Business Highlights

Updated at: 07/31/2014 12:21 AM
The Associated Press

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A more vigorous US economy appears to be emerging

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy has rebounded with vigor from a grim start to 2014 and should show renewed strength into next year.

That was the general view of analysts Wednesday after the government estimated that the economy grew at a fast 4 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter. Consumers, businesses and governments joined to fuel the second-quarter expansion. The government also said growth was more robust last year than it had previously estimated.

Whether the healthier expansion will lead the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates sooner than expected is unclear. In a statement it issued Wednesday after a policy meeting, the Fed offered no clearer hint of when it will start raising its benchmark short-term rate.

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The man responsible for Hilton's grand turnaround

McLEAN, Va. (AP) — Nearly every weekend, Chris Nassetta is cooking in his family's oversized kitchen, outfitted with two commercial-grade refrigerators, three sinks and a deep fryer.

These aren't small meals. Between his wife, six daughters, friends, neighbors and relatives, there are often 40 people dining.

Most of the time, Nassetta is on the road. In his day job as CEO of Hilton hotels, he has about 732,000 guests per night to make happy.

When Nassetta took over in 2007, Hilton lagged behind other hoteliers. He had to restructure not only the operations, but the culture. "People really didn't know where we were going," he says.

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Small businesses see revenue gains, hire workers

NEW YORK (AP) — The long-awaited surge in hiring at small businesses appears to be underway.

Owners who resisted hiring after the recession are taking on workers to keep up with rising demand for products and services. Companies began stepping up their hiring pace in the spring.

Faulkner Hyundai in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is adding seven people to its staff of 92 because new cars are selling at their fastest rate in eight years. The market for used cars is also strong.

Faulkner has hired a sales manager, its first new employee since the third quarter of last year. Up next: salespeople, workers to service cars and employees who develop new sources of revenue.

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Bank scandal tarnishes powerful Portuguese family

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal's Espirito Santo family business survived wars, dictatorship, revolution and family feuds for almost 150 years. Now, one of Europe's last banking dynasties is being stripped of its wealth and influence amid accounting irregularities, huge unreported debts, and a police investigation.

The scandal bears the hallmarks of the recent European financial crisis, and the difficulties at Banco Espirito Santo — Portugal's largest bank — sent a shiver through global markets this month as investors feared Europe's closet contained more skeletons. Portugal was one of the main casualties of the eurozone's debt woes when it needed a 78 billion-euro ($105 billion) bailout in 2011 to avoid bankruptcy.

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Survey: US companies add 218,000 jobs in July

WASHINGTON (AP) — A private survey shows that businesses hired at a healthy pace in July, though the job gains slowed from the previous month.

Private employers added 218,000 jobs, down from 281,000 in June, payroll provider ADP said Wednesday. It was the fourth straight month of job gains above 200,000, a healthy pace that usually is enough to lower the unemployment rate.

The figures suggest that the government's jobs report, to be released Friday, will also show a solid increase. But the ADP numbers cover only private businesses and often diverge from the government's more comprehensive report.

Economists forecast that the government's report will show that 225,000 jobs were added in July, while the unemployment rate stayed at 6.1 percent, according to a survey by FactSet.

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Dubai, European airlines divert flights over Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) — European airlines and a Dubai-based carrier are rerouting flights over Iraqi airspace as a security precaution amid fears that militants with the Islamic State group have weapons capable of shooting down planes, despite Iraq saying its skies are safe.

A number of European carriers, including Virgin Atlantic, KLM and Air France, say they have devised alternate flight plans for their planes. Air France specifically said it detected a "potential threat" on July 24 which triggered the airline's decision, said Eric Prevot, a spokesman for the Air France's Flight Operations Center.

The decisions come after a Malaysia Airlines flight crashed over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 people on board. U.S. and Ukrainian officials say it was shot down by a missile from rebel territory, most likely by mistake.

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Terror threats at chemical plants underestimated

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government is underestimating the threat of a chemical attack on America's densely populated cities and has failed to inspect virtually all of the chemical facilities that it considers particularly vulnerable to terrorists, congressional investigators say.

The yearlong investigation by Republican staff on the Senate Homeland Security Committee paints a portrait of inspection delays, government errors in risk assessment and industry loopholes in a $595 million terror prevention program passed by Congress in 2006.

Coming a year after a massive explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant, the report points to threats from the release of toxic and flammable chemicals.

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US judge slaps $1.3B fine on Bank of America

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge imposed a $1.3 billion civil penalty against Bank of America on Wednesday for its role in selling risky mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that were advertised as safe investments.

The fine was against Countrywide, which Bank of America purchased in 2008 as the financial crisis was unfolding. It is the latest legal ruling against Wall Street.

A jury found in October 2013 that BofA was liable for Countrywide's role in selling risky loans to the government housing agencies through a program nicknamed the "Hustle" from August 2007 to May 2008. The jury found that Countrywide executives deliberately misrepresented the quality of mortgages being sold.

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Republicans block tax hike on firms going overseas

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican senators blocked an election-year bill Wednesday to limit tax breaks for U.S. companies that move operations overseas.

The bill would have prohibited companies from deducting expenses related to moving their operations to a foreign country. It also would have offered tax credits to companies that move operations to the U.S. from a foreign country.

The Senate voted 54-42 to end debate on the bill, six short of the 60 votes needed to advance it. The White House says President Barack Obama supports the legislation.

Republicans called the bill an election-year stunt. They noted that Democrats tried to pass a similar bill two years ago, right before the last congressional elections.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average slipped 31.75 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 16,880.36. The Standard & Poor's 500 index ended with a gain of 0.12 of a point, or 0.01 percent, at 1,970.07. The Nasdaq composite rose 20.20 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,462.90.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 70 cents to close at $100.27 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $1.21 to close at $106.51 on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 2.9 cents to close at $2.816 a gallon. Natural gas fell 2.2 cents to close at $3.786 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil fell 1.6 cents to $2.897 a gallon.

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