Business Highlights

Updated at: 03/30/2015 4:52 PM
By The Associated Press

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Small investors blame bad advice from brokers for big losses

NEW YORK (AP) — Susan Bernardo trusted her stockbroker. She wound up losing a fortune.

Her broker, David Harris, advised her to sell $400,000 worth of relatively safe municipal bonds, she says, and sink the proceeds into real estate and energy partnerships in hopes of earning more income. She had received the money from a settlement after her husband died in an accident and needed it to raise her small son.

More than six years later, those investments are in trouble. The stream of interest payments she used for living expenses has mostly dried up and the value of her portfolio is half of what it was, according to a financial planner who helped her file a claim against the broker.

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Lincoln Continental, the car of presidents, is returning

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — Elvis Presley had one; so did Clark Gable. It was even the sedan of presidents. Then the name vanished amid an invasion of newer luxury cars from Europe and Asia.

Now, the Lincoln Continental is back.

Thirteen years after the last Continental rolled off the assembly line, Ford Motor Co. is resurrecting its storied nameplate. The new Continental debuts in concept form at this week's New York auto show. The production version of the full-size sedan goes on sale next year.

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Late audits halt trading in Morgan Stanley-backed stocks

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two major companies in a prominent $1.4 billion Asia investment fund managed by New York banking giant Morgan Stanley unexpectedly told securities regulators they will not file their financial statements on time and froze trading in their stocks, actions generally considered to be cause for concern.

The publicly traded companies, Tianhe Chemicals Group Ltd. and Sihuan Pharmaceutical Holdings Group Ltd., separately announced late last week that they would be unable to meet Hong Kong Stock Exchange deadlines because auditors have not yet signed off on their financials. Both companies pledged to cooperate with the auditors.

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Ancient Petra sees few visitors as Jordan tourism declines

PETRA, Jordan (AP) — It's high season in Petra, an ancient city hewn from rose-colored rock and Jordan's biggest tourist draw. Yet nearby hotels stand virtually empty these days and only a trickle of tourists make their way through a landmark canyon to the Treasury building where scenes of one of the "Indiana Jones" movies were filmed.

Petra's slump is part of a sharp decline in tourism as Jordan's economy pays a price for regional turbulence and its high-profile role in the U.S.-led battle against Islamic State militants next door.

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UnitedHealth bulks up for prescription drug cost battle

The nation's largest health insurer, UnitedHealth, will muscle up for its fight against rising prescription drug costs by spending more than $12 billion to buy pharmacy benefits manager Catamaran Corp.

Pharmacy benefits managers, or PBMs, help negotiate the prices that customers pay for prescription drugs. They are seen as a key component in the push to contain soaring costs from specialty drugs, complex medicines that can represent treatment breakthroughs but often at a much higher price than other drugs.

Rising costs from these drugs are expected to affect more patients as use of the treatments grows and coverage for them shrinks.

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Bernanke rejects charge of Fed 'throwing seniors under bus'

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ben Bernanke no longer leads the Federal Reserve, but he's hardly letting up in his defense of the ultra-low-rate policies he engineered — and his successor, Janet Yellen, has continued.

In his first post as a new blogger Monday, Bernanke struck back at critics who he said had charged the Bernanke Fed with, among other things, "throwing seniors under the bus" by keeping rates too low for too long.

He also disputed accusations that the Fed is still distorting financial markets and investment decisions by keeping rates "artificially low."

Both criticisms, Bernanke wrote in "Ben Bernanke's Blog," reflect a misunderstanding of economic reality.

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US consumer spending edges up 0.1 percent in February

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumers spent just slightly more in February even though their income rose by a healthy amount. But economists hope bigger paychecks will give spending a bigger boost in the coming months.

Consumer spending edged up a tiny 0.1 percent following declines of 0.2 percent in both January and December, the Commerce Department reported Monday. The result reflected a 0.4 percent increase in nondurable goods such as food and energy coupled with a 0.1 percent fall in durable goods such as automobiles.

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Signed contracts to buy US homes climb to 20-month high

WASHINGTON (AP) — More Americans signed contracts to buy homes in February, evidence that the spring buying season could open strong after sluggish sales for much of the winter.

The National Association of Realtors said Monday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index climbed 3.1 percent to 106.9 last month, the highest reading since June 2013.

Buying activity jumped in the Midwest and West, while dipping slightly in the Northeast and South. The gains suggest that housing should overcome the recent hurdles of freezing weather and blistering snowstorms, as both buyers and potentially sellers return to the market.

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SEC files fraud charges against Lynn Tilton, firms

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators filed civil fraud charges against prominent Wall Street executive Lynn Tilton and her investment firms, who are accused of concealing the poor performance of fund assets linked to loans to distressed companies.

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced the action Monday against Tilton and her Patriarch Partners group of investment firms based in New York. The SEC said Tilton and the firms have misled investors since 2003 and wrongly collected nearly $200 million in fees and other payments.

The firms denied the SEC's allegations and said they will contest them. The case will be heard before an administrative law judge at the SEC.

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Business forecasters boost 2-year outlook for US economy

A business economics group has boosted its outlook for U.S. economic improvement this year and next, particularly for job growth.

The March report from the National Association for Business Economics forecasts more hiring, a lower unemployment rate, a lower inflation rate and more growth in consumer spending in 2015, compared to the group's forecast in December 2014.

The report, released early Monday, also predicts more investment by businesses in both equipment and intellectual property, as well as modest growth in stock prices.

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Toyota cuts price of automatic braking safety devices

DETROIT (AP) — Those pricey high-tech systems that automatically stop or slow your car if it's about to run into something are getting a lot cheaper.

Toyota says it will offer lower-cost versions of the safety features in new Lexus and Toyota SUVs that it's introducing this week at the New York auto show, and the cheaper devices will spread across most of the company's models by the end of 2017.

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Century-old NYC matzo factory faces a high-tech future

NEW YORK (AP) — The last Passover matzos have rolled out of a century-old bakery on Manhattan's Lower East Side — a neighborhood that's been dubbed the "Jewish Plymouth Rock."

The Streit's factory is the oldest in the nation still churning out the unleavened flatbread that's essential for Jewish holidays. About 2.5 million pounds of matzos were baked for April's Passover holiday and distributed worldwide.

Streit's is planning to shut down its 9-decade-old ovens by year's end and move to a 21st-century computerized plant somewhere in the New York area. The contract has yet to be signed.

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McDonald's to test all-day breakfast beginning in April

NEW YORK (AP) — A McMuffin for dinner? It might happen, as McDonald's plans to test an all-day breakfast at some locations in the San Diego area starting next month.

The company said in a statement that the test is in response to customers who have said they'd like to eat breakfast foods outside the typical morning hours that they are served.

The world's largest restaurant chain said the test will include a partial menu and feature some of McDonald's breakfast sandwiches and hash browns. The company didn't say which sandwiches would make the cut.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 263.65 points, or 1.5 percent, to 17,976.31. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 25.22 points, or 1.2 percent, to 2,086.24. The Nasdaq composite rose 56.22 points, or 1.2 percent, to 4,947.44.

U.S. oil fell 19 cents to $48.68 a barrel. Brent crude, a benchmark for many international oils imported by U.S. refineries, slipped 12 cents to $56.29. Wholesale gasoline was unchanged at $1.80 a gallon. Heating oil was unchanged at $1.73 a gallon. Natural gas rose 0.5 cent to $2.644 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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