Business Highlights

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO


Virtual reality trips are everywhere at South by Southwest

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Virtual reality is big at South by Southwest Interactive, the annual Austin, Texas, tech festival that wraps up Tuesday. It's a big technological development, a business opportunity — and also just a big experiment, as everyone tries to figure out how to use it.

All around Austin, companies like Samsung, Google, The New York Times and even McDonald's were showing off their virtual reality efforts. Because it basically immerses viewers in an artificial world, VR can reach an audience in more direct and fundamental ways than other media. Companies and creators are still feeling their way with the new technology.


VW sued by big investors over handling of emissions scandal

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Institutional investors are suing Volkswagen for 3.25 billion euros ($3.57 billion) in damages over the company's handling of its emissions scandal, which has so far seen the share price fall by about a third.

Attorney Andreas Tilp said Tuesday that the suit in the German regional court in Braunschweig was joined by investors from 14 countries, including the U.S., Australia, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, and the U.K. Among the plaintiffs is CalPERS, the giant pension fund for government employees in California.

Volkswagen had no immediate comment on the suit, but has said that shareholder lawsuits in Germany are without merit.


Valeant shocks with missed 4Q results, slashed guidance

Shares of Valeant Pharmaceuticals crashed Tuesday after the embattled drugmaker failed to reassure investors that it's getting back on track and conceded that it's in danger of defaulting on its debt.

The company faces a cacophony of problems: falling sales, increased pressure to cut drug prices, massive debt, three ongoing federal probes and shareholder lawsuits.

Valeant's already depressed shares took their biggest one-day tumble ever, falling just over 50 percent Tuesday after the company finally reported its overdue fourth-quarter results, which missed profit expectations. It also slashed its guidance and said its business model is no longer viable, given strong pushback from payers and other strains.


Low gas prices drag down US retail sales in February

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. retail sales slipped last month, pulled down by sharply lower gas prices, and Americans spent much less in January than previously estimated. The figures suggest that consumers remain cautious about spending despite steady hiring.

Retail sales fell 0.1 percent in February, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Excluding the volatile gas and auto categories, sales rose 0.3 percent. Overall sales were revised sharply lower in January, from a 0.2 percent gain to a drop of 0.4 percent.

Americans' reluctance to open their wallets could hold back growth in the first three months of this year.


Foreign holdings of Treasury debt increase to $6.18 trillion

WASHINGTON (AP) — Foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury securities rose in January to the highest level in a year even though the biggest foreign owner, China, cut back slightly.

The Treasury Department says total foreign holdings increased 0.7 percent to $6.18 trillion. China trimmed its holdings 0.7 percent to $1.24 trillion while Japan, the second largest foreign owner of Treasury debt, boosted its holdings 0.1 percent to $1.12 trillion.

The national debt now stands at a record $19.1 trillion. With the federal budget deficit projected to grow, the United States will need to see continued strong foreign demand for Treasury debt.


US homebuilder sentiment holds steady in March

U.S. homebuilders remain optimistic that the housing market will improve, but their expectations for sales over the next six months have dimmed just as the spring home-selling season gets under way.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Tuesday held steady at 58 this month.

Readings above 50 indicate more builders view sales conditions as good rather than poor. The index had been in the low 60s for eight months until February.


Chipotle says sales recovering, but down 26 percent in Feb.

NEW YORK (AP) — Chipotle says sales trends are showing improvement but were still down 26 percent for February as it tries to recover from a series of food scares.

The drop in sales at established locations for February follows a 36 percent decline for January. The February results were boosted by an extra day in the month this year, the company said.

Chipotle has stepped up food safety measures and stepped up its marketing and promotions to try to draw consumers back.


Instagram says it will show posts in order of 'relevance'

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Instagram users could soon notice something different in their feeds: Instead of showing users the most recent posts first, the mobile photo-sharing app says it will give higher priority to posts that each user is likely to care about most.

If that sounds familiar, it's because that's how Facebook decides what to show users of its online social network. Facebook Inc., which owns Instagram, has long used a complex formula to emphasize items it hopes will be "relevant" to each user, based on factors like whether the post came from a close friend or how the user responded to similar posts.

Instagram had previously acted more like rival Twitter, showing every post in reverse-chronological order. But as its audience has grown to more than 400 million users, Instagram says it's become harder for users to keep up with the gusher of photos and videos posted by friends and other accounts they follow.


Google reveals 77 percent of its online traffic is encrypted

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google has disclosed how much of the traffic to its search engine and other services is being protected from hackers as part of its push to encrypt all online activity.

Encryption shields 77 percent of the requests sent globally to Google's data centers, up from 52 percent at the end of 2013, according to company statistics released Tuesday. The numbers cover all Google services expect its YouTube video site. Google plans to add YouTube to its encryption breakdown by the end of this year.

Encryption is a security measure that scrambles transmitted information so it's unintelligible if it's intercepted by a third party.


Sony buys Michael Jackson's stake in music catalog for $750M

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Michael Jackson's estate has agreed to sell its remaining stake in a lucrative music catalog to Sony Corp. for $750 million, the entities announced Monday.

The agreement for Jackson's half-share of the Sony/ATV Music Publishing catalog will give the company sole ownership of works by The Beatles, Bob Dylan and other hit making musicians, including Eminem and Taylor Swift.

The deal is another posthumous blockbuster deal for Jackson, whose estate has erased the singer's massive debts through a mixture of new music and movie ventures and re-releases of the singer's most popular music. Jackson's estate benefits his mother and three children.


FDA advisers back first dissolving heart stent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal health advisers overwhelmingly backed the safety and effectiveness of an experimental medical implant that dissolves into the body after doing its job.

A panel of Food and Drug Administration advisers voted unanimously Tuesday that the Absorb heart stent is effective for treating patients with narrowing arteries that can lead to heart attack and death.

Abbott Laboratories has asked the FDA to approve its stent as an alternative to permanent, metal implants that have long been used to help brace arteries after they have been cleared of fatty plaque.

The vote is a recommendation and the FDA will make its own decision later this year.


The Dow Jones industrial average rose 22.40 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,251.53. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.71 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,015.93. The Nasdaq composite index gave up 21.61 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,728.67.

Benchmark U.S. crude shed 84 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $36.34 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the benchmark used to price international oils, lost 79 cents, or 2 percent, to $38.74 per barrel in London. In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline slipped 1 cent to $1.41 a gallon. Heating oil fell 2 cents to $1.18 a gallon. Natural gas rose 3 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $1.85 per 1,000 cubic feet.