Business Highlights

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Stocks sink again on Obama’s pushback on banks

NEW YORK (AP) – The stock market suffered its worst setback in more than 10 months as investors rejected President Barack Obama’s plans to restrict big banks and earnings reports that just weren’t good enough.

The Dow Jones industrial average had its fourth big drop in five trading days Friday, sliding 217 points 10,172.98. Over the past three days, the Dow lost 552 points, or 5.2 percent, and over the past five days, it fell 537 points, after gaining 115 points on Tuesday.

It was the worst showing for the market since it began its recovery last March. The Dow lost 4.1 percent this week, its worst week since it hit a 12-year low in March.


GE 4th-qtr income falls but signs improving

General Electric Co.’s fourth-quarter net income fell 19 percent, but the industrial bellwether is seeing signs of stability as it moves into a key rebuilding year.

GE, one of the world’s largest companies, said that orders improved late in the year in its businesses that supply equipment like turbines for power plants and sonogram machines for hospitals. Its profit decline was smaller than previous quarters even though the company’s big lending unit still weighed on earnings.

Results beat Wall Street forecasts for the conglomerate, which is coming off one of the worst years in its 117-year history.


Bernanke faces more Sen. opposition for 2nd term

WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke faced mounting Senate opposition for another four-year term Friday, even as the White House described President Barack Obama as confident about his confirmation.

Four Democrats say they will vote against Bernanke on the Senate floor. And at least two senators who voted for Bernanke in the Senate Banking Committee last month are weighing their support.

Many others have not made their inclinations known, suggesting a vacillation in the Senate over Bernanke and his stewardship of Wall Street both before and after the financial crisis.


McDonald’s profit is $1.22B in 4th quarter

CHICAGO (AP) – McDonald’s dollar menu keeps gaining fans in the recession, and its profit rose last fall, but the world’s largest burger chain said Friday that its annual revenue slipped for the first time in at least a quarter century.

Analysts said McDonald’s fortunes won’t dramatically increase until the economy – especially the U.S. unemployment rate – does.

For the three months that ended Dec. 31, McDonald’s rang up revenue of $5.97 billion – 7 percent more than the same period last year. Falling commodity costs and currency fluctuations helped boost the company’s fourth quarter profit, which amounted to $1.22 billion, or $1.11 per share.


Unemployment rose in 43 states last month

WASHINGTON (AP) – Unemployment rates rose in 43 states last month, the government said Friday, painting a bleak picture of the job market and illustrating nationwide data released two weeks ago.

The rise in joblessness was a sharp change from November, when 36 states said their unemployment rates fell. Four states – South Carolina, Delaware, Florida and North Carolina – reported record-high jobless rates in December.

New Jersey’s rate, meanwhile, rose to a 33-year high of 10.1 percent while New York’s reached a 26-year high of 9 percent.

Analysts said the report showed the economy is recovering at too weak a pace to generate consistent job creation.


Gas prices down 7 straight days; crude falls again

NEW YORK (AP) – Gasoline prices have declined every day for a week following a similar slide in crude prices this month.

But with the national average at nearly $2.73 a gallon on Friday, pump prices are still more expensive than any day last year. They’ve ridden a 10-month rally in energy commodities that doubled oil prices to nearly $80 a barrel by the end of last year.

Experts say they still expect gas prices to reach $3 a gallon sometime this spring, though it may take longer than originally expected.

Oil prices tumbled again Friday, as Wall Street dropped for a third consecutive session. Benchmark crude for March delivery lost $1.54 to settle at $74.54 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.


China slams US criticism of Internet controls

BEIJING (AP) – Beijing issued a stinging response Friday to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s criticism that it is jamming the free flow of words and ideas on the Internet, accusing the United States of damaging relations between the two countries by imposing its “information imperialism” on China.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu defended China’s policies regarding the Web, saying the nation’s Internet regulations were in line with Chinese law and did not hamper the cyber activities of the world’s largest online population. His remarks follow those made by the U.S. secretary of state, who in a speech Thursday criticized countries engaging in cyberspace censorship, and urged China to investigate computer attacks against Google.


Hershey has no immediate plan for Cadbury bid

HERSHEY, Pa. (AP) – Candy maker Hershey says it has no immediate plans to make an offer for British competitor Cadbury, making it all but certain that Kraft Foods Inc.’s $19.5 billion bid will proceed without competition.

The Hershey Co. did leave room for reconsideration, however.

The company says it is reserving the right to bid or participate in a Cadbury offer within six months, but a number of conditions must be met.


Higher prices boost Kimberly-Clark 4Q profit

MILWAUKEE (AP) – Kimberly-Clark Corp. reported lower fourth-quarter profit than analysts expected and set more somber predictions for 2010 than Wall Street’s as the company faces rising ingredient costs and promotes its products like Kleenex to keep people spending.

The company, based in Dallas, said Friday that higher prices on Huggies diapers and other products – plus higher sales volumes – lifted its fourth-quarter profit, but promotions it launched to maintain volumes cut into sales.

Kimberly-Clark earned $492 million, or $1.17 per share, for the three months that ended Dec. 31. That’s 17 percent higher than its profit of $419 million, or $1.01 per share, a year earlier.


Harley-Davidson posts 4Q loss, first in 16 years

NEW YORK (AP) – Harley-Davidson Inc. reported a fourth-quarter loss Friday, its first quarterly deficit in 16 years, as restructuring costs and the sluggish economy wore on the motorcycle maker.

Harley-Davidson has come under pressure over the last year as the tight credit markets and the weak economy led consumers to shun purchases of its high-end, heavyweight motorcycles. The company has been reorganizing its business through layoffs, factory closures and shuttering or selling unwanted brands.

In a sign the Milwaukee-based company is trying to change direction, the company’s earnings report coincided with the unveiling of a new bike at a major motorcycle show in New York.

The Dow fell 216.90, or 2.1 percent, to 10,172.98.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 24.72, or 2.2 percent, to 1,091.76. The Nasdaq composite index fell 60.41, or 2.7 percent, to 2,205.29, reflecting a pullback in technology stocks in response to Google’s earnings, and also an analysts’ downgrade of chip makers.

Benchmark crude for March delivery lost $1.54 to settle at $74.54 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other Nymex trading in February contracts, heating oil fell 4.4 cents to settle at $1.9416 a gallon, while gasoline lost 1.72 cents to settle at $1.9657 a gallon. Natural gas futures added 20.4 cents to settle at $5.819 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude for March delivery fell $1.75 to settle at $72.83 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

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