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Tuesday 12/16/2014
AAA: 98.6 million Americans travelling this holiday season
Posted: December 16, 2014

TAMPA, Fla.  – The year-end holiday season should see the highest travel volume on record (AAA travel data dates back to 2001). AAA projects 98.6 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holiday season, an increase of four percent from the 94.8 million people who traveled last year. The year-end holiday period is defined as Tuesday, December 23 to Sunday, January 4.

Oil price plunge creates economic winners, losers
Posted: December 16, 2014

MILWAUKEE — The pain at the pump is gone for now, but could we begin to feel it elsewhere?

Monday 12/15/2014
Why oil is down by half, what it means for you
Posted: December 15, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — The price of oil has fallen by nearly half in just six months, a surprising and steep plunge that has consumers cheering, producers howling and economists wringing their hands over whether this is a good or bad thing.

The price of a barrel of oil is just under $56, down from a summer high of $107, and lower than at any time since the U.S. was still in recession in the spring of 2009.

So what's going on? A global imbalance of supply and demand that is rippling across the world economy, for better and worse.

SUPPLIES GO BOOM

Years of high oil prices, interrupted briefly by the recession, inspired drillers around the world to scour the earth's crust for more oil.

They found it.

Since 2008 oil companies in the U.S., for example, have increased production by 70 percent, or 3.5 million barrels of oil per day. To put that in perspective, that increase alone is more than the production of any OPEC member other than Saudi Arabia.

As U.S. production was ramping up, turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa reduced supplies from Libya, Iran and elsewhere. A balance was struck: Increasing supplies from outside of OPEC and from Iraq's recovering oil industry helped meet rising demand around the world as other OPEC supplies waivered.

But now those OPEC supplies look more certain despite continuing turmoil, and those non-OPEC supplies have swamped the market. OPEC estimated last week that the world would need 28.9 million barrels of its oil per day next year, the lowest in more than a decade. At the same time, OPEC countries plan to produce 30 million barrels of oil per day next year. That supply surplus is sending global prices lower.

DEMAND GOES BUST

Global demand is still expected to grow next year, but by far less than many thought earlier this year. The economies of China, Japan and Western Europe — the top oil consumers after the United States — all appear to be weakening. Oil demand falls when economic growth stalls.

The U.S. is still the world's largest consumer, but more fuel-efficient cars and changing demographics mean demand for oil and gasoline is not increasing. The Energy Department predicts a slight decrease in gasoline demand next year even though the price is expected to be sharply lower and the economy is expected to grow.

THE HAPPY CONSUMERS

For drivers, shippers, airlines and other consumers of fuel, there's nothing not to like about the drop in oil prices.

The national average gasoline price has fallen for 81 straight days to $2.55 a gallon, its lowest level since October of 2009, according to AAA. It's $1.15 a gallon cheaper than its high for the year, saving U.S. households $100 a month as they shop for holiday presents. "Any time gas prices go down that is a good thing," said Randy Daniels, 30, who was shopping recently at the Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta. "An extra 20 or 30 bucks in my pocket goes far."

Diesel and jet fuel prices have also plunged, helping boost the profits and share prices of airlines and shippers. Heating oil is the cheapest it has been in four years, reducing home heating prices just in time for winter for many in the chilly Northeast.

THE WORRIED ECONOMISTS

Falling fuel prices act like a tax cut and help boost consumer spending, which in turn accounts for 70 percent of the U.S. economy. But economists are growing concerned that there are other, more troublesome forces at play.

The depth of oil's plunge could be a signal that the global economy is struggling even more than economists think. A weak global economy could hurt the U.S. economy by reducing exports, employment and spending, which together could outweigh the economic benefits of cheaper fuel.

THE PRODUCERS' PAIN

For oil companies, oil-producing states, and oil-exporting countries, the oil price collapse is painful.

Oil companies generally keep producing oil from wells they've already drilled, but lower prices sharply reduce revenue and force them to cut back spending on new exploration projects. BP announced last week it would try to trim $1 billion in spending next year in a move that analysts say could result in thousands of job cuts.

States that rely on taxes from energy production such as Alaska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas will see lower revenues and some have already had to trim budgets.

Major oil exporters such as Iran, Iraq, Russia and Venezuela rely heavily on revenues from state-owned oil companies to run their governments and are struggling under major budget shortfalls. For example, Bank of America estimates that every $1 drop in the global price of oil costs Venezuela $770 million in annual revenue. Current prices are now $46 below last year's average, putting the country on pace for a $36 billion reduction in revenue.

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AP Business Writer Mae Anderson contributed to this story from Atlanta. Jonathan Fahey can be reached at http://twitter.com/JonathanFahey .

Friday 12/12/2014
Dow drops more than 300 as oil continues to plunge
Posted: December 12, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — The Dow Jones industrial average is closing more than 300 points lower, its worst loss in two months.

Traders were discouraged Friday by another slump in the price of oil and more signs of weakness in China.

The Dow dropped 315 points, or 1.8 percent, to 17,280. The Dow had its first losing week since October.

The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 33 points, or 1.6 percent, to 2,002. The Nasdaq slid 54 points, or 1.2 percent, to 4,653.

Oil prices sank again after the International Energy Agency said global demand will grow less than previously forecast next year.

Crude tumbled $2.14, or 3.6 percent, to $57.81 a barrel. It's down 47 percent since June.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.09 percent.

Thursday 12/11/2014
Holiday shopping boosts US retail sales
Posted: December 11, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. retail sales perked up in November, as cheaper gas and an improving job market fueled a promising start to the holiday shopping season.

An early stock market rally fizzles as oil drops to $59.95 a barrel
Updated: December 11, 2014 - 4:17 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — A rally on the stock market fizzled toward the end of trading as the price of oil sank.

Wednesday 12/10/2014
Stocks slump as oil price drop sinks energy sector
Posted: December 10, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are closing sharply slower as another plunge in the price of oil dragged down the energy sector.

Exxon Mobil and Chevron were among the biggest decliners in the Dow Jones industrial average Wednesday.

The Dow lost 268 points, or 1.5 percent, to 17,533. That was its worst drop in two months.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 33 points, or 1.6 percent, to 2,026. The Nasdaq composite fell 82 points, or 1.7 percent, to 4,684.

The price of crude oil sank $2.88, or 4.5 percent, to $60.94 a barrel in New York. That's a five-year low.

Oil fell after the U.S. Energy Department reported an increase in domestic inventories and OPEC projected that demand would sink next year to levels not seen in more than a decade.

Tuesday 12/09/2014
Georgia Economic Outlook series opens Dec. 12 in Atlanta
Posted: December 09, 2014

Athens, Ga. - The 2015 Georgia Economic Outlook, hosted by the University of Georgia Terry College of Business, will take place Dec. 12 at noon at the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta.

Friday 12/05/2014
Hiring this year has ranged across many industries
Posted: December 05, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — This year's hiring boom hasn't been just about a couple of standout industries. All major sectors have posted impressive gains, reflecting the broad strength of the U.S. economy.

Job gains put US on pace for best growth since '99
Posted: December 05, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — The resurgence in U.S. hiring accelerated in November and put 2014 on track to be the healthiest year for job growth since 1999.

Tuesday 12/02/2014
Cyber Monday deals get stretched, crimping sales
Posted: December 02, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — Cyber Monday deals are being stretched out this holiday season, crimping sales on the day itself.

Retailers from Target to Amazon have been offering online deals since the beginning of November, and are promising "cyber" deals all week. That seems to have put a dent in Cyber Monday sales. Sales were up, according to estimates. But they weren't as strong as some were expecting.

IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark reported that online sales rose 8.5 percent compared to 2013. That still makes it the busiest U.S. online shopping day of the year so far — a title the date has held since 2010. But it was less stellar growth than last year's Cyber Monday, when online sales jumped more than 20 percent.

"As the holiday shopping season becomes less concentrated on a single day, retailers and marketers took advantage by making it easier for consumers to find the best deals on the go, whenever and wherever they chose to shop," said Jay Henderson, director of IBM Smarter Commerce.

One bright spot was mobile shopping: shopping on a tablet or smartphone accounted for 41.2 percent of all online traffic, up from 30.1 percent last year. Mobile sales reached 22 percent of total Cyber Monday online sales.

Sterne Agee's chief economist Lindsey Piegza said the 8 percent rise fell short of projected expectations of a 13 percent to 15 percent gain.

"With gasoline prices down markedly over the past few months leaving consumers with extra cash in their pockets, many retailers are befuddled over such disappointing spending numbers," she said. The sales figures highlight how fragile the U.S. economy remains, particularly the consumer sector, she said.

A clearer picture of how Cyber Monday sales fared will emerge when research firm comScore reports sales results later Tuesday.

The name Cyber Monday was coined in 2005 by the National Retail Federation's online arm, called Shop.org, to encourage people to shop online. After retailers revved up deals for the day, it became the busiest online shopping day in 2010.

The name was also a nod to online shopping being done at work where faster connections made it easier to browse.

Some retailers painted a rosy picture of the day. Walmart.com said it received the most online orders in its history on Cyber Monday. It added that mobile made up about 70 percent of the traffic to its website between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday.

But some shoppers were disappointed by the deals. Preston Neill, 28, from Philadelphia, took advantage of early online deals over the weekend like 40 percent off board games from Amazon and clothing that was 40 percent off from Banana Republic, over the holiday weekend. But he said the deals on Cyber Monday seemed similar to what he had already seen earlier.

"I haven't seen anything that jumps out at me," he said. "I feel like (Cyber Monday) is the Super Bowl of shopping, there is a lot of hype, then it doesn't quite live up."

Friday 11/28/2014
Oil plunge a panacea for much of world economy
Posted: November 28, 2014

A renewed plunge in oil prices is a worrying sign of weakness in the global economy that could shake governments dependent on oil revenues. Yet it is also a bonus for consumers as prices fall at the pump, giving individuals more spending money and lowering costs for many businesses.

The latest slide was triggered by OPEC's decision this week to leave its production target at 30 million barrels a day. Member nations of the cartel are worried they'll lose market share if they lower production.

Partly because of the shale oil boom in the U.S., the world is awash in oil but demand from major economies is weak — so prices are falling.

Brent crude, an international benchmark, was at $72.50 a barrel on Friday, down nearly 30 percent in the past three months and at its lowest in four years. U.S. crude oil slid 6.2 percent to near $69 a barrel on Friday and is down 27 percent over three months.

Overall, the slide will come as a boon for consumers in oil-importing regions like Asia and Europe. But there are also some possible negatives.

WESTERN EUROPE

Many of Europe's economies are net importers of oil, so lower prices are likely to give a welcome, if small, boost to growth. Cheaper energy reduces costs for industry and puts more money in consumers' pockets. That will be particularly useful in the 18-nation eurozone, where unemployment is high.

In Germany, the price at the pump for Super E10 fuel has fallen from 1.53 euros per liter ($7.16 per gallon) at the start of September to 1.42 euros per liter ($6.69 per gallon) this week, according to the ADAC motoring association.

Dropping fuel prices also, however, add to one of the eurozone's biggest headaches: low inflation. Weak inflation makes it harder for troubled economies like Greece to reduce debt. It is also a problem for the European Central Bank, which wants to nudge up inflation from just 0.3 percent currently to around 2 percent.

The few European countries that do produce oil — mainly Britain and Norway in the North Sea — face a drop in revenues that could balance out the positives of cheaper fuel.

RUSSIA

Russia gets about 50 percent of its state revenue from oil exports, so the government's concerns are clear. The national economy is already sliding into recession under the impact of Western sanctions and investors are pulling money out.

Officials for the moment are putting on a poker-face — Putin said Friday that "I'm sure the market will become balanced by the middle of next year."

For Russian consumers, the outlook is mixed. Prices at the pump have actually gone up in the past few months, in line with a rise in inflation that has been fueled by the drop in the national currency, the ruble. In local money, 95-octane gasoline costs 35.99 rubles a liter ($2.8 a gallon) in Moscow, up from 35.53 per liter two months ago.

JAPAN

In Japan, which is a net importer of oil, gas at the pump remains relatively high as it takes some time for cheaper crude prices to filter down to consumers. Also, a recent drop in the yen's value will reduce the savings Japan can reap from lower oil prices.

In June, regular gasoline cost $1.40 a liter ($5.29 a gallon) at the Esso filling station in Shimbashi, near the glittering Ginza shopping strip in Tokyo. The price rose to $1.46 a liter ($5.53 a gallon) in July and was $1.44 a liter ($5.44 a gallon) on Friday morning.

Prices are expected to fall but that will complicate the government's efforts to end Japan's deflation.

CHINA, EMERGING ASIAN ECONOMIES

The Chinese government adjusts retail prices in line with the global market. As a result, Beijing has cut prices repeatedly this year. On Friday, highest grade gasoline cost $1.20 a liter ($4.54 a gallon) in the capital, down from $1.35 a liter ($5.11 a gallon) in June. Cheaper fuel would ease financial pressure on manufacturers and small businesses at a time when economic growth has declined steadily over the past two years.

Elsewhere in Asia, the impact is varied. In Indonesia, fuel costs have risen because the government has cut its expensive subsidies, more than offsetting the decline in global oil prices. The higher prices triggered street protests and the latest fall in crude prices may help ease tensions once it flows through to pump prices.

Malaysia is among the few oil-exporting nations in Asia, so the drop is hurting its coffers. But it is also taking advantage of the market drop to cut expensive fuel subsidies.

Wednesday 11/26/2014
Stock indexes close Wednesday slightly further into record territory
Updated: November 26, 2014 - 4:23 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks are closing with slight gains, just enough to push the market further into record territory.

Saudis suggest no need for OPEC output cut
Posted: November 26, 2014

VIENNA (AP) — Top OPEC producer Saudi Arabia suggested Wednesday there is no need for the cartel to cut its output ceiling despite a plunge in prices that has poorer members of the organization hurting.

Bekaert CEO: We're committed to Rome plant operations, will rebuild
Updated: November 26, 2014 - 8:50 pm

Bekaert corporate executives confirmed in a news release issued Wednesday that the company is committed to rebuilding its plant in Rome as quickly as possible.

Tuesday 11/25/2014
As OPEC faces tough test, lower oil prices loom
Posted: November 25, 2014

NEW YORK — These are the moments OPEC exists for: A sharp drop in global oil prices has reduced the amount of money OPEC countries take in by nearly $1 billion a day.

Monday 11/24/2014
GNTC builds environmentally-friendly green home at Calhoun campus
Updated: November 24, 2014 - 1:32 pm

A year-long construction project designed to teach how to build homes in an Earth-friendly way reached completion November 19 on Georgia Northwestern Technical College’s Gordon County Campus in Calhoun, Georgia. Leaders from across the region, participating vendors, and college administration were on hand for the ribbon-cutting of the new EarthCraft home built at the college.

Wednesday 11/19/2014
New gas station, convenience store set to open
Posted: November 19, 2014

The new RaceTrac convenience store and gas station constructed in Calhoun is set to open next week.

Tuesday 11/18/2014
Calhoun Premium Outlets announces holiday hours
Updated: November 18, 2014 - 10:05 am

Atlanta-area Simon shopping centers including Calhoun Premium Outlets announced today enhanced holiday season opening hours to accommodate the needs of busy holiday shoppers.

Monday 11/17/2014
Why airfare keeps rising despite lower oil prices
Posted: November 17, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. airlines are saving tens of millions of dollars every week because of lower prices for jet fuel, their largest expense. So why don't they share some of the savings with passengers?

Simply put: Airlines have no compelling reason to offer any breaks. Planes are full. Investors want a payout. And new planes are on order.

In fact, fares are going higher. And those bag fees that airlines instituted in 2008 when fuel prices spiked aren't going away either.

In the 12 months ended in September, U.S. airlines saved $1.6 billion on jet fuel. That helped them post a 5.7 percent profit margin in the first three quarters of this year, robust for the industry but lagging behind the 10 percent average for the Standard & Poor's 500.

In the past six years, airlines have done a great job of adjusting the number of flights to fall just short of demand. As a result, those who want to fly will pay a premium to do so. Airlines are selling a record 85.1 percent of their domestic seats. Thanks to several mega-mergers, four big airlines control the vast majority of flights, leaving very little room for another airline to undercut fares.

With that in mind, here's a closer look at what's going on with airfare and the price of jet fuel:

— The average domestic airline ticket during the first nine months of this year rose 3.1 percent to $374.96, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes ticket transactions for airlines and travel agencies. That figure doesn't include another $56.32 in taxes and fees that passengers pay.

— In the 12-month period ending in September, U.S. airlines burned through nearly 16.2 billion gallons of fuel. They paid an average of $2.97 a gallon — down from $3.07 the prior year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That 10-cent drop saved the industry $1.6 billion. Fuel prices have since fallen further. United Airlines estimates it will pay $2.76 to $2.81 a gallon during the last three months of the year.

— Put another way: U.S. airlines burn through 311 million gallons of fuel in a week. Lower fuel prices are saving them $31 million a week.

— Granted, with 751 million passengers carried last year that averages out to a savings of $2.15 for each leg of a trip a passenger takes: $4.30 on a roundtrip non-stop ticket or $8.61 on a roundtrip connecting itinerary.

— Fuel accounts for 34 percent of an airline's operating costs. The non-fuel costs include salaries and benefits, lease payments on airplanes, maintenance and fees for landing at airports. That doesn't include the cost of reservation systems, marketing or food and drinks.

— Airlines are also reinvesting in their planes, airport terminals and computers. In the first nine months of this year, U.S. carriers spent $10.2 billion on capital improvements, according to the industry's trade and lobbying group, Airlines for America. That more than $1 billion a month, the highest pace since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

— Airlines are on the largest jet-buying spree in the history of aviation, ordering more than 10,000 new planes with manufacturers Airbus and Boeing in the past five years. Those orders are for new, fuel efficient planes. A temporary drop in oil prices shouldn't slow that process. New jets last 15 to 20 years and the buying is driven by cheap credit almost as much as high oil prices.

— Money is also going back to investors. American Airlines this year paid its first dividend in 34 years, while Delta Air Lines restored its payout last year. Southwest Airlines, which has paid one for more than 37 years, boosted its payout by 50 percent this spring. The airlines are all also buying back large amounts of their own stock.

— Airlines responded to high fuel prices by limiting the number of flights, giving them the power to charge higher fares. Now, Wall Street analysts are worried that lower oil prices are causing them to recklessly add new routes or extra flights where profits aren't guaranteed. Hunter Keay, an analyst with Wolfe Research, recently wrote in a note to investors that the beauty of high oil prices is that they "force airlines to make hard choices that are almost always good for the long term investability of the space, mainly around capacity decisions and fees."

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Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott.