Economy Briefs

OIL

Crude settles higher, tops $109 a barrel

NEW YORK | Oil rose again Wednesday, passing $109 a barrel at one point, as the dollar weakened against major foreign currencies.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate gained 49 cents to settle at $108.83 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It climbed as high as $109.15 earlier in the day — the highest since September 2008.

The dollar, which tends to move in the opposite direction from oil, lost ground against foreign currencies. The euro climbed to a 15-month high a day before the European Central Bank was expected to increase interest rates. Oil is priced in dollars, and tends to rise when the dollar falls and makes crude cheaper for investors holding foreign currency.

Gasoline pump prices in the U.S. climbed to a national average of more than $3.71 for a gallon of regular on Wednesday, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. Pump prices have increased nearly 64 cents per gallon since the beginning of the year.

SPENDING

Slow start to spring projected for retailers

NEW YORK | A late Easter, lingering cold weather and rising gas prices are squeezing discretionary spending this spring, according to data released Wednesday.

Figures from MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse show sales growth slowed in some categories last month. But consumers spent more on clothing and most other items from electronics to luxury goods than they did in March 2010.

SpendingPulse tracks spending across all payments including cash.

Growth in online sales, still less than 10 percent of all retail sales, accelerated last month as shoppers tried to save on gas, said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for SpendingPulse.

Online spending in all categories rose 16.1 percent, compared with lower rates in January and February and a 15.9 percent increase in March 2010.

TREASURY

Prices of Treasurys fall ahead of ECB meeting

NEW YORK | Investors sold Treasurys on Wednesday as inflation expectations grew a day before the European Central Bank’s meeting on interest rates.

The price of the 10-year note fell 57 cents per $100 invested in late trading. Its yield, which moves in the opposite direction, rose to 3.55 percent from 3.49 percent late Tuesday.

The ECB is expected to boost its interest rate to 1.25 percent from 1 percent to curb inflation. That is in sharp contrast to the Federal Reserve’s policy of keeping short-term interest rates near zero and buying government debt to keep borrowing rates low. Traders worry that rising oil prices will push inflation higher and the central bank eventually will have to raise rates.

Investors also sold Treasurys on expectations of more supply hitting the market next week.

AIRLINES

CEO: US Airways last big merger candidate

TEMPE, Ariz. | The CEO of U.S. Airways Group Inc. said there’s really only one big airline merger that could still happen, and it would involve his airline.

Doug Parker runs the fifth-biggest U.S. airline. At a media event Wednesday, he said that if one of the big three airlines, United, Delta, or American, wants to make a deal, U.S. Airways is the last one left.

Mr. Parker said U.S. Airways could also continue as a stand-alone airline.

U.S. Airways missed out on the recent wave of airline mergers. It included Delta Air Lines Inc. buying Northwest in 2008, United and Continental merging into United Continental Holdings Inc. last year, and Southwest Airlines Co.’s planned purchase of AirTran.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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