Business Highlights


More confident consumers break out credit cards

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Americans are putting more money on their credit cards after more than two years of cutting back, a sign that they are gaining confidence in the economy.

The first increase in credit-card debt since the financial crisis hit helped to boost overall consumer borrowing 3 percent in December, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $2.41 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Monday. It was the third straight monthly gain.

Borrowing in the category that includes credit cards rose 3.5 percent, the first rise since August 2008. Borrowing on auto loans increased 2.8 percent.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, viewed the gain as an encouraging sign that households are becoming more confidence about the economy and jobs. He also said banks are loosening some lending restrictions put in place after the financial crisis.

Even with the December gains, consumer borrowing is just 0.7 percent higher than the more than three-year low hit in September. It is 6.6 percent below the high set in July 2008. But analysts predicted further credit gains in coming months.


FDIC seeks delay in bonuses for top bank execs

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Federal regulators have proposed making top executives at large financial firms wait at least three years to be paid half of their annual bonuses, a move designed to cut down on risky financial transactions.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. voted Monday to advance the rule, which builds on more general requirements in last year's financial regulatory law to curtail risk-taking. The rule targets firms with $50 billion or more in assets, seeking to tie bonuses with financial performance over a longer time period.

The requirement would apply major financial institutions, such as Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and Wells Fargo & Co.

Lawmakers and government officials have blamed outsize bonuses for helping to fuel the financial crisis, saying they encouraged short-term risk-taking. The financial regulatory law enacted last year simply directed government regulators to put in rules to prohibit incentive-based payments that encourage excessive risks.

Other financial regulators â¿¿ including the Federal Reserve, two Treasury Department agencies, and the Securities Exchange Commission â¿¿ must also adopt the bonus rule before it is finalized. They are expected to act in the next few weeks, and the final rule could take effect by the fall, officials said.


Hasbro 4Q earnings fall on soft US game demand

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Hasbro Inc.'s earnings slipped 16 percent in the fourth quarter as U.S. demand for board games waned later in the year.

But the toy maker's net income still beat Wall Street expectations, and the company said it expects earnings and revenue growth in 2011.

Hasbro, which raised its quarterly dividend by 20 percent four days ago, admits it had some missteps in its games category in the fourth quarter, including trying to promote too many products at the same time. It makes many of the classics, including Life, Clue, Cranium and Battleship.

The fourth quarter is a crucial one for toy makers because it includes the holiday season. The period can often make up nearly a third of annual revenue.

Hasbro's quarterly net income fell to $140 million, or 99 cents per share, for the three months ended Dec. 26. That compares with $165.6 million, or $1.09 per share, a year ago.

This surpassed the 93 cents per share that analysts surveyed by FactSet predicted.


Danaher agrees to buy Beckman Coulter for $5.87B

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Medical and industrial instruments maker Danaher Corp. said Monday it agreed to buy medical testing instrument maker Beckman Coulter for about $5.87 billion.

Beckman Coulter Inc. makes products that simplify and automate biomedical testing. It will become part of Danaher's life sciences and diagnostics business if the deal goes through. That would more than double the life science unit's revenue, making make it Danaher's largest business.

Beckman Coulter, which is based in Brea, Calif., had reportedly put itself up for sale in December.

Danaher has agreed to pay $83.50 per Beckman Coulter share, a 45 percent premium over Beckman's share price on Dec. 9 â¿¿ the day before the acquisition rumors first surfaced. Danaher valued the purchase at $6.8 billion including Beckman Coulter's debt and its cash on hand.

The deal is expected to be completed in the first half of the year. Closing depends on a majority of Beckman Coulter shareholders tendering their shares in favor of the deal. Beckman Coulter said its board unanimously supports the sale.


Oil driller Ensco to buy Pride for $7.31B

LONDON (AP) â¿¿ Oil rig company Ensco PLC has agreed to buy U.S. rival Pride International Inc. in a $7.3 billion deal that will create the world's second largest offshore drilling company.

The deal provided a boost Monday for drilling industry shares following several months of political and public pressure in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill last April.

The combined company will be valued at $16 billion and have a total of 74 rigs, including 21 ultra-deepwater and deepwater platforms, in key locations around the world â¿¿ placing it behind Switzerland's Transocean Ltd., the owner of BP's ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf and the world's largest driller.

Houston, Texas-based Pride brings expertise building and operating ultra-deepwater semi-submersibles and drillships, with customers in the fast-growing markets of Brazil and West Africa, to the table. London-based Ensco, meanwhile, is a leading provider of rigs in the North Sea, Southeast Asia, North America and the Middle East.


Egypt raises $2.2B in T-bill auction

CAIRO (AP) â¿¿ Egyptian financial officials promised to restart the stock market in a week and raised more than $2 billion through Treasury Bills on Monday, as the government pushed to maintain investor confidence in the country where fallout from the prolonged protests drove the currency to new six-year lows.

The developments spotlighted frenetic damage control efforts to an economy expected to take a bruising after the demonstrations demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak rattled a nation once seen as a pillar of stability in a restive region.

Tourists fled by the tens of thousands while businesses, banks and the bourse were closed for over a week as the protests sporadically drifted into violence.

The Central Bank's T-bill auction drew 13 billion Egyptian pounds ($2.2 billion) in offers, providing the government with a rare bit of good news in a week in which predictions of the protests' impact included a devaluation of the pound by as much as 25 percent and a cut in GDP growth from 5.3 percent to roughly 3.7 percent.

The 3-month T-bill came in with yields at an average of nearly 11 percent, according to the Central Bank's website.

The buyers of the bills were essentially domestic banks, with their international counterparts reluctant to enter the market given the uncertain political climate in the country, brokers and economists said.


Chesapeake Energy plans to sell $5B in assets

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Chesapeake Energy Corp. said Monday it will sell all of its assets in a massive natural gas field and stakes in two companies as part of a plan to reduce debt and focus on more profitable regions.

Chesapeake says it hopes to bring in more than $5 billion, before taxes, from the sales. Chesapeake Energy is aiming to reduce its debt by 25 percent by 2012.

The natural gas properties are located in the Fayetteville shale, a natural gas field in central Arkansas. Chesapeake Energy is the second largest producer of natural gas there.

The Oklahoma City company says it will sell its 25.8 percent stake in Frac Tech Holdings LLC and its 20 percent piece of Chaparral Energy Inc.

The move will allow Chesapeake to focus more on higher-margin oil assets as oil prices spike and natural gas prices remain low. The Fayetteville shale is not as profitable as several other major U.S. natural gas fields.


German industrial orders fall in December

BERLIN (AP) â¿¿ German industrial orders fell an unexpectedly sharp 3.4 percent during December, due mainly to a large drop in demand for capital goods from non-eurozone countries, the Economy Ministry reported Monday.

Domestic industrial orders in December dropped 2.4 percent when adjusted for price changes and seasonal factors, while foreign orders dropped 4.2 percent.

Orders from within the eurozone rose 3.7 percent, however, while outside the 17-nation bloc they fell 8.9 percent, the ministry said.

The drop followed a robust 5.2 percent overall rise in industrial orders in November over the previous month, and ING economist Carsten Brzeski said it was partially an expected correction.


By one measure, federal taxes lowest since 1950

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Taxes too high?

Actually, as a share of the nation's economy, Uncle Sam's take this year will be the lowest since 1950, when the Korean War was just getting under way.

And for the third straight year, American families and businesses will pay less in federal taxes than they did under former President George W. Bush, thanks to a weak economy and a growing number of tax breaks for the wealthy and poor alike.

Income tax payments this year will be nearly 13 percent lower than they were in 2008, the last full year of the Bush presidency. Corporate taxes will be lower by a third, according to projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The poor economy is largely to blame, with corporate profits down and unemployment up. But so is a tax code that grows each year with new deductions, credits and exemptions. The result is that families making as much as $50,000 can avoid paying federal income taxes, if they have at least two dependent children. Low-income families can actually make a profit from the income tax, and the wealthy can significantly cut their payments.


AOL steps up news, ad effort with Huffington Post

AOL Inc., once the king of dial-up Internet access known for its ubiquitous CDs and "You've got mail" greeting in its inboxes, is stepping up its efforts in news and online advertising with a $315 million deal to buy news hub Huffington Post.

The acquisition announced Monday is among the most aggressive strategic moves engineered by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong in an effort to reshape a fallen Internet icon.

Perhaps just as important as picking up a news site that ranks as one of the top 10 current events and global news sites, AOL will be adding Huffington Post co-founder and media star Arianna Huffington to its management team.

After the acquisition closes later this year, Huffington will run AOL's growing array of content, which includes popular technology sites Engadget and TechCrunch, local news sites and online mapping service Mapquest.

___ By The Associated Press

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 69.48 points, or 0.6 percent, to 12,161.63. The Dow has now risen for six straight days, its longest winning streak since November.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 8.18, or 0.6 percent, to 1,319.05. The Nasdaq composite gained 14.69, or 0.5 percent, to 2,783.99.

West Texas Intermediate crude, or WTI, for March delivery fell $1.55 to settle at $87.48 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent crude lost 58 cents to settle at $99.25 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

In other Nymex trading in March contracts, heating oil rose 1.06 cents to settle at $2.7061 a gallon and gasoline futures gained 1.52 cents to settle at $2.4505 a gallon. Natural gas fell 20.6 cents to settle at $4.104 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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