Business Highlights

Updated at: 08/31/2016 7:53 PM
By The Associated Press

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Historic commercial flight from US lands in Cuba

SANTA CLARA, Cuba (AP) — The first commercial flight between the United States and Cuba in more than a half century landed Wednesday, re-establishing regular air service severed at the height of the Cold War.

The JetBlue flight 387 included airline executives, U.S. government officials and journalists, with a sprinkling of Cuban-American families and U.S. travelers.

The arrival opens a new era of U.S.-Cuba travel with about 300 flights a week connecting the U.S. with an island cut off from most Americans by the 55-year-old trade embargo on Cuba and formal ban on U.S. citizens engaging in tourism on the island.

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Survey: US companies add a solid 177,000 jobs in August

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. businesses added a solid 177,000 jobs in August, according to a private survey, suggesting that hiring remains healthy after two months of strong gains.

Payroll processor ADP said the job growth was driven by services firms such as retailers, financial services firms, and professional and business services, which includes higher-paying jobs like accountants, engineers and architects. Construction firms cut jobs and manufacturing employment was unchanged.

The steady hiring could help fuel stronger growth in the second half of this year.

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Energy companies pull US stocks lower as oil prices fall

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks took small losses Wednesday as energy companies fell with the price of oil and chemical and materials companies traded lower. That pulled the market lower for August, ending a five-month winning streak for stocks. The losses were very small, though, as this proved to be one of the quietest months in recent history for stocks.

The price of oil dropped more than 3 percent after the U.S. government said crude oil stockpiles grew more than expected last week, while gasoline stockpiles didn't shrink as much as investors hoped.

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Pending US home sales strengthened in July

WASHINGTON (AP) — More Americans signed contracts to purchase homes in July, a sign that demand for home ownership remains strong despite a shortage of listings on the market.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index rose 1.3 percent in July to 111.3, the highest reading since April.

Housing has staged a solid rebound in prices and sales this year, but the real estate market faces potential challenges as fewer properties are being listed for sale.

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Lew says Apple's tax fight could spur congressional action

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew on Wednesday criticized a European ruling that Apple owes more than $14.5 billion in back taxes. But he said the decision may spur Congress to finally address the stalled effort to reform America's corporate tax structure.

Lew said that while the Obama administration has failed in its efforts to get tax reform through Congress, he believes the unhappiness expressed by both Democrats and Republicans following Europe's announcement on Tuesday could push Congress to act.

He said he is "hopeful that we will see action, probably not in my tenure, but early in the next administration."

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Tough economic outlook in Brazil after president removed

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's economy shrank 3.8 percent last year and is expected to shrink another 3.3 percent this year. The country's unemployment rate hit 11.6 percent in July. And the budget deficit is on pace to reach almost $48 billion by the end of this year.

Its grim news snowballed over the last year while Congress was consumed by the fight over President Dilma Rousseff's future. On Wednesday, the Senate voted 61-20 in favor of removing Rousseff from office for breaking fiscal laws in her management of the federal budget. For some, that is cause for hope that things can turn around.

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McDonald's says its president of US operations is retiring

NEW YORK (AP) — McDonald's says the president of its U.S. business is retiring, marking the latest executive change as the fast-food giant tries to reinvent itself.

Mike Andres, who stepped into his role in October 2014, will retire at the end of the year. He will be replaced by Chris Kempczinski, the executive vice president of strategy, business development and innovation.

The leadership change at the flagship U.S. business comes as McDonald's tries to step up the image of its food and fend off a growing number of competitors.

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Africa's biggest economy officially enters recession

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Africa's biggest economy is officially in recession.

Nigeria released data on Wednesday showing its gross domestic product declined by 2.06 percent in the second quarter of the year. The oil- and import-dependent economy also declined by 0.36 percent in the first quarter.

It is the West African country's first recession since 1991, according to Central Bank data.

Nigeria has been slammed by low petroleum prices, attacks by oil militants and foreign currency shortages.

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The quest to end lost airline luggage

Delta Air Lines is investing $50 million to soothe one of air travel's biggest headaches: lost and delayed luggage.

The airline carried nearly 120 million checked suitcases last year. It already has one of the airline industry's best luggage handling records — just 1 out of every 500 bags failed to arrive on time — but hopes that by deploying a RFID, or radio-frequency identification, tracking system globally it can improve further.

If the system works, other airlines are likely to follow. Ultimately the bag tag might be replaced with permanent RFID readers in our suitcases.

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Mattel's American Girl dolls to be sold at Toys R Us stores

NEW YORK (AP) — Mattel's American Girl dolls will soon be sold at Toys R Us stores.

The popular dolls are now sold at American Girl's 20 stores and on its website. Making the dolls available in more places could help Mattel Inc. reverse the brand's declining sales.

Starting in September, Toys R Us will sell American Girl's new line of $60 WellieWisher dolls at all of its U.S. stores. A month later, it will open American Girl shops within select stores where it will sell the WellieWisher line and American Girl's signature Truly Me dolls, which cost more than $100.

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Tesla planning upgrade to semi-autonomous Autopilot system

DETROIT (AP) — Tesla Motors is planning improvements to its semi-autonomous Autopilot system after a fatal crash earlier this summer.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote in a tweet Wednesday that a software update will be released in a few weeks. Musk says a software update will make "major improvements" to Autopilot, including more advanced processing of radar signals. Software updates are delivered over the air to Tesla owners.

Tesla's Autopilot system can maintain a set speed, keep the car within its lane and brake automatically. Radar helps the car see things that may be blocked to cameras in bright sunlight or bad weather.

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The Dow Jones industrial average lost 53.42 points, or 0.3 percent, to 18,400.88. The Standard & Poor's 500 index slid 5.17 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,170.95. The Nasdaq composite declined 9.77 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,213.22.

U.S. crude fell $1.65, or 3.6 percent, to $44.70 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oil prices, lost $1.33, or 2.7 percent, to $47.04. In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline fell 4 cents to $1.41 a gallon. Heating oil lost 6 cents to $1.41 a gallon. Natural gas rose 6 cents to $2.89 per 1,000 cubic feet.

(Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)