DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) - Ford says retail sales have risen 15 percent through November of this year. The automaker says it expects to sell at least 2.4 million Ford-brand vehicles this year, enough to make it North America's top-selling brand. It says it expects December sales to "grow substantially" compared to last December. The automaker says the strongest growth this year was in the West and Southeast. It says it will sell more than 600,000 passenger cars this year, the most since 2000.
(BURT LAKE) -- The Commercial Maple Syrup Producers of Michigan has received a $10,000 grant that will be used to help assess expansion opportunities for the state industry. The group is made up of Michigan's larger maple syrup operations. It recently was awarded a Strategic Growth Initiative grant, which are aimed at growing the state's food and agriculture industry. Craig Waldron is the owner of Far Hills Maple Syrup LLC in Burt Lake, one of the largest commercial maple syrup operations in Michigan. He's also chairman of the Commercial Maple Syrup Producers of Michigan. Waldron says room for growth in the state's maple syrup industry is staggering. He says statistics show the U.S. imports four times more Canadian maple syrup than it produces here.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Mailing a letter is about to get a little more expensive. Postal regulators on Tuesday approved a price hike of 3 cents for a first-class stamp, bringing the charge to 49 cents a letter. The independent Postal Regulatory Commission said the change was justified by severe mail volume decreases since 2008. The new price is effective Jan. 26 and will last no more than two years, allowing the Postal Service to recoup $2.8 billion in losses. Regulators rejected a request to make the price hike permanent. Bulk mail, periodicals and package service rates rise 6 percent. The mail industry opposes the price increases. It says charities using mass mailings and bookstores competing with Amazon will suffer. The Postal Service says it lost $5 billion in the last fiscal year.
NEW YORK (AP) - Crude oil and copper prices are higher following the latest positive signs on the U.S. economy. Increases in orders for manufactured goods and new home sales last month suggested that a pickup in the economy could cause demand for energy and basic building materials to rise. Oil for February delivery rose 31 cents to close at $99.22 in a shortened session on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Trading will be closed Wednesday for Christmas. The actively traded March contract for copper rose 6.65 cents to $3.374 a pound. February gold rose $6.30 to $1,203.30 an ounce. Wheat futures fell slightly, while corn and soybean futures edged higher.
WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 379,000, the highest since March. The increase may reflect volatility around the Thanksgiving holidays. The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average jumped 13,250 to 343,250, the second straight increase. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Last month, they fell to nearly the lowest level in six years, as companies cut fewer jobs. But two weeks ago, they surged 64,000 to 369,000. Economists dismissed that spike, saying it likely reflected a Thanksgiving holiday that fell later in the month. That can distort the government's seasonal adjustments. But if the trend continues it would be a troubling sign of rising layoffs. The number of people receiving benefits rose sharply. More than 4.4 million people received unemployment benefits in the week ended Nov. 30, the latest data available. That was 600,000 more than the previous week. Those figures aren't adjusted for seasonal patterns. Still, most other recent job market data has been positive and economists generally expect unemployment benefits applications will soon fall back. "We are inclined to ignore the recent claims data," said Joseph LaVorgna, an economist at Deutsche Bank. "We see little evidence to suggest that the labor market trend of the past few months has meaningfully changed." Hiring has been healthy for the past four months. The economy added an average of 204,000 jobs a month from August through November, a solid improvement from earlier in the year. The unemployment rate fell in November to a five-year low of 7 percent. The unemployment rate remains above the historic averages of 5 percent to 6 percent that are associated with strong job markets. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday that he expects the robust job gains to continue. Americans are spending more and the economy is less restrained by higher taxes and government spending cuts, he said. Those trends have "increased our confidence that the job market gains will continue," Bernanke said at a press conference. The Fed said Wednesday that it would scale back its monthly bond purchases to $75 billion from $85 billion. The purchases are intended to lower long-term interest rates and encourage more spending. The cut suggests that Fed policymakers think the job market and economy will continue to improve even with less help from the Fed.
LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Some Michigan officials are pushing for an overhaul in state tax appeals, arguing that the current process is too complicated and has inconsistent results. The Detroit News reports Thursday that a draft of potential changes is being circulated by the Michigan Department of Treasury. The proposal would eliminate the Michigan Tax Tribunal that handles assessment appeals from property owners unsatisfied with rulings from local boards. The state wants to replace the tribunal with a Michigan Tax Court whose judges and magistrates would have more experience and higher pay. Proposed changes would require legislation to take effect. Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton says officials are now receiving feedback on the proposal, which was distributed to attorneys and business leaders. The changes also would create county tax boards to hear appeals.
MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) - Facebook says it plans to offer 70 million shares of stock for sale that includes more than 41 million shares from chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The secondary offering of stock comes as the social media network prepares to join the Standard & Poor's 500 index. The Menlo Park, Calif., company said Thursday that the shares will be offered mainly to index funds whose portfolios are based on stocks included in the index. The S&P 500 will add Facebook on Friday after markets close. The index is a list of companies that is meant to be a snapshot of the U.S. economy. Facebook Inc.'s stock went public in 2012. After a rocky start, the company's shares have gained momentum. Its shares fell 4 percent in premarket trading Thursday.
WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of people who bought existing U.S. homes in November declined for the third straight month. Higher mortgage rates have made home-buying more expensive, while the lingering impact of the October government shutdown may have deterred some sales. The National Association of Realtors says home sales fell 4.3 percent to an annual rate of 4.90 million. That's the weakest pace since December 2012, and the first time since April that the pace has slipped below 5 million. Still, the association projects that total sales this year will be 5.1 million. That would be the strongest since 2007, when the housing bubble burst. The median sales price of an existing home was $196,300 in November, a slight decrease from October but 9.4 percent higher than a year ago.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Delta Air Lines says it won't allow passengers to make voice calls from its planes. CEO Richard Anderson says the airline's frequent fliers believe that voice calls in the cabin would disrupt the travel experience. Delta says a majority of customers in a survey last year said the ability to make voice calls would make their experience worse, not better. Anderson also says Delta employees, particularly in-flight crews, are against allowing calls during flights. The Federal Communications Commission is thinking about lifting its ban on voice calls on planes. However, the Transportation Department is thinking about instituting a ban of its own.
DETROIT (AP) - Ford says it expects 2013 to be one of the best financial years in its history with a pretax profit of about $8.5 billion. The automaker expects 10 percent revenue growth, improved market share in all regions except Europe and stronger cash flow than a year ago. The company released its forecast Wednesday ahead of a presentation to analysts by Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks. Ford also expects next year to be solid. It plans to launch the highest number of new vehicles in a single year in more than a century.