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Business News

Last Update on April 28, 2015 17:08 GMT

HOME PRICES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. home prices rose at a faster pace in February than the previous month, driven by higher sales and a limited supply of available houses.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 5 percent in February from 12 months earlier. That is up from a 4.5 percent pace in January.

Faster sales likely drove the price gain. Signed contracts to buy homes jumped in February, yet the number of Americans listing their homes for sale remains low. That has led to bidding wars in some cities.

All 20 cities in the index reported year-over-year price gains in February. Home prices in Denver jumped 10 percent, the most of any city, followed by San Francisco, with 9.8 percent.

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumer confidence fell this month to the lowest level in four months, knocked down by a slowdown in hiring.

The Conference Board says its consumer confidence index fell to 95.2 in April from 101. 4 in March, the lowest reading since December's 93.1.

Consumers' assessment of current economic conditions fell for the third straight month, and their expectations for the future fell in April.

Lynn Franco, the Conference Board's director of economic indicators, blamed "the recent lackluster performance of the labor market." The American economy generated just 126,000 jobs last month, breaking a 12-month streak of at least 200,000 new jobs a month; 31 states registered job losses in March.

RECALL REPAIRS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Frustrated that cars recalled for serious safety defects aren't getting fixed quickly enough, the nation's auto safety chief will host a gathering of automakers today to search for solutions.

In some recalls for problems as serious as air bags that can spew shrapnel into drivers or fuel tanks that can rupture in a rear-end crash, completion rates are below 15 percent, six months or more after the recalls were announced.

These recalls involve millions of vehicles, challenging automakers to find both replacement parts and the cars' owners. Regulators at times have fined automakers for dragging their feet. Meanwhile, concerned car owners wait for repairs and worry about the safety of their cars.

So, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Mark Rosekind is asking auto companies and safety advocates for solutions.

FORD-RESULTS

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- Lower sales and the impact of a stronger U.S. dollar caused Ford's net income to fall 6.5 percent to $924 million in the first quarter.

The earnings, of 23 cents per share, compared with earnings of 25 cents a year earlier.

That was short of Wall Street's expectations. Analysts surveyed by FactSet forecast earnings of 26 cents per share.

Revenue fell by 5 percent, or $2 billion, to $33.9 billion, also missing forecasts of $34.3 billion.

Ford says the continuing launch of its new F-150 pickup hurt North American sales, since dealers don't yet have a full inventory. And while sales rose in Europe, revenue fell because of the stronger U.S. dollar.

Ford reiterated it expects a full-year pretax profit of $8.5 to $9.5 billion.

EARNS-MERCK

UNDATED (AP) -- Drugmaker Merck & Co. has nudged up its profit forecast for the year, citing continuing cost reductions and launches of important new drugs, particularly its immune-boosting melanoma drug Keytruda.

Analyst expectations have been muted for multinational companies because that the strong dollar reduces the values of products sold in local currencies around the world. While Merck's prescription drug sales jumped 16 percent in the U.S. in the quarter, they were down sharply in the huge Europe and Japan markets and some other regions.

Merck says its net income was $958 million, down from $1.71 billion, a year earlier.

Merck brought in $9.43 billion in revenue, surpassing Wall Street forecasts for $8.98 billion.

EARNS-AETNA

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Aetna Inc. (AET) is reporting first-quarter net income of $777.5 million.

On a per-share basis, the Hartford, Connecticut-based company says it had profit of $2.20. Earnings, adjusted for amortization costs and non-recurring costs, came to $2.39 per share.

The results topped Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of 16 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $1.95 per share.

The health insurer posted revenue of $15.09 billion in the period, which did not meet Street forecasts. Thirteen analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $15.45 billion.

Aetna expects full-year earnings in the range of $7.20 to $7.40 per share.

Aetna shares have climbed 20 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index has risen slightly more than 2 percent. The stock has risen 50 percent in the last 12 months.

EARNS-PFIZER

NEW YORK (AP) -- Pfizer Inc. (PFE) is reporting first-quarter profit of $2.38 billion.

The New York-based company says it had profit of 38 cents per share. Earnings, adjusted for non-recurring costs, were 51 cents per share.

The results topped Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of nine analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 50 cents per share.

The drugmaker posted revenue of $10.86 billion in the period, also exceeding Street forecasts. Five analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $10.81 billion.

Pfizer expects full-year earnings in the range of $1.95 to $2.05 per share, with revenue in the range of $44 billion to $46 billion.

Pfizer shares have risen 11 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index has increased slightly more than 2 percent. The stock has risen 12 percent in the last 12 months.

EARNS-JETBLUE AIRWAYS

NEW YORK (AP) -- JetBlue Airways Corp. (JBLU) is reporting first-quarter earnings of $137 million.

On a per-share basis, the New York-based company said it had net income of 40 cents.

The results topped Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 39 cents per share.

The airline posted revenue of $1.52 billion in the period, matching Street forecasts.

JetBlue shares have climbed 24 percent since the beginning of the year. The stock has more than doubled in the last 12 months.

EARNS-UNITED PARCEL SERVICE

DALLAS (AP) -- UPS boosted first-quarter earnings by 14 percent as things like charging more for bulky but lightweight boxes helped increase U.S. revenue.

The domestic growth offset international revenue that was hurt because sales were less valuable when converted into the strong U.S. dollar.

The $1.03 billion profit beat Wall Street forecasts, although revenue was less than expected. The company stood by its forecast for full-year earnings.

The shares rose more than 3 percent in morning trading.

United Parcel Service Inc. says its net income equaled $1.12 per share and compared with profit of $911 million, or 98 cents per share, a year earlier. The average estimate of 15 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $1.09 per share.

Overall, revenue rose 1 percent to $13.98 billion, which was below the $14.32 billion forecast of nine analysts surveyed by Zacks.

CONGRESS-CUBA

WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans are moving to sharply curb the Obama administration's recent moves to ease restrictions on travel to Cuba.

A provision backed by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida would block new air flights and cruise ship travel to Cuba. It was added to a must-pass transportation spending bill that's coming to the House floor next month.

The administration issued new rules in January that would significantly ease travel restrictions to Cuba and permit regularly scheduled flights for the first time since the revolution more than five decades ago. The GOP move would thwart the new flights but leave in place new rules permitting the import of limited amounts of goods like cigars and rum.

The provision is sure to spark controversy and a veto threat from the White House.

BRITAIN-ECONOMY

LONDON (AP) -- Britain's economic growth has slowed to a quarterly rate of 0.3 percent in the January-March period, a drop that will be seen as setback to the Conservative-led coalition only days before a general election.

The Office of National Statistics says the quarter-on-quarter growth rate was half of the 0.6 percent seen in the last quarter of 2014. The data was released days ahead of the May 7 election, which has been fought largely on which party is best placed to secure the economic recovery following the 2008 financial crisis.

The U.K. statistics agency says output decreased in construction, production and agriculture and growth slowed in the services sector.

Economist Vicki Redwood at Capital Economics deems it unlikely the economy is on the cusp of sustained slowdown.

EUROPE-GOOGLE

BERLIN (AP) -- Google says it will give European publishers $162.33 million to help them adapt to the challenge of selling news online.

The Internet giant has had a rocky relationship with the European publishing industry, which accuses Google of profiting from its content without sharing the revenue.

Google says it's establishing the Digital News Initiative together with eight leading publishers, including the Financial Times and the Guardian.

The fund is open to other publishers and will focus on developing new distribution channels, ways to make consumers pay for news, and training for journalists.

Last year, Google blocked Spanish publishers' reports from more than 70 Google News international editions due to a new Spanish law requiring aggregators to pay to link content.

GREECE-BAILOUT

BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union says that talks with creditors to keep Greece from going bankrupt "are being made more productive and efficient" as the country faces a growing cash crunch.

An EU Commission spokeswoman says the pace of talks has "intensified" since a weekend meeting of eurozone finance minister, where Greek minister Yanis Varoufakis came under intense pressure from his colleagues.

The EU commission refuses to elaborate on reports of the sidelining of Varoufakis as the prime contact in the bailout talks beyond saying ministers were happy to talk to any Greek representative, "as long as they have a mandate to negotiate."

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