries that use the euro and nudging up dangerously low inflation.

The steps, which ranged from interest rate cuts to cheap loans to banks, included several measures many analysts hadn't anticipated, such as expanding its monthly bond-buying stimulus program to include corporate bonds.

The ECB, the monetary authority for the euro countries, is struggling to raise inflation from a worryingly low annual rate of minus 0.2 percent toward its goal of just under 2 percent, considered healthiest for the economy.


A wheezing, unloved bull market tries to keep running

NEW YORK (AP) — It's been seven years since one of the stock market's best-ever runs began, but the anniversary is passing without a party yet again.

This bull market is the third-longest in history, and investors in mutual funds that track the broad U.S. market have more than tripled their money since a 6 percent jump seven years ago Thursday marked the start of the run.

Investors still don't believe in it. This bull market has been mistrusted and unloved from the start, even though it has managed to stagger higher amid a government shutdown, a debt crisis in Europe and a growth slowdown in China.


Ford makes police car doors that stop armor-piercing bullets

DETROIT (AP) — It's a first for police cars: Doors that can protect against armor-piercing bullets.

Ford will soon be offering the doors, which will be the first in the U.S. to meet the Justice Department's highest standard for body armor, the equivalent of a bulky SWAT team vest.

Ford has offered factory-installed ballistic panels on its police car doors since 2008. But previous versions protected against handgun fire and non-armor piercing bullets. But the company was getting frequent requests for better protection, particularly from police in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, so engineers developed upgraded panels.


Applications for US unemployment aid fall to 5-month low

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid fell last week to the lowest level since October, evidence that employers are confident enough in the economy to hold onto their staffs.

Weekly unemployment benefit applications fell 18,000 to a seasonally adjusted 259,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 2,500 to 267,500, the lowest reading since the week of Oct. 31. And the number of people actually receiving benefits also declined, falling 4,500 to 2.25 million.


Higher stock prices, home values lift US household wealth

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans' household wealth jumped in the final three months of last year, pushed higher by rising stock prices and greater home values. That leaves many households, particularly wealthy ones, with more money to spend — a potential boost to economic growth.

The Federal Reserve said Thursday that U.S. household net worth increased 1.9 percent in the fourth quarter to $86.8 trillion. Americans' stock and mutual fund portfolios grew $758 billion. Home values rose $458 billion.

The overall increase in wealth masks large disparities between richer and less well-off households. And the Fed's figures aren't adjusted for population growth or inflation.


Average US rate on 30-year mortgage edges up to 3.68 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates rose this week for only the second time this year.

It was the second straight weekly increase for long-term loan rates, which had declined since the start of the year amid global economic anxiety and market turbulence. Rates still remain at historically low levels at the start of the spring home buying season.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage edged up to 3.68 percent from 3.64 percent last week. The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 2.96 percent from 2.94 percent last week.


Banking panel approves long-stalled Treasury nomination

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Banking Committee on Thursday approved the long-stalled nomination of Adam Szubin to a key Treasury Department post responsible for leading the battle against terrorism and financial crimes.

The committee's chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, had delayed action on Szubin's and all other nominations before his panel, stubbornly refusing to act until winning his re-election primary last week. It's the panel's first confirmation vote since Republicans regained control of the chamber last year.


Swedish designer who inspired Ikea flat-pack concept dies

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Gillis Lundgren, who designed some of Ikea's best-selling furniture and played a role in developing the company's self-assembly concept, has died. He was 86.

The Swedish furniture giant confirmed Lundgren's death but couldn't give any other details.

Lundgren joined Ikea as its fourth employee in 1953 when it was just a small mail-order business. He designed scores of Ikea products and has been credited with inspiring the flat-pack, self-assembly concept that revolutionized the company when, after a photo shoot for the Ikea catalog in the 1950s, he removed the legs of a table so it could fit into a car.


Racket sponsor backs Sharapova despite failed drug test

VIENNA (AP) — Maria Sharapova's racket supplier became the first main sponsor to publicly back the tennis champion after she admitted to failing a doping test.

Head announced Thursday it was planning to extend its sponsorship deal, three days after Sharapova revealed her use of the banned substance meldonium. CEO Johan Eliasch said Sharapova has made a "manifest error" but added there was no evidence of intent of enhancing her performance or trying to gain an unfair advantage.

Several other brands were quick to suspend their support of the athlete after her announcement that she failed the drug test at the Australian Open just days after the substance was banned.


Yahoo snubs activist shareholder with 2 new directors

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Yahoo set up a battle for control of its board by appointing two directors in a move that might agitate an activist shareholder, who has considered leading an investor mutiny to oust CEO Marissa Mayer unless she bows to demands to sell the company's Internet operations.

The decision announced Thursday increases the likelihood that the unhappy shareholder, Starboard Value, will nominate an opposing slate to run against Yahoo's board of nine directors in a proxy fight.

If the confrontation occurs, it would escalate the challenges already facing Mayer and the rest of Yahoo's board as they try to reverse a prolonged decline in the company's revenue, among other challenges.


DiGiorno pizzas, Stouffer's meals recalled for glass in food

NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly 3 million boxes of frozen DiGiorno pizzas, Stouffer's lasagnas and Lean Cuisine meals are being recalled after customers said they found pieces of glass in their food.

Nestle USA, the company behind the brands, said no injuries have been reported.

The food maker said the glass may have come from the spinach used in the recalled products. It said an investigation is ongoing.

The recall covers about 2.98 million individual boxes, including four varieties of DiGiorno pizzas, five types of Lean Cuisine meals, four Stouffer's lasagnas and one Stouffer's spinach souffle.


The Dow Jones industrial average fell 5.23 points, less than 0.1 percent, to close at 16,995.13. The Standard and Poor's 500 rose 0.31 points to end at 1,989.57. The Nasdaq composite lost 12.22 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,662.16.

U.S. crude fell 45 cents to $37.84 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, fell $1.02, or 2.5 percent, to $40.05 a barrel. In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline fell 3.15 cents, or 2 percent, to $1.439 a gallon, heating oil rose 1.66 cents to $1.216 a gallon and natural gas gained 3.6 cents to $1.788 per 1,000 cubic feet.