DALLAS (AP) - FedEx says its profit rose 5 percent from a year ago despite storms that raised the company's costs. But its results were below analysts' expectations. The package-delivery giant said Wednesday that net income rose to $378 million, or $1.23 per share, for the quarter that ended Feb. 28. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected $1.45 per share. Revenue rose 3 percent to $11.30 billion, below Wall Street's forecast of $11.43 billion. Ground shipping is doing better, but the express-delivery business is flat. The company expects earnings for the fiscal year that ends in May to be between $6.55 and $6.80 per share. That's below analysts' prediction of $6.89 per share. FedEx shares fell 2 percent in premarket trading. Its shares had been down 3.6 percent this year after gaining 57 percent last year.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Large increases in exports and overseas investment income narrowed the U.S. current account deficit to the lowest level in 14 years in the October-December quarter. The Commerce Department says the imbalance fell to $81.1 billion in the fourth quarter, down from $96.4 billion in the July-September quarter. That's the smallest gap since the third quarter of 1999. The rise in goods exports was driven by petroleum and agricultural products. The current account is the country's broadest measure of trade, covering not only goods and services but also investment flows. A smaller trade deficit usually means that U.S. companies are producing more to meet domestic and overseas demand. U.S. exports of goods and services rose 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter from the third, while overseas investment income rose 4.3 percent.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Cheaper energy kept U.S. consumer prices in check last month, despite a big rise in the cost of food, the latest sign that inflation is tame. The Labor Department says the consumer price index rose 0.1 percent in February, matching January's increase. In the past 12 months, prices have risen just 1.1 percent, down from 1.6 percent in January and the smallest in five months. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core prices rose 0.1 percent last month and 1.6 percent in the past year. Energy prices fell 0.5 percent because gas and electricity costs fell. Clothes and used cars were also cheaper last month. Still, consumers took a hit at the grocery store as food costs rose 0.4 percent, the most in nearly 2 1/2 years.
WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. home construction fell for a third month in February, but in a hopeful sign, applications for building permits rose to their highest level in four months. The Commerce Department says builders started work on 907,000 homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in February. That was down a slight 0.2 percent from January, when construction had fallen 11.2 percent. The declines have been blamed in large part on severe winter weather in much of the country. Applications for permits to build new homes, considered a gauge of future activity, rose a solid 7.7 percent in February to 1.02 million units. The expectation is that housing sales and construction will show further gains this year, helped by a stronger economy.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Foreign buyers of U.S. Treasury securities trimmed their holdings slightly in January, marking the first monthly decline in six months. The Treasury Department says total foreign holdings slipped to $5.79 trillion, down 0.3 percent from December when holdings had risen 1.5 percent to an all-time high of $5.80 trillion. China, the largest foreign buyer of Treasury debt, increased its holdings by 1 percent to $1.28 trillion after they had fallen by 3.5 percent in December. Japan, the second-largest buyer, trimmed its holdings a slight 0.02 percent to $1.18 trillion. Foreign demand for U.S. Treasury securities is expected to remain strong this year, helped by the fact that Congress and the administration reached an agreement in February that will put off any battle over raising the debt ceiling until March 2015.
DETROIT (AP) - Detroit officials say they plan to more closely monitor Marathon Petroleum's hiring practices to ensure the company is making an effort to hire city residents. Marathon got a $175 million tax break from the City of Detroit for a $2.2 billion expansion project at its refinery in southeast Detroit. The break was awarded after Marathon in 2007 appealed to City Council, pledging to recruit Detroiters for new jobs. The Detroit Free Press reports Marathon employs 514 full-time workers at its refinery, up from about 320 in 2007. The newspaper says 30 are listed as Detroit residents as of January. Before the expansion, the refinery employed 15 Detroit residents. Representatives of Findlay, Ohio-based Marathon say the company wants to hire more Detroiters but has had difficulty finding qualified job applicants.
WASHINGTON (AP) - The prices companies receive for their goods and services fell slightly in February, the latest sign that inflation is tame. The Labor Department says the producer price index, which measures price changes before they reach the consumer, dropped 0.1 percent in February. That's the first decline since November. A sharp fall in the price markups by wholesalers and retailers pushed down the index. Wholesale food and energy prices increased, as did the cost of pharmaceuticals. Excluding the volatile categories of food, energy and retailer and wholesaler profit margins, core prices ticked up 0.1 percent. The figures underscore that inflation remains largely in check. Businesses have struggled to raise prices because of historically high levels of unemployment and meager wage growth. That's made it harder for consumers to pay more.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Weekly applications for U.S. unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 315,000, a sign the job market is picking up after a winter slump. The Labor Department says the four-week average of applications, a less volatile figure, decreased 6,250 to 330,500, the lowest since early December. Applications are a rough proxy for layoffs. The declines indicate companies are confident enough about the economy to keep their staffs. Employers are hiring more after harsh winter weather lowered job gains in January and December, the government said last week. The economy gained 175,000 jobs last month, up from just 129,000 in January and only 84,000 in December. About 3.45 million people received unemployment benefits as of Feb. 22, the latest figures available. That's 13,000 more than the previous week.
WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. retail sales bounced back in February after suffering a steep decline during a bitterly cold January. Shoppers spent more on autos, clothing and furniture. The Commerce Department says seasonally-adjusted retail sales rose 0.3 percent in February. Spending had fallen 0.6 percent in January and 0.3 percent in December. The increase suggests that consumer spending has started to recover after being tempered by snowstorms and freezing temperatures that blanketed much of the country. Auto sales rose 0.3 percent. Excluding volatile spending on autos, gas and building supplies, retail sales increased 0.3 percent from December. Last month's rebound almost brought retail spending back to its December levels. Purchases at restaurants, online retailers and department stores also improved. Over the past 12 months, retail sales have risen 1.5 percent.
LOS ANGELES (AP) - An industry spokesman says Americans spent an all-time high of $55.7 billion on their pets in 2013 and will creep close to spending $60 billion this year. Bob Vetere of the American Pet Products Association told buyers and exhibitors at the Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., Thursday that food accounted for $21.6 billion of the spending. In 1996, when the not-for-profit trade association started tracking pet spending, pet owners spent $21 billion on everything. Adjusted for inflation, that's $31.3 billion. Vetere say the humanization of pets and the many positive effects pets have on human health should keep the industry vibrant for many more years. For the long term, he expects to see a pet health craze that starts for humans and pets much earlier and younger.