Business Roundup for Wednesday, February 4


Anheuser-Busch in Elizabeth (Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are mixed today after a see-saw beginning to the trading week. The Dow and the S&P have edged into positive territory in afternoon trading, while the Nasdaq remains lower. But one market strategist says trading volumes illustrate the market's current dynamic. Chris Gaffney of EverBank says volume has been larger on down days, and that leads him to believe "we're still in a down market."

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. service companies expanded at a slightly faster pace in January. New orders, sales and hiring showed strength in a sign that financial firms and information technology companies foresee stronger growth. The Institute for Supply Management says its service-sector index rose to 54 from 53 in December. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

NEW YORK (AP) — Anheuser Busch InBev's U.S. arm is buying craft brewer Blue Point Brewing Co. The Patchogue, N.Y. brewery was founded in 1998 and ranks as the 34th largest craft brewery in the U.S. It makes more than 40 craft beers, including Toasted Lager, Hoptical Illusion and Blueberry Ale. Anheuser Busch says the deal will bring additional resources to Blue Point's operations, allowing it to meet growing consumer demand for its brands.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Labor Relations Board has proposed rules to streamline the process in which workers decide whether to join labor unions. The rules would simplify procedures, setting shorter deadlines and requiring businesses to hand over lists of employee phone numbers and emails to union leaders before an election. That could make it easier for unions to organize and reverse decades of steep membership declines. The board approved similar rules more than two years ago, but business groups won a court challenge blocking them.

PANAMA CITY (AP) — Work on widening the Panama Canal has stopped over a dispute about cost overruns. The Spanish-led construction consortium leading the expansion says negotiations have broken down for how to finance the $1.6 billion in overruns, putting 10,000 jobs at risk. The canal's administrator vows he "will not yield to blackmail." The consortium and the Panama Canal Authority blame each other for the overruns.

UNDATED (AP) — The nation's second-largest drugstore chain says it will stop selling cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco. CVS Caremark announced today that it will phase out sales of tobacco products at its drugstores nationwide by Oct. 1. CVS says the move will help expand its work with doctors, hospitals and other care providers to improve customers' health. CVS and other major drugstore chains have been adding clinics to their stores and expanding their health care focus for several years now.

WHITEHOUSE STATION, N.J. (AP) — Competition from generic drugs is eating into Merck's sales. The world's third-biggest drugmaker reports a 14 percent decline in fourth-quarter profit. It says reduced revenue from overseas and unfavorable currency exchange rates also cut into profits. However, the company's shares are higher in morning trading after Merck announced potentially lucrative collaboration agreements with three other drugmakers to test its hot experimental cancer drug in combination with theirs.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Payroll processor ADP says private businesses added 175,000 jobs last month. That's actually down from ADP's revised numbers for December, but much better than the government's official figure of just 74,000 new jobs. The ADP numbers cover only private employers and often diverge from the government's more comprehensive report.

GENEVA (AP) — Switzerland is tightening security for its computer and telephone systems, and that could block foreign companies from government technology and communications contracts. The Swiss government cites concerns about foreign spies targeting Switzerland. In a statement, it says contracts for critical IT infrastructure will "where possible, only be given to companies that act exclusively according to Swiss law, where a majority of the ownership is in Switzerland and which provides all of its services from within Switzerland's borders."

TOKYO (AP) — International stock markets held steady today as wary investors took heart from modest recoveries from sell-offs the day before, but there wasn't much bounce to the rebound. A key source of uncertainty is mainland China, whose markets remain closed for the Lunar New Year holiday. Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose nearer to $98 a barrel. The dollar fell against the yen and edged lower against the euro.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Investors will have a couple of corporate earnings reports to look over in what is otherwise a relatively light day for economic numbers. Time Warner and Merck report quarterly financial results before the market opens. Walt Disney Co. and Twitter also provide their results, but not until after the market closes. The Institute for Supply Management releases its service sector index for January.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — One of Australia's largest banks faces a multimillion dollar payout to thousands of customers after a judge ruled today that late payment fees it charged on credit cards were exorbitant. ANZ Banking Group Ltd. partially lost a class action law suit in the Australian Federal Court. In some cases the fees were 70 times the cost to the bank of administering late payments. The judge said another four types of fees the bank charged were proper.

BRUSSELS (AP) - Official figures show that retail sales across the 18-country eurozone suffered their biggest drop in over two and a half years in the crucial shopping month of December. Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency, says retail sales across the bloc fell by 1.6 percent compared with the previous month. That was way worse than the anticipated 0.5 percent fall.

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