By The Associated Press___ Buffett dips into ketchup business, buys Heinz NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Billionaire Warren Buffett, the most closely watched investor in America, is putting his money in ketchup, agreeing to buy H.J. Heinz Co. for $23.3 billion in the richest deal ever in the food industry. For his money, the Oracle of Omaha gets one of the nation's oldest and most familiar brands, one that's in refrigerators and kitchen cupboards all over the U.S. The deal is intended to help Heinz accelerate its expansion from a dominant American name into a presence on grocery shelves worldwide. The Pittsburgh-based company also makes Classico pasta sauces and Ore-Ida potatoes, as well as a growing stable of sauces suited to regional tastes around the world. ___ American, US Airways announce $11 billion merger DALLAS (AP) â¿¿ US Airways CEO Doug Parker has landed the big merger he sought for years. Now the soon-to-be CEO of the new American Airlines has to make it work. Planes need painting. Frequent flier programs have to be combined. And the new airline will still be weak in Asia and need to win back business travelers who have been drifting away to other airlines. The two airlines announced an $11 billion merger Thursday that will create the world's biggest airline, with some 6,700 daily flights and annual revenue of roughly $40 billion. It's a coup for Parker, who runs the much smaller US Airways and has long pursued a deal like this one with the strong belief that airlines will have a better shot at consistent profits if they bulk up through mergers. ___ Sharp fall in US jobless claims boosts outlook WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The outlook for the U.S. job market is brightening after a government report showed a sharp drop in the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits.
Weekly applications fell 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 341,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Outside a few weeks last month affected by seasonal distortions, that's the lowest level in nearly five years.The four-week average, which smooths week-to-week fluctuations, stayed near a five-year low. ___ Eurozone recession deepens as Germany falters BERLIN (AP) â¿¿ It was only a matter of time. With many of its debt-ridden euro partners in recession, Germany could only swim against the tide for so long. Figures Thursday showed that output in Germany, Europe's largest economy, contracted by more than anticipated in the last three months of 2012. And it was the German drop that lay behind a deepening recession across the economy of the 17 European Union countries that use the euro. Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, said the eurozone's economic output shrank by 0.6 percent in the final quarter of 2012 from the previous three-month period. The decline was bigger than the 0.4 percent drop expected in markets and the steepest fall since 2009, when the global economy was in its deepest recession since World War II. ___ IRS website overrun by refund-seeking taxpayers WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The Internal Revenue Service has a message for taxpayers eager to learn the status of their tax refund: Please don't check the IRS website every five minutes â¿¿ once a day is enough. The IRS says its "Where's my refund?" website and smartphone app are being overwhelmed by eager taxpayers. The agency says its systems are only updated once a day, usually overnight, and the same information is available on the website, the IRS2go smartphone app and IRS toll-free phone lines. To avoid delays, the agency says the best time to check on refunds is evenings and weekends. ___ GM turns 2012 profit despite losses in Europe DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ General Motors has strung together a tidy three-year run of profits by making big dollars in its backyard.
Now the question is whether its U.S. operations can keep making enough to carry the company and cover widening losses in Europe.General Motors Co. on Thursday posted a profit of $4.9 billion for 2012, down 36 percent from a year earlier, when it made $7.6 billion. Its net income fell because of European losses and a truckload of one-time accounting gains and losses in both years. Last year's pretax profit, which excludes the one-time items, still dropped, but only by 5 percent to $7.9 billion. Revenue for the year rose 1 percent to $152.3 billion. ___ PepsiCo 4Q results top Wall Street's expectations NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ PepsiCo's net income rose 17 percent in the fourth quarter as it raised prices and sold more of its snacks and drinks around the world. The company's earnings and revenue beat analysts' estimates. It also provided an annual earnings outlook in line with Wall Street expectations and raised its quarterly dividend by 5.6 percent. The results mark the end of what CEO Indra Nooyi said would be a "transitional year," with the company embarking on a cost-cutting program and stepping up investment in its flagship brands. PepsiCo's brands include Frito-Lay, Gatorade and Quaker. ___ CBS 4Q results fall short of expectations LOS ANGELES (AP) â¿¿ CBS Corp.'s revenue and earnings grew in the final quarter of the year, but the results fell short of analysts' forecasts, sending shares down in after-market trading. Advertising revenue grew 3 percent, CBS said Thursday. The company pointed out that last year's licensing revenue bump from the sale of CW network shows to Netflix and Hulu wasn't repeated. Local broadcasting revenue grew less than expected and the Simon & Schuster book publishing business declined faster than analysts thought. Net income in the three months through Dec. 31 was $393 million, or 60 cents per share. That's up from $370 million, or 55 cents per share, a year earlier.
___Merck settles investor suits on cholesterol drugs TRENTON, N.J. (AP) â¿¿ Merck & Co. has agreed to pay $688 million to settle two long-running lawsuits brought by investors who alleged the drugmaker delayed releasing bad news on its blockbuster cholesterol drugs to prevent a drop in sales. Merck, the world's third biggest drugmaker by revenue, said Thursday that it agreed to the settlement because it's in the best interest of the company and current shareholders. It is taking a charge of nearly a half-billion dollars against 2012 earnings. The delay in releasing results of a study that was meant to bolster sales of pricey cholesterol drugs Zetia and Vytorin triggered criticism from analysts, investors, some scientists and the media â¿¿ and ultimately a congressional investigation. ___ US rate on 30-year mortgage steady at 3.53 percent WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage was unchanged for a second week, remaining near historic lows. The average rate on the 15-year mortgage also stayed the same. Low mortgage rates are helping to strengthen the housing recovery. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year stayed at 3.53 percent. That's near the 3.31 percent level reached in November, which was the lowest on records going back to 1971. The rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage stayed at 2.77 percent for a second week. The record low is 2.63 percent. ___ By The Associated Press(equals) The Dow Jones industrial average fell 9.52 points to close at 13,973.39. The Standard & Poor's 500 index edged up 1.05 to 1,521.38. The Nasdaq composite index rose 1.78 to 3,198.66. In New York benchmark crude rose 30 cents to finish at $97.31 per barrel. Brent crude, used to price oil that many U.S. refineries buy to make gasoline, rose 12 cents to end at $118 per barrel in London.
Wholesale gasoline rose 8 cents to end at $3.12 a gallon. Heating oil was up about half a cent to finish at $3.22 a gallon. Natural gas futures fell 14.3 cents, or 4.3 percent, to finish at $3.16 per thousand cubic feet.