News Archive


U.S. retail sales edge down at start of holiday season: ShopperTrak


(Reuters) – U.S. shoppers spent slightly less money during Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday than across the same two days in 2013, research firm ShopperTrak said on Saturday.

ShopperTrak estimated that sales at brick-and-mortar retail stores came to about $12.29 billion on Thursday and Friday, compared with $12.35 billion spent during the same two days last year.

Customer traffic rose by 27.3 percent on Thanksgiving Day compared with a year earlier, while falling 5.6 percent on Black Friday, ShopperTrak said in a statement.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/nBsip7afwLg/story01.htm

Obama and daughters hit bookstore for Small Business Saturday


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama and his teenaged daughters, Sasha and Malia, went to an independent book store in Washington to buy books as a way to promote Small Business Saturday, an event aimed at boosting small businesses.

“Do I get a discount for that?” the president asked jokingly while unloading a bunch of books from his shopping basket at the Politics and Prose book store on Saturday.

“Maybe a neighbor’s discount,” the clerk joked back.

It is not clear whether Obama would have taken the discount, if offered.

The first family shopped at the same bookstore last year.

On Saturday, Obama was met by a mostly cheery crowd of shoppers and got a round of applause when a baby earned a presidential selfie.

Over the clicking of cameras and flashes of smart-phones, one shopper yelled: “When are you going to close Guantanamo?”

“We’re working on it,” the president replied. “Any other issues?”

Started in 2010 by credit card company American Express, Small Business Saturday comes on the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day, to encourage people to spend their holiday shopping dollars at small businesses.

It is the Black Friday for mom-and-pop shops that has become an annual tradition and has gained momentum, spawning “shop local” movements in communities across the country.

Last year, shoppers spent about $5.7 billion at small companies on Small Business Saturday, according to a joint survey by National Federation of Independent Business and American Express.

The White House did not immediately provide a list of the books purchased by the first family.

(Reporting by Elvina Nawaguna; Editing by Sandra Maler and Gunna Dickson)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/BzVV57sblV8/story01.htm

Merkel behind Air Berlin in Etihad control dispute: report


BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel is backing loss-making Air Berlin in a dispute over whether its Abu Dhabi-based partner Etihad is exercising too much control, Focus magazine reported on Saturday.

Etihad, which owns a 29 percent stake in Air Berlin, is under investigation by German and European authorities over its partnership with Germany’s second largest airline after Lufthansa.

For Air Berlin to maintain its European operating license, it must be majority controlled by European investors.

Without citing its sources, Focus said Merkel told Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt at a cabinet meeting that she did not want to “dig the grave” of Air Berlin and that Germany needed competition between two strong national carriers.

The German government declined to comment on the report.

Dobrindt will only make a decision on Etihad’s involvement in Air Berlin early next year, the Wirtschaftswoche weekly reported on Saturday, citing sources at the transport ministry.

The Wirtschaftswoche cited an unnamed source at Lufthansa as criticizing the delay in reaching a decision.

Last month, the German federal aviation authority (LBA) suspended a decision to block Etihad from selling tickets for some flights operated by Air Berlin.

The LBA checks codeshare deals every time airlines submit winter and summer schedules for flights to and from Germany.

Deutsche Lufthansa has said it would not fly between Abu Dhabi and Frankfurt in the summer of 2015 because it had become uneconomical due to overcapacity it blamed on Etihad and Air Berlin, calling their code shares “unjustified.”

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/fNZRDZhwGL0/story01.htm

German pilots’ union says fresh strikes imminent at Lufthansa


FRANKFURT (Reuters) – German pilots’ union VC said late on Friday that talks with carrier Deutsche Lufthansa over early retirement benefits have broken down and new strikes are possible at any time, although not at Christmas.

Lufthansa said the airline had made concessions in recent talks, including a 5 percent pay rise.

But it reiterated in emailed comments that it would not accept a request that new pilots, as well as those already with the company, should be able to retire at 55.

“From now, strike action is to be expected again at any time at Lufthansa, Lufthansa Cargo and Germanwings,” the union said in a statement. A spokesman later added that no strikes were planned at Christmas, but declined to give further details.

The row is over proposed changes to an early retirement scheme for pilots that was developed decades ago, when they had to stop work at age 55.

“Unfortunately, Lufthansa’s management has not seized upon our proposals for compromise and continues to insist on their maximum demands,” the statement said.

The dispute has resulted in repeated strikes this year, affecting thousands of passengers of Germany’s largest airline.

Eight walkouts by staff this year wiped 160 million euros ($200 million) off the carrier’s operating profit, adding to pressure from a stuttering global economy and increased competition.

Lufthansa last month lowered its profit guidance for 2015 for the second time this year, hitting its shares.

Passenger transport in Germany has also been disrupted by train drivers’ strikes this year. The latest walkout earlier this month thwarted many Germans’ plans to travel by rail to celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall.

Like the pilots, train drivers have yet to reach a deal with their employers.

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger and Emma Thomasson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker/Ruth Pitchford)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/nKkOLN2C8HQ/story01.htm

Ahead of rate meeting, ECB’s Lautenschlaeger sees very high hurdles to more easing


BERLIN (Reuters) – ECB Executive Board member Sabine Lautenschlaeger said on Saturday she saw little room for further easing of monetary policy despite a further fall in euro zone inflation.

She added that the effects of large scale sovereign bond buying would not be positive.

“For me, given the current situation, the hurdles for further measures are very high, especially for broad purchase programs,” she said according to an official translation of her speech in Berlin, five days ahead of the ECB’s next Monetary Policy Committee meeting.

Innovation in monetary policy was not a taboo, but must also not be an “end in itself”, she said, adding careful consideration of its efficiency was necessary.

The ECB has cut interest rates to practically zero and is readying more buying programs that could include government bonds – known as quantitative easing – to ward off the threat of deflation in the euro zone.

Vice President Vitor Constancio said this week the ECB could make a decision on government bond-buying in the first quarter if the economy did not improve.

The purchase of government bonds would be viewed extremely critically in Germany.

Lautenschlaeger said the interest on national government bonds in the euro area didn’t operate as a benchmark for all further refinancing operations, as is the case in Britain or the United States.

“In my view, a consideration of the costs and benefits, and the opportunities and risks of a broad purchase program of government bonds does not give a positive outcome at the current time.”

German European Central Bank policymaker Jens Weidmann said on Friday it was illusory to think central banks could increase a country’s growth potential for a sustained period of time.

(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/KkRgIe_GUos/story01.htm

U.S. Black Friday shopping marked by thinner crowds, protests


WEST HARTFORD, Conn./CHICAGO (Reuters) – Mall crowds were relatively thin on Black Friday in a sign of what has become the new normal in U.S. holiday shopping: the mad rush is happening the night of Thanksgiving and more consumers are picking up deals online.

Across the United States, shoppers were greeted by protesters at hundreds of stores – some calling for higher wages at Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N), others protesting the decision of a grand jury not to indict a white police officer in the August shooting of an 18-year-old unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri.

Most major retailers now open Thursday evening and are extending holiday deals rather than limiting them to one day. The result is a quieter experience on a day that has traditionally kicked off the holiday shopping season, and often drawn chaotic crowds.

Black Friday has ranked as the busiest U.S. shopping day in terms of sales and traffic since 2005, according to ShopperTrak. But as demand shifts to Thursday and even earlier in the month, the research firm predicts that “Super Saturday” on Dec. 20 will be the most active day this year.

“It just looks like any other weekend,” said Angela Olivera, a 32-year-old housewife shopping for children’s clothing at the Westfarms Mall near Hartford, Connecticut. “The kind of crowds we usually see are missing and this is one of the biggest malls here. I think people are just not spending a lot.”

The crowds normally reserved for Black Friday morning appeared on Thursday night. For instance, more than 15,000 people lined up for the opening of the flagship store of Macy’s Inc (M.N) in New York on Thursday. Retailers also said they were capturing more of the holiday budget online.

Shares of Macy’s, Wal-Mart and Target Corp (TGT.N) closed from 2 to 3 percent higher on Friday as investors were encouraged by the long lines on Thursday night and executives made bullish comments about demand. Lower gasoline prices also helped boost the shares, analysts said.

“It’s off to a good start,” said Charlie O’Shea, a retail analyst at Moody’s Investors Service, about the shopping season after visiting nearly two dozen stores in northern New Jersey over the past two days.

In downtown Chicago, police arrested 11 people associated with workers’ rights group OUR Walmart for blocking traffic in front of a Walmart store. The protest was one of 1,600 planned across the United States by the group, which is pushing for higher wages and benefits for the retailer’s employees.

“Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart you’re no good. Treat your workers like you should,” a crowd of several dozen shouted outside the store.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said: “The crowds are mostly made up of paid union demonstrators, and they do not represent the views of the 1.3 million associates” who work for the company, the largest private employer in the United States.

Buchanan also said one of the demonstrators hit a customer at the Chicago store, prompting a complaint to the police.

OUR Walmart representative Georges Tounou said the group carried out its protest peacefully.

Overall Black Friday online sales as of 1500 EST (2000 GMT) were up 8 percent from a year earlier, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. Online sales were up 14.3 percent on Thanksgiving Day.

Wal-Mart said Thursday was its second-highest online sales day ever after last year’s Cyber Monday, which is the Monday after Thanksgiving, when online retailers promote bargains.

Target CEO Brian Cornell said his company rang up a record day of online sales on Thursday, and was seeing brisk demand in its stores. He said the company was selling 1,800 televisions a minute between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursday night.

Heavy traffic caused the Best Buy Co Inc (BBY.N) website to crash for a little over an hour earlier on Friday, but as of afternoon it was back up and running, a company spokesman said.

The National Retail Federation is projecting that sales for November and December will rise 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion, which would mark the most bountiful holiday season in three years. Holiday sales grew 3.1 percent in 2013.

Some shoppers said the price of gasoline – expected to go even lower after the price of crude oil fell to a multi-year low – could make them more inclined to spend.

“My budget is pretty tight this year and gas is a tremendous expense because I have to drive my daughter around a lot,” Kristen Akeley, 46, who works at an elementary school, said while shopping for clothes at a Target in Connecticut.

“My gas expense has fallen from $150 a week to $80 a week and that is big savings at this time of the year.”

(Additional reporting by Beth Pinsker in Ventnor, New Jersey; Editing by Jilian Mincer, Paul Simao and Matthew Lewis)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/Wr_mh579bK0/story01.htm

As energy shares tumble, opportunity lurks


NEW YORK (Reuters) – Shale stocks have been hard-hit as investors see margins all but evaporating following the slide in crude oil prices, but the U.S. shale energy boom is not over.

An index of oil and gas exploration and production .SPLRCOILP tumbled 8.15 percent on Friday as U.S. crude CLc1 fell almost 10 percent to around $66.36 per barrel to hit its lowest in 4-1/2 years.

The slide came the day after oil cartel OPEC decided not to cut output in a meeting in Vienna. Prior to the decision, Saudi officials were reported as saying the kingdom, with its large currency reserves, was prepared to withstand oil prices as low as $70-$80 per barrel for up to a year.

But the weaker shale players may not have that long.

“We do not know if OPEC has ulterior motives to let oil prices drift lower and pinch the global (exploration and production) sector, or if reaching a consensus on cuts was just too challenging,” wrote Wells Fargo Securities in a Friday client note. “What is clear is that lower cash flows are highly likely to translate into lower EP spending.”

U.S. crude prices were catching up to Thursday’s action in Brent LCOc1 as markets across the United States were closed for the Thanksgiving holiday. Friday’s was a half-day session.

“We’ll wait to see the trend next week when there’s full market volume, however it’s clear that as oil prices come down there will be pressure for the weaker of the companies in the sector, particularly exploration and the ones that are highly indebted,” said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

The overall energy sector of the SP 500 fell 6.3 percent on Friday, adding to its year-to-date losses, now at 10.3 percent.

Fourteen of the sector’s more than 40 stocks are within 2 percent of a 52-week low and the sector’s weighting on the SP 500 has dropped to single digits, closing below 8 percent after Friday’s shellacking, according to Reuters data.

Nearly 90 percent of the sector’s shares are trading below their 100-day moving average.

However, the sharp declines also create an opportunity.

“We recently moved from an underweight to a neutral weight rating in energy, so directionally we agree with the idea that this weakness is a buying opportunity, but it is very hard to tell where the bottom is,” said Tony Roth, chief investment officer at Wilmington Trust in Wilmington, Delaware.

“Crude seems to have no floor right now, and we could easily see the price drop into the low $60s.”

With the big stock price drops, others see a run to consolidation. The sector subindex is down 12 percent in 2014, with year-to-date losses of more than 20 percent in seven companies.

“I think we’ll see some healthy consolidation take place,” said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

“Some may wither on the vine, but technology has improved to make it profitable to extract at a lower price point than last year. As a result, we’ll probably see some opportunistic buying.”

Jacobsen and Krosby said the slide in oil prices and the sector’s shares does not mean the boom in the energy sector in the United States is ending, but will likely enter a new stage of development.

“The renaissance isn’t over,” said Jacobsen. “It’s just maturing.”

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/5_wrx_iq1vQ/story01.htm

Lawsuit accuses Wells Fargo of biased lending in Chicago area


(Reuters) – Wells Fargo Co was sued on Friday by Cook County, Illinois, which accused the largest U.S. mortgage lender of targeting black, Hispanic and female borrowers with predatory and discriminatory lending in the Chicago area.

The lawsuit is the latest accusing major banks of biased mortgage lending that harmed major American cities, such as Los Angeles, Miami and Baltimore, and prolonged the nation’s housing crisis. These lawsuits have had mixed success.

According to a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Chicago, which is part of Cook County and the third-most populous U.S. city, Wells Fargo has for more than a decade discriminated against minority and female borrowers in the region, with a goal of maximizing profit.

The 152-page complaint said the bank targeted borrowers from the time loans were made through foreclosure through “equity stripping,” which includes the imposition of inflated or unnecessary rates and fees, as well as penalties to refinance.

Cook County said Wells Fargo’s “deliberate” and “egregious” activities affected at least 26,000 borrowers, eroded the county’s property tax base, and forced the county to spend more to combat blight from abandoned properties. It said damages may total $300 million or more.

The county is seeking a halt to Wells Fargo’s alleged wrongful practices, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Its lawsuit also targets practices at the former Wachovia Corp, which Wells Fargo bought at the end of 2008.

Tom Goyda, a Wells Fargo spokesman, said the bank would vigorously defend itself against the county’s “baseless” accusations. “It’s disappointing they chose to pursue a lawsuit against Wells Fargo rather than collaborate together to help borrowers and home owners,” he added.

The San Francisco-based lender is also the fourth-largest U.S. bank by assets.

Cook County has filed similar lawsuits against Bank of America Corp and Britain’s HSBC Holdings Plc.

Los Angeles, the second most populous U.S. city, brought cases against Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase Co and Citigroup Inc.

The case is County of Cook, Illinois v. Wells Fargo Co, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No. 14-09548.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/-1iuu_8xj_4/story01.htm

German pilots union says fresh strikes imminent at Lufthansa


FRANKFURT (Reuters) – German pilots union VC said late on Friday that talks with carrier Deutsche Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) over early retirement benefits have broken down and that new strikes are possible any time.

“From now, strike action is to be expected again at any time at Lufthansa, Lufthansa Cargo and Germanwings,” the union said in a statement.

The row is over proposed changes to an early retirement scheme for pilots that was developed decades ago, when they had to stop work at age 55.

“Unfortunately, Lufthansa’s management has not seized upon our proposals for compromise and continues to insist on their maximum demands,” the statement said.

The dispute between Germany’s largest airline and the union has resulted in repeated strikes this year, affecting thousands of passengers.

Eight walkouts by staff this year wiped 160 million euros ($200 million) off the carrier’s operating profit, adding to Lufthansa woes such as a stuttering global economy and increased competition.

As a result, Lufthansa last month lowered its profit guidance for 2015 for the second time this year, hitting its shares.

Passenger transport in Germany has also been disrupted by train drivers strikes this year. The latest walkout earlier this month thwarted travel plans of Germans planning to go by rail to celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall.

Like the pilots, train drivers have not yet come to an agreement with their employers.

(Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Chris Reese and Lisa Shumaker)

Article source: http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/KxA1G2Zno2s/story01.htm