- Associated Press - Monday, December 22, 2014

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It’s becoming easier to shop overseas this holiday season

NEW YORK (AP) - This holiday season, it’s almost as simple to shop on the other side of the world as it is to buy from a store down the block.

International online payment services like AliPay and PayPal are trying to ensure that a South Carolina fashionista can buy a faux fur vest from China with just a few clicks on her computer and a New Zealand biker can use his smartphone to pick up a rare part from a Colorado company.

These services come as shoppers and retailers alike have a growing appetite to buy items from any country, regardless of distance and regulations. In fact, a PayPal report estimates that by 2018, about 130 million shoppers will be spending over $300 billion a year across the border, up from $105 billion in 2013.

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Investors expect higher stocks in 2015, but also turbulence

NEW YORK (AP) - Can the U.S. hold everyone else above water? That is the question investors are asking as Wall Street heads into 2015.

A strong U.S. economy helped propel the stock market higher in 2014, continuing a bull market that is on pace to celebrate its sixth birthday in March. On more than one occasion, investors dumped stocks following geopolitical flare-ups and concerns about the global economy, only to jump back in when an economic report or results from a big company suggested the U.S. economy was still resilient.

This bull market may be slowing down, but it still has had a remarkable run. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index has more than tripled from its March 2009 low.

Wall Street strategists, who typically are bullish on the U.S. stock market, expect the advance to continue into 2015.

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Coming soon to US: Cuba Libre, with real Cuban rum

MIAMI (AP) - U.S. rum aficionados are abuzz over the possibility of mixing a Cuba Libre with authentic Cuban rum, now that they will be able to bring home liquor distilled in the communist nation.

Relaxed limits on what licensed U.S. travelers can bring home mean that Americans will be able to enjoy small quantities of the liquor at home. But, with the embargo still in place, the rum won’t be flooding bars or the market.

And it’s unclear what the news means for industry titan Bacardi, which was driven from its Cuba headquarters by the 1959 Castro revolution. In the past, Bacardi has left the door open for a return to its homeland. But company representatives wouldn’t give details when asked Thursday what, if any, plans it has if the more than 50-year-old embargo on Cuban goods ends, now that President Barack Obama is working to normalize relations with the country.

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US home sales hit slowest pace in 6 months in Nov.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Fewer Americans bought homes in November as buying slid to its slowest pace in six months.

The National Association of Realtors said Monday that sales of existing homes fell 6.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.93 million. That was down from a revised annual pace of 5.26 million in October. Over the past 12 months, sales have risen 2.1 percent.

The combination of higher home prices and relatively stagnant incomes has reduced affordability and restrained buying. A recent decline in mortgage rates has yet to lure more buyers into the market. At the same time, fewer distressed properties and bargains, which tend to attract investors, are coming onto the market.

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Express Scripts turns to AbbVie in huge hepatitis C deal

The nation’s largest pharmacy benefits manager is throwing its weight into the fight over high-cost hepatitis C drugs with a coverage restriction that might ultimately lower prices and improve patient access to groundbreaking treatments for the liver-destroying virus.

Express Scripts said Monday that it will no longer cover Sovaldi and Harvoni - two Gilead Sciences drugs that cost more than $80,000 each for a full course of treatment - or Johnson & Johnson’s Olysio starting Jan. 1, except under limited circumstances.

Instead, it will make AbbVie Inc.’s Viekira Pak, approved only Friday, the preferred treatment for patients who have the most common form of hepatitis C, genotype 1.

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French power company to pay $772M to US in bribery case

WASHINGTON (AP) - A French power and transportation company has agreed to pay $772 million to resolve allegations that it bribed high-ranking foreign government officials for lucrative projects, the U.S. Justice Department said Monday.

Federal prosecutors said Alstom S.A. falsified its records and paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes for help in obtaining more than $4 billion in projects in countries including Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Bahamas.

The bribes were often funneled through middlemen who the company hired as consultants and who were referred to in internal documents by code names such as “Mr. Geneva” and “Mr. Paris,” officials said.

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Railroads seek one-person crews for freight trains

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - When American freight trains delivered cargo after World War II, the steam-belching beasts commonly had seven people aboard - an engineer, a conductor, up to four brakemen and a fireman.

Trains have since grown much longer, seemingly stretching to the horizon and often taking 20 minutes to pass through a crossing. And crews have been reduced in size - to five people in the 1970s and two in 1991. Now U.S. railroads want to put a single person in charge of today’s huge locomotives, taking another step toward a future in which the nation’s rail-cargo system increasingly could resemble toy train sets - highly mechanized networks run by computers or distant controllers.

For the moment, freight trains generally have two people aboard - an engineer who drives the train and a conductor who oversees the long line of cars. Railroad executives want to reduce that to a lone engineer, saying advances in safety systems, including a new automatic braking system under development, could minimize risks.

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NY requires Ocwen reforms, $150M homeowner help

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York financial regulators have reached a settlement with Ocwen Financial Corp. requiring the nation’s largest subprime mortgage servicer to reform its practices and provide $150 million to help struggling New York homeowners.

The consent order requires William Erbey to resign as executive chairman of the corporation and chairman of four related companies: Altisource Portfolio Solutions, Altisource Residential Corp., Altisource Asset Management Corp. and Home Loan Servicing Solutions.

The settlement of the state Department of Financial Services investigation also requires an independent monitor on site for up to three more years.

It calls for $50 million in direct restitution to former and current Ocwen homeowners in New York, with $10,000 each to those who lost their homes to foreclosure since 2009.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 154.64 points, or 0.9 percent, to 17,959.44. The Standard & Poor’s 500 gained 7.89 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,078.54. The Nasdaq composite added 16.04 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,781.42.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.26 to close at $55.26 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $1.27 to close at $60.11 in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 2.5 cents to close at $1.535 a gallon. Heating oil fell 1.1 cents to close at $1.951 a gallon. Natural gas fell 32 cents to close at $3.144 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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