Business Roundup for Tuesday, March 25

Conestoga Wood Specialties founder Anthony Hahn delivers a brief statement to the news media after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)



NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are closing higher on Wall Street as the market shrugs off a two-day decline. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose eight points, or 0.4 percent, to close at 1,865 Tuesday. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 91 points, or 0.6 percent, to 16,367. The Nasdaq composite rose eight points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,234. Drive-in restaurant company Sonic jumped 11 percent after posting strong sales gains despite the cold winter weather. Spice maker McCormick rose 6 percent after reporting higher earnings. Three stocks rose for every two that fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Only one of the 10 industry sectors in the S&P 500 index fell. Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note climbed to 2.75 percent.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court seems divided over whether employers' religious beliefs can free them from a part of the new health care law requiring them to prove birth control coverage for employees at no extra charge. The Obama administration and its supporters say a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the family-owned businesses pressing the case also could undermine laws governing immunizations, Social Security taxes and minimum wages.

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — The Coast Guard has authorized two vessels to move through the Houston Ship Channel as a test to see whether it can re-open to traffic after an oil spill. Coast Guard Lt. Sam Danus says the Carnival Magic cruise ship and a boat operated by the Houston Pilots association are sailing out of South Texas into Galveston Bay, four days after a barge spilled as much as 170,000 gallons of oil. Cleanup is underway.

MIAMI (AP) — Cruise ships with patterns of safety problems will be subject to unannounced Coast Guard inspections at U.S. ports. Coast Guard officers described the new program today at the National Transportation Safety Board's first forum on cruise ship safety. The hearing follows last year's fire aboard the Carnival Triumph that left the ship adrift for days in the Gulf of Mexico. Some 3,000 passengers onboard had to cope with squalid conditions. In 2012, the Costa Concordia ship capsized off Italy, killing 32 people.

NEW YORK (AP) — An investment fund is taking issue with Coca-Cola's pay plan for management, saying it's particularly excessive in light of the beverage maker's slowing growth. Wintergreen Advisers' CEO Dave Winters sent a letter to Coca-Cola's board members noting the equity plan would transfer roughly $13 billion shares at the current stock price to management over the next four years. Winters sent a similar letter longtime shareholder Warren Buffet, urging him to vote against the plan. Coca-Cola Co. says Winters is misinformed.

WASHINGTON (AP) — As snow falls in the East today, there's another sign that winter's doldrums haven't fully passed yet. Fewer people bought new homes in February. The Commerce Department says sales fell 3.3 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 440,000, the slowest pace in five months. Sales dropped not only in the storm-battered Northeast but also in Western states, where last year's price increases have made homes less affordable.

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices dipped in January as cold weather, a limited supply of homes and higher mortgage rates slowed sales. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index declined 0.1 percent from December to January for the third straight month. The index is not adjusted for seasonal variations, so the dip partly reflects weaker sales in the winter. The index was a healthy 13 percent higher than January of 2013.

WASHINGTON (AP) — American consumers' outlook has brightened this month. The Conference Board says its consumer confidence index for March rose to 82.3. It's the first time the index has been above 82 since last June. Conference Board economist Lynn Franco says consumers are moderately more upbeat about future job prospects and the overall economy, though less optimistic about income growth.

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — The boom of cannons is reverberating across the Houston Ship Channel in an effort to scare birds away from oil-slicked beaches, as the U.S. Coast Guard works to open the waterway three days after a barge collision that spilled as many as 170,000 gallons of heavy oil. More than 80 ships are waiting to pass through the channel. Officials believe most of the oil is drifting into the Gulf of Mexico, which should limit the impact on bird habitats. But changing winds and currents are also pushing the oil farther along Galveston Island.

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — There's been little economic news to excite investors so far today, and Asian stock markets have been relatively flat. European shares are mostly higher, however, while futures suggest a slightly higher opening on Wall Street. Benchmark oil for May delivery is up 24 cents to $99.84 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

UNDATED (AP) — Among the business and economic events on tap for today, Standard & Poor's is releasing the S&P/Case-Shiller index of home prices for January. That comes out at 9 a.m. Eastern time. An hour later, the Commerce Department issues its new-home sales report for February, and in Washington the Conference Board releases the Consumer Confidence Index for March.

NEW YORK (AP) — Five former employees of imprisoned financier Bernard Madoff have been convicted at the end of a six-month trial that cast them as the long arms of their boss. Prosecutors argued that the defendants had spun an elaborate web of lies to hide a fraud that enriched them and cheated investors out of billions of dollars. The trial was one of the longest in the storied history of Manhattan federal court.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google is hoping to make its Internet-connected eyewear more stylish as part of a partnership with the makers of Ray-Ban and Oakley frames. The alliance with Italian eyewear company Luxottica Group announced Monday represents Google's latest attempt to make wearable technology look less geeky as it tries to develop new ways to ensure people can stay connected to the Internet wherever they go.

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