Business Highlights

Business Highlights

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- ___

Senators get no clear answers on air bag safety

WASHINGTON (AP) -- There were apologies and long-winded explanations, but after nearly four hours of testimony about exploding Takata air bags, senators never got a clear answer to the question most people have: whether or not their cars are safe.

During a Thursday hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Takata's quality chief apologized for the air bag malfunctions, and a senior Honda executive acknowledged his company didn't comply with disclosure laws.

Prolonged exposure to airborne moisture can cause Takata's air bag inflator propellant to burn quickly, blowing apart a metal canister and sending shrapnel into passengers. At least five people have died worldwide. Lawmakers have called for a national recall to end confusion, but most automakers have balked.

Eight million cars with Takata air bag inflators have been recalled in the U.S., and more than 12 million worldwide. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said there could be as many as 100 million Takata-equipped cars globally and 30 million in the U.S.

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Soaring generic drug prices draw Senate scrutiny

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Some low-cost generic drugs that have helped restrain health care costs for decades are seeing unexpected price spikes of up to 8,000 percent, prompting a backlash from patients, pharmacists and now Washington lawmakers.

Members of the Senate meet Thursday to scrutinize the recent, unexpected trend among generic medicines, which are copies of branded drugs that have lost patent protection. They usually cost between 30 to 80 percent less than the original medicines.

Experts point to multiple, often unrelated, forces behind the price hikes, including drug ingredient shortages, industry consolidation and production slowdowns due to manufacturing problems. But the lawmakers convening Thursday's hearing, led by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, say the federal government needs to do more to bring down prices.

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5 reasons why most unemployed aren't getting aid

WASHINGTON (AP) -- There are still a lot of unemployed Americans, but only a fraction of them are actually receiving jobless benefits.

The proportion of those out of work who are signed up for government aid has fallen to historic lows of less than 25 percent. That's a sharp turnaround from just after the recession, when unemployment benefits had been extended nationwide for as long as 99 weeks. That extra coverage meant that in early 2010, as many as three-quarters of those out of work received help, a record high.

The drop counters a common assumption that most of those out of work get aid. It is partly a sign of an improving job market: Layoffs have plummeted and Americans seem more confident in their prospects for finding a job. But the drop also reflects the fact that state and federal benefit programs have been downsized from where they were just a few years ago.

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US unemployment aid applications fall to 291,000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people applying for U.S. unemployment benefits declined slightly last week, suggesting that job gains should remain solid.

Weekly applications for jobless aid fell 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 291,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 1,750 to 287,500.

Employers are laying off fewer workers and have stepped up hiring this year. The weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs, and have fallen 16 percent in the past 12 months. They are close to the lowest levels since 2000, a sign companies are more confident in the economy and willing to hold onto their staffs.

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Thanksgiving getaway: 46.3 million to hit the road

NEW YORK (AP) -- The good news for Thanksgiving travelers: the price of gas is at five-year lows. The bad news: a lot more people will be on the road.

During the long holiday weekend, 46.3 million Americans are expected to go 50 miles or more from home, the highest number since 2007, according to travel agency and car lobbying group AAA. That would be a 4.2 percent increase over last year.

While promising for the travel industry, the figure is still 8.5 percent short of the 50.6 million high point reached in 2007, just before the recession.

Like on every other holiday, the overwhelming majority of travelers — almost 90 percent — will be driving.

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Report: Global obesity costs hits $2 trillion

LONDON (AP) -- The global cost of obesity has risen to $2 trillion annually — nearly as much as smoking or the combined impact of armed violence, war and terrorism, according to a new report released Thursday.

The McKinsey Global Institute consulting firm's report said that 2.1 billion people — about 30 percent of the global population— are overweight or obese and that about 15 percent of health care costs in developed economies are driven by it.

In emerging markets, as countries get richer, the rate of obesity rises to the same level as that found in more developed countries. The report offers the stark prediction that nearly half the world's adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030 should present trends continue.

The report's authors argue that efforts to deal with obesity have been piecemeal until now, and that a systemic response is needed.

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US home sales rise in October

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Americans bought homes in October at the briskest pace this year, a sign that the sluggish housing market is turning around.

Sales of existing homes rose 1.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.26 million last month, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. That's up from a revised pace of 5.18 million in September. October marked the first month in 2014 when sales increased compared to a year ago, registering a 2.5 percent gain.

Still, the Realtors project that 2014 sales will fall below 2013 levels.

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Polls: Employers still prioritize health coverage

Employers squeezed by years of rising medical costs and pressure from the health care overhaul are still making employee health insurance a priority, but that coverage may grow skimpier in the coming years.

A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that companies that offer health insurance see it as a key tool to attract workers and keep them on the job. But they're also sweating the expense, with 86 percent citing the cost of coverage as a key factor in picking a plan.

A separate survey from the benefits consultant Mercer found that only 4 percent of all large employers say they will likely drop their employee health plans within the next five years, a figure that has trended down over the past few years.

The survey results run contrary to speculation among benefits insiders that more companies would consider dropping insurance coverage for their employees.

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L.A. becomes stage for high-speed luxury cars

Few people need an SUV with 567 horsepower that can scream around a racetrack and go from zero to 60 in four seconds.

A small but growing number want one.

These drivers aren't satisfied any longer with an ordinary luxury car. They crave speed and handling, and they're willing to pay for it. That's why BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac and Porsche are introducing six new high-performance versions of existing vehicles at the Los Angeles Auto Show, which opens to the public on Friday.

Although these super-fast models make up only around 3 percent of luxury automakers' sales, the cars and SUVs bring big profits and give brands an aura of race-car performance that boosts their image with many buyers.

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Venezuelan consumers get creative amid shortages

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Cloth diapers, baking soda to make deodorant and vinegar to mop the floor. That's not the shopping list of an eco-friendly hipster, it's how an increasing number of resourceful Venezuelans are making do in a time of severe shortages.

With the South American country entering what looks to be a third year of empty store shelves amid a deepening economic crisis, Venezuelans are turning to old-timey, all-natural methods to replace their favorite products.

Home to the world's largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela is nothing if not a consumerist culture, despite the anti-materialist ideology proffered by the nation's 14-year-old socialist revolution. And with the highest per-capita gas consumption in Latin America, the country isn't about to win any recognition for its environmentalism.

But that same oil dependence has led to a cycle of booms and busts that make Venezuelans especially adept at improvising during tough times.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 33.27 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,719. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 4.03 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,052.75. The Nasdaq composite rose 26.16 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,701.87.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1 to close at $75.58 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose $1.23 to $79.33 on the ICE Futures exchange in London. In other energy futures trading, wholesale gasoline fell 1.6 cents to close at $2.028 a gallon, heating oil rose 2.1 cents to close at $2.38 a gallon and natural gas rose 11.8 cents to close at $4.489 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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