- - Sunday, October 23, 2011


Europe closer to rescue plan

BRUSSELS — Europe closed in on a broad agreement Sunday to tackle the euro crisis and pressed Italy to slash its debt mountain in order to reassure jittery financial markets.

European Union leaders came together on the big issue — over the best approach to take to boost the firepower of a eurozone rescue fund — but without setting down concrete numbers. France and Germany smoothed out disagreements on how to increase the reach of the $610 billion European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).

There was also agreement to explore a re-opening of the core European Union treaty to cover closer eurozone integration, with a green light for plans to create a Europe-wide budget ‘tsar’ — although non-euro states remain wary about implementation of such measures.

Eurozone-only leaders stayed on for further “technical” talks Sunday evening but no major statements or press conferences were planned.


Wal-Mart cuts some insurance coverage

NEW YORK — Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation’s largest private employer, is scaling back health care coverage for future part-time workers while raising premiums for many of its full-time workers, particularly tobacco users.

The discounter, which employs more than 1.4 million workers, said that rising health care costs are forcing it to eliminate health care coverage for future part-time workers who work less than 24 hours a week.

Many workers will also see their premiums rise, and the company will be reducing by half the amount it contributes for health care expenses that are not covered under their plan. Tobacco users will particularly be hard hit, seeing premiums increase by about 40 percent, the company said.

Greg Rossiter, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the decision was not in response to the new health care law but rather to escalating health care costs.


Gasoline prices rise 5 cents in two weeks

CAMARILLO, Calif. — A survey says the average U.S. price of a gallon of gasoline has risen nearly 5 cents over the past two weeks.

The Lundberg Survey of fuel prices released Sunday puts the price of a gallon of regular at $3.47. Costs have seen similar hikes in midgrade, now at an average of $3.62 a gallon, and premium at $3.74. Diesel is up 4 cents to $3.89 a gallon.

Of the cities surveyed, Albuquerque, N.M., had the nation’s lowest average price for gas at $3.15, and Los Angeles had the highest at $3.86. In California, the lowest average price was $3.73 in Bakersfield. The average statewide was $3.82, up a nickel in the two-week span.


BP a step closer to new Gulf wells

BP moved a step closer to being allowed to drill new deep-water wells in the Gulf of Mexico when the agency that regulates U.S. offshore drilling said Friday it approved a supplemental exploration plan submitted by the oil giant.

The British firm still must obtain permits to be able to start drilling. BP PLC is seeking to drill up to four wells in the Gulf’s Keathley Canyon in water that is more than 6,000 feet deep and is located 192 miles from the Louisiana shore.

The project would be the first new one drilled by BP in the Gulf since last year’s Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The company has a 46 percent stake in a well already approved for drilling by Noble Energy. BP also bought out Shell’s 25 percent interest in two Gulf fields in December, making BP the sole owner of both.



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