By The Associated Press___ Economy, year-end sales help auto industry in 2012 DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ A steadily improving economy and strong December sales lifted the American auto industry to its best performance in five years in 2012, especially for Volkswagen and Japanese-brand vehicles, and experts say the next year should be even better. Manufacturers on Thursday announced their final figures, which were expected to total 14.5 million â¿¿ 13 percent better than 2011. More than three years after the federal government's $62 billion auto-industry bailout, Americans had plenty of incentive to buy new cars and trucks in the year just ended. ___ US job market resilient despite budget fight WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The U.S. job market showed resilience in three reports Thursday, suggesting it may able to withstand a federal budget battle that threatens more economic uncertainty in coming months. A survey showed private hiring increased last month, while layoffs declined and applications for unemployment benefits stayed near a four-year low. The data led some economists to raise their forecasts for December job growth a day before the government releases its monthly employment report. ___ Retailers report higher December sales NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ A last-minute surge in spending saved the holiday shopping season. Major retailers including Costco, Gap and Nordstrom on Thursday reported better-than-expected revenue in December. That comes as a relief for stores, which can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue in the last two months of the year. Americans spent cautiously early in the season as the Northeast recovered from Superstorm Sandy. Then they held back because of fears that the U.S. economy would fall off the "fiscal cliff," triggering massive budget cuts and tax increases that would have amounted to less money in their pockets. But shoppers spent more freely in the final shopping days of the year.
___Lunch meat maker Hormel orders up Skippy sandwich NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Hormel Foods apparently has a hankering for a peanut butter and bacon sandwich. The company primarily known for Spam and other cured, smoked and deli meats said Thursday that it's buying Skippy, the country's No. 2 peanut butter brand, in its biggest-ever acquisition. Skippy, which was introduced in 1932 and is a staple in American pantries, is intended to increase Hormel's presence in the center of the supermarket, where nonperishable foods are sold. It also gives the Austin, Minn.-based company a stronger footing in international markets. Skippy is sold in about 30 countries and is the leading peanut butter brand in China, where Hormel has been trying to build up its Spam business for the past several years. Hormel, which also makes canned chili, sausages and pepperoni, currently gets the vast majority of its sales in the U.S., with only about 4 percent of revenue coming from abroad. Now the company is hoping that Skippy, which it's buying from Unilever for $700 million, will help it expand at home and overseas. ___ Al-Jazeera pays $500 million for Current TV LOS ANGELES (AP) â¿¿ With its $500 million purchase of left-leaning Current TV, the Pan-Arab news channel Al-Jazeera will soon be seen in tens of millions of U.S. homes. It's a steep price, but the acquisition helps the channel in its aim to quickly spread its message to more Americans. The purchase will create a news channel called Al-Jazeera America, coming to American homes 90 days from now with a distinctly non-American view of the world. The network claims many people in the U.S. have sought its programming online, and that it aims to present an "unbiased" view, "representing as many different viewpoints as possible." The deal already had its first casualty.
The nation's second-largest TV operator, Time Warner Cable Inc., dropped Current after the deal was confirmed Wednesday, saying the network didn't have enough viewers.___ Google settles on patents, other antitrust claims SAN FRANCISCO (AP) â¿¿ Google is pledging to license hundreds of key patents to mobile computing rivals under more reasonable terms and curb the use of snippets from other websites in Internet search results in a settlement that ends a high-profile antitrust probe. In a major victory for Google, the Federal Trade Commission unanimously concluded that there isn't enough evidence to support complaints that Google unfairly favors its own services in search results. Thursday's announcement caps a 19-month antitrust investigation by the FTC over Google Inc.'s business practices. ___ Fed minutes show some concerns on bond purchases WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The Federal Reserve will keep buying bonds indefinitely to try to keep long-term borrowing costs low. It's just not clear how long indefinitely will be. Minutes of the Fed's last policy meeting show that officials were divided about when to halt the purchases. Some of the 12 voting members thought the bond purchases would be needed through 2013. Others felt they should be slowed or stopped altogether before year's end. This group worries that the bond buying is keeping rates so low for so long that it could ignite inflation or encourage speculative buying of risky assets. ___ US rate on 30-year mortgage slips to 3.34 percent WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages moved closer to record lows this week, a trend that has made home buying more affordable and helped sustain a housing recovery. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year loan slipped to 3.34 percent from 3.35 percent last week. That's near the 3.31 percent rate reached in November, the lowest on records dating to 1971.
The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage ticked down to 2.64 percent from 2.65 percent last week. The record low is 2.63 percent.The 30-year fixed mortgage rate averaged 3.66 percent in 2012, the lowest annual average in 65 years, according to Freddie Mac. ___ Feds, Transocean reach $1.4 billion deal over Gulf spill NEW ORLEANS (AP) â¿¿ The Justice Department reached a $1.4 billion settlement Thursday with Transocean Ltd., the owner of the drilling rig that sank after an explosion killed 11 workers and created the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The proposed settlement resolves the department's civil and criminal probes of Transocean's role in the Deepwater Horizon rig disaster. It requires the Switzerland-based company to pay $1 billion in civil penalties and $400 million in criminal penalties and plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act, according to a court filing. The deal, which is subject to a federal judge's approval, also calls for Transocean to implement a series of operational safety and emergency response improvements on its rigs. ___ Superstorm Sandy tops 2012 insurance claims BERLIN (AP) â¿¿ Natural disasters cost insurers $65 billion last year, with the U.S. accounting for 90 percent of the bill and Superstorm Sandy prompting payouts of $25 billion, a leading insurance company said Thursday. However Munich Re AG said that total insured losses worldwide were down from a record $119 billion in 2011, when devastating earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand cost the industry dearly. The company said total economic costs in 2012 from natural disasters worldwide â¿¿ including uninsured losses â¿¿ amounted to $160 billion, compared with the previous year's $400 billion. ___ By The Associated Press(equals) The Dow Jones industrial average ended with a loss of 21.19 points at 13,391.36. The S&P 500 lost 3.05 points to 1,459.37 and the Nasdaq composite fell 11.69 to 3,100.57.
Benchmark crude for February delivery ended the day down 20 cents to $92.92 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, fell 33 cents to finish at $112.14 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.Wholesale gasoline was unchanged, ending at $2.80 a gallon. Heating oil lost 2 cents to finish at $3.03 a gallon. Natural gas fell 4 cents to end at $3.20 per 1,000 cubic feet.