Business Highlights

By The Associated Press

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White House announces anti-theft trade strategy

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The Obama administration announced a broad new effort Wednesday to fight the growing theft of American trade secrets following fresh evidence linking cyberstealing to China's military.

The plan includes a new diplomatic push to discourage intellectual property theft abroad along with better coordination at home to help U.S. companies protect themselves. The administration says indications are that economic espionage is increasing, not only through electronic intrusion over the Internet but also through the recruitment of former employees of U.S. companies with knowledge of inside trade information.

Earlier this week, a Virginia-based cybersecurity firm, Mandiant, accused a secret Chinese military unit in Shanghai of years of cyberattacks against more than 140 U.S. companies. The accusations and supporting evidence increased pressure on the United States to take more action against the Chinese for what experts say has been years of systematic espionage.

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For state-backed cyberspies, stealing commercial secrets promises rich payoff

BEIJING (AP) â¿¿ For state-backed cyberspies such as a Chinese military unit implicated by a U.S. security firm in a computer crime wave, hacking foreign companies can produce high-value secrets ranging from details on oil fields to advanced manufacturing technology.

"This is really the new era of cybercrime," said Graham Cluley, a British security expert. "We've moved from kids in their bedroom and financially motivated crime to state-sponsored cybercrime, which is interested in stealing secrets and getting military or commercial advantage."

Instead of credit card numbers and other consumer data sought by crime gangs, security experts say cyberspies with resources that suggest they work for governments aim at better-guarded but more valuable information. Companies in fields from petrochemicals to software can cut costs by receiving stolen secrets. An energy company bidding for access to an oil field abroad can save money if spies can tell it what foreign rivals might pay. Suppliers can press customers to pay more if they know details of their finances. For China, advanced technology and other information from the West could help speed the rise of giant state-owned companies seen as national champions.

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Yahoo redesign aims to make site more inviting

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) â¿¿ Yahoo is renovating the main entry into its website in an effort to get people to visit more frequently and stay longer.

The long-awaited makeover of Yahoo.com's home page is the most notable change to the website since the Internet company hired Marissa Mayer as its CEO seven months ago. The new look debuted Wednesday in the U.S., although it could take a few more days before everyone starts to see it.

It's the first time Yahoo has redesigned the page in four years. In that time, the company has seen its annual revenue drop by about 30 percent from $7.2 billion in 2008 to $5 billion last year as more online advertising flowed to rivals such as Internet search leader Google Inc. and social networking leader Facebook Inc.

Mayer, who spent 13 years helping to build Google into the Internet's most powerful company, has vowed to revive Yahoo Inc.'s revenue growth by establishing more of the company's services as daily habits that "delight and inspire" their users.

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Office Depot agrees to buy OfficeMax in stock deal worth about $1.2 billion

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Office Depot and OfficeMax are being collated.

The retailers said Wednesday they have agreed to combine in an all-stock deal worth about $1.2 billion that would transform the office-supply retail sector by helping the No. 2 and No. 3 chains compete against industry behemoth Staples.

The merger marks the first move toward consolidation in an industry that is bloated with stores. It reflects the changing retail landscape as "big box" stores have become outmoded and more people shop online. Still, doubts remain whether the combination, which has been mulled over in the industry for years, is enough to offset growing competition and a changing retail landscape.

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Greeks going unpaid as jobs vanish, president warns of 'societal explosion'

ATHENS, Greece (AP) â¿¿ Looking out across a room full of reporters gathered to welcome French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday, Greece's President Karolos Papoulias gave a stark warning about the state of the country after three harsh years of government spending cuts, joblessness and tax hikes.

"We are faced with a societal explosion if any more pressure is put on society," he said.

In spite of Greece receiving much-needed bailout loans, life seems to be getting worse for ordinary people. Not only are Greece's 1.35 million unemployed unable to make ends meet, but a growing number of those in work are struggling as more and more companies can no longer make regular salary payments. As well finding it harder to feed, heat and clothe themselves and their families, Greek workers also have to pay increasingly hefty taxes the government is relying on to turn the economy around.

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US housing starts dip but remain at solid pace

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. homebuilders began work at a slower pace in January than in December. But the decline occurred in the volatile area of apartment construction, which sank 24 percent. By contrast, the rate of single-family homebuilding rose 0.8 percent.

Even with the overall decline, the pace of home construction in January was the third-highest since 2008 and was evidence of continued strengthening in residential real estate. And in an encouraging sign for the rest of the year, applications for building permits, a signal of future construction, topped December's rate. Applications for permits are at their highest point since mid-2008.

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More expensive food pushes up US wholesale prices 0.2 percent after 3 months of declines

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. wholesale prices rose only slightly in January after three straight declines, the latest sign that inflation is posing no threat. It means the Federal Reserve has room to keep interest rates at record lows without worrying about igniting inflation.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that its producer price index rose 0.2 percent last month, the first increase since September. Gasoline and other energy prices fell, while food prices jumped 0.7 percent after dropping sharply in December.

The index measures the cost of goods before they reach consumers. Wholesale prices are what manufacturers and farmers receive for their products.

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Fed minutes show concerns about bond purchases

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Several Federal Reserve policymakers suggested last month that the Fed might have to scale back its efforts to keep borrowing costs low for the foreseeable future.

Minutes of the Fed's Jan. 29-30 policy meeting released Wednesday showed that some officials worried about the Fed's plan to keep buying $85 billion in bonds each month until the job market has improved substantially. They expressed concern that the continued purchases could eventually escalate inflation, unsettle financial markets or cause the Fed to absorb losses once it begins selling its investments.

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Source: Boeing to propose 787 battery fix to FAA

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Boeing has developed a plan that it intends to propose to federal regulators to temporarily fix problems with the 787 Dreamliner's batteries that have kept the planes on the ground for more than a month, a congressional official told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner is expected to present the plan to Michael Huerta, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, in a meeting on Friday, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly.

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Macy's, Penney spar in court over rights to sell Martha Stewart products

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Let the pots and pans fly. Two of the nation's biggest department stores â¿¿ J.C. Penney and Macy's â¿¿began to duke it out in New York State Supreme Court over the right to sell Martha Stewart merchandise.

At the heart of the trial, which got under way Wednesday, is whether Macy's has the exclusive right to sell Martha Stewart-branded products in such categories as cookware, bedding, and bath. Company founder Martha Stewart, J.C. Penney's CEO Ron Johnson and Macy's CEO Terry J. Lundgren could be called to testify during the trial, which could last three weeks.

In December 2011, J.C. Penney announced a partnership in which it would open Martha Stewart mini shops in most of its stores, beginning this spring. Macy's sued Martha Stewart Living almost immediately, saying that it had exclusive rights on certain of its products until 2018. The pact goes back to 2007.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 108 points, or less than 1 percent, to close at 13,927. The Standard & Poor's 500 index sank 18.99 points to 1,511.95, a loss off 1.2 percent. That's the biggest one-day drop since Nov. 14, 2012. The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index fell 49 points, or 1.5 percent, to 3,164.

Benchmark crude for April delivery lost $1.88, or 2 percent, to finish at $95.22 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price many international varieties of oil imported by U.S. refineries, fell $1.92 to finish at $115.60 a barrel in London.

Heating oil fell 2 cents to end at $3.16 per gallon. Wholesale gasoline fell 6 cents to finish at $3.06 per gallon. Natural gas rose 1 cent to end at $3.28 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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