By The Associated Press___ US auto sales accelerate in February DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ Americans want new cars and trucks, and they're not letting higher gas prices or political dysfunction stand in their way. New car and truck sales were up 4 percent in February as rising home construction and cheap financing kept the U.S. auto recovery on track. While the pace of growth is slowing, industry analysts expect more gains in the coming months, saying there's little that could derail demand for new cars. Car buyers have already shrugged off higher Social Security taxes, which cut their take-home pay starting in January. Gas prices â¿¿ which rose 36 cents to $3.78 per gallon in February â¿¿ didn't change their habits, either. And they ignored the debate over automatic spending cuts that were due to take effect Friday. ___ US factories see best growth since June 2011 WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. manufacturing expanded in February at the fastest pace since June 2011, buoyed by increases in new orders and production. The third straight month of growth suggests factories may help the economy this year after slumping through most of 2012. The Institute for Supply Management said Friday that its index of factory activity rose last month to 54.2, up from January's reading of 53.1. A reading above 50 indicates expansion. The pickup in factory activity in February was encouraging because it showed demand for goods is stronger even as consumers have less take-home pay because of higher Social Security taxes. It followed a separate report that consumers cut back spending on long-lasting manufactured goods in January, likely because of the tax increase. ___ US consumer spending up 0.2 percent in January WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. consumers increased spending modestly in January but cut back on major purchases that signal confidence in the economy. The decline in spending on goods suggests higher tax rates that kicked in on Jan. 1 may have made consumers more cautious in some buying.
The Commerce Department said Friday that consumer spending rose 0.2 percent in January compared with December. The gain was driven by an increase in spending on services, partly reflecting higher heating bills. Spending on durable goods, such as cars and appliances, fell 0.8 percent. Spending on non-durable goods, such as clothing, was essentially flat.Income plunged 3.6 percent in January, the biggest drop since January 1993. But it followed a 2.6 percent rise in December, which reflected a rush by companies to pay dividends and bonuses before income taxes increased on top earners. ___ US construction spending down 2.1 percent WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Spending on U.S. construction projects fell in January by the largest amount in 18 months as home construction stalled and spending on government projects fell to the lowest level in more than six years. The dip was viewed as temporary, with construction expected to keep moving higher this year. Construction spending fell 2.1 percent in January compared with December, when spending rose 1.1 percent. It was the biggest one-month decline since July 2011, the Commerce Department said Friday. ___ Obama says he can't 'Jedi mind meld' a budget deal WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ A combative President Barack Obama blamed Republican lawmakers Friday for failing to stop automatic spending cuts from beginning to kick in late in the day, arguing he can't perform a "Jedi mind meld" to get Republicans to agree on a deal. But he and GOP leaders displayed no appetite for letting the fight shut down the government later this month. Meeting on the day that $85 billion in federal spending cuts were to begin taking effect, the nation's top government officials made no progress on how to avoid what they all agreed would be damaging reductions in defense and domestic spending. Obama conceded after the session that he hadn't been able to persuade Republicans to accept his proposal to reduce deficits with a blend of tax hikes and long-term reduction in entitlement spending.
___Growing push to halt workplace bullying WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Margaret Fiester is no shrinking violet, but she says working for her former boss was a nightmare. "One day I didn't do something right and she actually laid her hands on me and got up in my face and started yelling, 'Why did you do that?'" said Fiester, who worked as a legal assistant for an attorney. Fiester doesn't have to worry about those tirades anymore, but she hears lots of similar stories in her current role as operations manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, where she often fields questions about the growing issue of workplace bullying. On-the-job bullying can take many forms, from a supervisor's verbal abuse and threats, to cruel comments or relentless teasing by a co-worker. And it could become the next major battleground in employment law as a growing number of states consider legislation that would let workers sue for harassment that causes physical or emotional harm. ___ Companies struggle to popularize mobile money BARCELONA, Spain (AP) â¿¿ Mobile money may seem like a hot concept, but consumers aren't warming to it. At the world's largest cellphone trade show in Barcelona this week the 70,000 attendees were encouraged to use their cellphones â¿¿instead of their keycardsâ¿¿ to get past the turnstiles at the door. But very few people took the chance to do that. The process of setting up the phone to act as a keycard proved too much of a hassle. It's a poor omen for an industry that's eager to have the cellphone replace both tickets and credit cards. Companies are building chips antennas into phones that let the gadgets interact with "tap to pay" terminals and other devices equipped with short-range sensors, like subway turnstiles. Getting the technology to do something useful and convincing people to adopt it is a slow process.
___Penney CEO emails suggest aim at breaking deal NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ It's been a tough week to be Ron Johnson. J.C. Penney's CEO was in the hot seat again on Friday in New York State Supreme Court after facing investors this week over a dismal quarterly earnings performance. This time he was being scrutinized by Macy's lawyers for a stack of emails that he wrote that they claim show he repeatedly pushed home diva Martha Stewart to try to break an exclusive deal with his rival, so Penney could be the sole department store distributor of the domestic diva's goods. ___ Best Buy 4th quarter loss narrows NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Best Buy Co. lost less money in the fourth quarter as efforts by new CEO Hubert Joly to make the company more efficient showed glimmers of paying off. The struggling electronics chain also said Friday that it did not receive a buyout bid from co-founder Richard Schulze by a Thursday deadline, eliminating one question mark that had been hovering over the Minneapolis company. The retailer's fourth-quarter results beat expectations, but Best Buy gave a cautious outlook on the first quarter because it is ramping up investments and the timing of some sales has changed from last year. ___ Italy behind rise in eurozone jobless to record LONDON (AP) â¿¿ Italy's voters gave their verdict on the austerity medicine they've been forced to take when they went to the polls earlier this week. By Friday one of the reasons behind the protest was highlighted when the country's unemployment rate hit its highest level in at least two decades. Official figures Friday showed that unemployment in the country in January rose to 11.7 percent from December's 11.3 percent. January's figure was the highest since the current method of measuring unemployment was introduced in 1992.
The unexpectedly large monthly spike was one of the key backdrops to the election results earlier this week that reignited concerns over Europe's debt crisis. No party, or coalition of parties, emerged with enough votes to govern alone, triggering uncertainty in the markets about the future course of the country's economic policy.___ By The Associated Press(equals) The Dow Jones industrial average rose 35.17 points, or 0.3 percent, to close at 14,089.66. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3.52 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,518.20. The Nasdaq composite gained 9.55 points, 0.3 percent, to 3,169.74. Benchmark crude for April delivery fell $1.37 to close at $90.68 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, fell 98 cents to finish at $110.40 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange In London. Wholesale gasoline rose 2 cents to end at $3.13 a gallon. Heating oil lost 3 cents to finish at $2.93 a gallon. Natural gas fell 3 cents to end at $3.46 per 1,000 cubic feet.