Tuesday's Business Highlights

For Oct. 1, 2013

Here are news highlights from the business world.

Strap on your computer, wearable tech taking off

SAN FRANCISCO — The digital domain is creeping off our desktops and onto our bodies, from music players that match your tunes to your heart beat, to mood sweaters that change color depending on your emotional state — blue for calm, red for angry. There are vacuum shoes that clean the floor while you walk and fitness bracelets, anklets and necklaces to track your calorie burning.

“Everyone agrees the race is just beginning, and I think we’re going to see some very, very big leaps in just the next year,” said tech entrepreneur Manish Chandra at a wearable technology conference and fashion show in San Francisco that was buzzing with hundreds of developers, engineers and designers.

Wearable technologies have long been a sideshow to mainstream laptop and smartphones, but this year Google’s glasses and rumors of Apple’s iWatch are popularizing the field. Analysts forecast swift growth. The market for wearable technology — encompassing everything from hearing aids to wristband pedometers — totaled almost $9 billion last year. That should climb to $30 billion by 2018, said analyst Shane Walker at IHS Global Insights.

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US government shutdown closes parks, monuments

PHILADELPHIA — Visitors arrived to find “CLOSED” signs at the Statue of Liberty, the Smithsonian and other parks and historic sites across the country. Callers looking for help from the government reached only voicemail. And federal employees were left to wonder when they would return to work.

The first government shutdown in 17 years took hold in ways large and small.

About 800,000 federal employees were sent home — a number greater than the combined U.S. workforces of Target, General Motors, Exxon and Google.

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Utilities, solar companies in fight over rates

ATLANTA — Sunlight is free, but if you use it to make electricity your power company wants you to pay.

Utilities in many states say solar-friendly rate plans, conceived to promote alternative energy sources, are too generous and allow solar customers to avoid paying for the grid even though they use it.

Some power companies are proposing an extra fee for solar customers. Others are trying to roll back or block programs that allow those customers to trade the solar power they generate during sunny days for power they need from the grid during other times.

As rooftop solar expands from a niche product to a mainstream way to save money on power bills, utilities are afraid they will lose so many customers — and revenue — that they won’t be able to afford to build and maintain the grid.

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Clue, Ninja Turtles finalists for Toy Hall of Fame

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The National Toy Hall of Fame has narrowed the nominees for its class of 2013.

This year’s finalists are: Bubbles, chess, the board game Clue, Fisher-Price Little People, little green Army men, the Magic 8 Ball, My Little Pony, Nerf toys, the Pac-Man video game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the scooter and the rubber duck.

The museum announced the 12 finalists Tuesday, two of which will be enshrined alongside Barbie, the hula hoop, Lionel trains and dozens of other famous playthings next month.

A national selection committee will vote on which two will follow last year’s winners, dominoes and “Star Wars” action figures, into the 15-year-old hall, located inside The Strong museum in Rochester.

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US manufacturing expands at best pace in 2 1/2 years

WASHINGTON — U.S. factory activity expanded last month at the fastest pace in 2 1/2 years, an encouraging sign that manufacturing could lift economic growth and hiring in the coming months.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said its manufacturing index rose in September to 56.2, the highest since April 2011. That’s up from 55.7 in August and the fourth straight increase in the index. A reading above 50 indicates growth.

Manufacturers added jobs last month at the fastest pace in more than a year and ramped up production, the survey showed. They also received new orders at a healthy pace, though slower than in August.

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Sept. US sales falter, but automakers see rebound

DETROIT — Automakers expect little impact from the federal government shutdown, and they predict a fourth-quarter rebound after a rare sales decline in September.

Auto sales dropped 4 percent from a year ago to just over 1.1 million, mainly due to a calendar quirk that pulled Labor Day weekend transactions into August’s numbers. The drop ended a 27-month streak of gains for the industry.

General Motors, Honda and Volkswagen reported double-digit declines for last month. Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai posted smaller decreases. Only Ford and Chrysler reported gains among the bigger automakers.

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Merck to cut 8,500 more jobs

Merck & Co. plans to cut another 8,500 jobs as the drugmaker continues its struggle with competition from cheaper generic medications that have squeezed the pharmaceutical industry for several quarters now.

The New Jersey-based company said the reductions are in addition to a total of 7,500 cuts it had previously announced but hasn’t carried out. That means it is slashing about 20 percent of its workforce, currently at about 81,000 people.

Merck, the world’s third-largest drugmaker, said the restructuring will cost a total of between $2.5 billion and $3 billion before taxes, mainly due to employee severance costs. But it expects the moves to help generate annual savings of about $2.5 billion by the end of 2015.

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Stocks

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 62.03 points, or 0.4 percent, to 15,191.70. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 13.45 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,695.00. The Nasdaq composite rose 46.50 points, or 1.2 percent, to 3,817.98.

Benchmark oil for November delivery fell 29 cents to close at $102.04 a barrel in New York. Wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to close at $2.61 per gallon. Natural gas rose 5 cents to close at $3.61 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil fell 1 cent to close at $2.96 per gallon.

Brent crude, a benchmark used to price imported crude used by many U.S. refineries, fell 43 cents to close at $107.94 in London.

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