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Business Highlights

Thursday - 5/2/2013, 6:39pm  ET

The Associated Press

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Oil drilling technology leaps, clean energy lags

NEW YORK (AP) -- Technology created an energy revolution over the past decade -- just not the one we expected.

By now, cars were supposed to be running on fuel made from plant waste or algae -- or powered by hydrogen or cheap batteries that burned nothing at all. Electricity would be generated with solar panels and wind turbines. When the sun didn't shine or the wind didn't blow, power would flow out of batteries the size of tractor-trailers.

Fossil fuels? They were going to be expensive and scarce, relics of an earlier, dirtier age.

But in the race to conquer energy technology, Old Energy is winning.

Oil companies big and small have used technology to find a bounty of oil and natural gas so large that worries about running out have melted away. New imaging technologies let drillers find oil and gas trapped miles underground and undersea. Oil rigs "walk" from one drill site to the next. And engineers in Houston use remote-controlled equipment to drill for gas in Pennsylvania.

The result is an abundance that has put the United States on track to become the world's largest producer of oil and gas in a few years. On Thursday the U.S. reported that oil imports have fallen to a 17-year low.

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US economic reports hold out hope for hiring gains

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fewer people are losing their jobs. Employers are struggling to squeeze more work from their staffs. The U.S. is producing so much oil that imports are plunging, narrowing the trade deficit.

A string of data Thursday raised hopes for stronger hiring and U.S. growth in coming months. More jobs would spur spending and help energize the economy, which has yet to regain full health nearly four years after the Great Recession officially ended.

And an interest rate cut Thursday by the European Central Bank, if it helps bolster the European economy, could also contribute to U.S. growth.

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US jobless claims fall to 5-year low of 324,000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to seasonally adjusted 324,000, the lowest since January 2008. The drop points to fewer layoffs and possibly more hiring.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications fell 18,000, the second straight sharp drop. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, plummeted 16,000 to 342,250, close to a five-year low.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When they fall below 350,000, it is generally consistent with moderate hiring.

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US trade deficit falls to $38.8 billion in March

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in March for a second month as the daily flow of imported crude oil dropped to the lowest level in 17 years. The deficit with China hit a three-year low.

The overall trade deficit decreased to $38.8 billion, an 11 percent drop from February's $43.6 billion, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Exports fell 0.9 percent to $184.3 billion as sales of machinery, autos and farm products all declined. Imports fell 2.8 percent to $223.1 billion, led by a 4.4 percent drop in foreign petroleum. Crude oil imports averaged just 7 million barrels per day, the lowest since March 1996.

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US worker productivity rises just 0.7 percent in Q1

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. worker productivity barely grew from January through March after shrinking in the final three months of 2012. Weak productivity growth could prompt employers to hire more if consumers and businesses continue to increase spending.

The Labor Department said Thursday that productivity rose at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.7 percent in the first quarter, after shrinking 1.7 percent in the previous quarter.

Labor costs increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.5 percent, below the fourth quarter's 4.4 percent gain.

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Intel taps COO Krzanich as chipmaker's next CEO

NEW YORK (AP) -- Intel, one of the pillars of Silicon Valley, is following its traditions and promoting an insider to the job of CEO. The world's largest chipmaker is tasking Chief Operating Officer Brian Krzanich with steering it through an industry shake-up that is seeing tablets and smartphones overshadow Intel's base in personal computers.

Intel announced Thursday that Krzanich will replace Paul Otellini on May 16. Six months ago, Otellini, 62, announced his surprise decision to resign and will end a nearly 40-year career with Intel, including eight years as CEO.

Krzanich, who is 52 and spent his entire career at the company, comes out of a manufacturing organization where meticulous attention is required to churn out processors with billions of minute details.

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