WASHINGTON – Americans increased their spending at retailers last month by the most in two and a half years, driven by strong auto sales as residents of hurricane-ravaged areas replaced destroyed cars.Retail sales rose 1.6 per cent in September, after slipping 0.1 per cent in August, the Commerce Department said Friday.Auto sales jumped 3.6 per cent, the most since March 2015. Gas sales climbed 5.8 per cent, the most in four and a half years, reflecting price spikes after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The storms damaged oil refineries and pushed up gas prices 13 per cent last month.Even excluding the volatile auto and gas categories, sales rose a solid 0.5 per cent, up from a 0.1 per cent gain in August.Neil Saunders, managing director of Global DataRetail, said that many analysts worried higher gas prices would lead Americans to spend less elsewhere.“This did not materialize, and consumers used modest gains in wages … to carry on buying,” Saunders said.Americans are optimistic about the economic outlook. A measure of consumer sentiment released Friday by the University of Michigan rose to its highest level since 2004. The U.S. unemployment rate has hit a 16-year low, and wages have ticked up in recent months. That should boost spending and broader economic growth in the coming months.Most of the gains last month were likely fueled by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which slammed into Texas, Florida and other southeastern states in late August and September.Sales at home and garden supply stores rose 2.1 per cent, probably lifted by hurricane preparation, as well as repairs and renovations in the aftermath of the storms. Grocery store sales increased 0.8 per cent, the most since April 2016, likely boosted by restocking after the hurricanes hit.Sales at general merchandise stores, which include big box retailers such as Walmart and Target, rose 0.3 per cent.Online retailers reported another healthy gain of 0.5 per cent. E-commerce sales have jumped 9.2 per cent in the past year, more than double the overall sales increase of 4.4 per cent.Not all stores saw a boost: Sales at furnishers, electronics and appliance stores, and sporting goods stores fell.The retail sales report is closely watched because it provides an early read on consumer activity each month. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 per cent of the economy.U.S. economic growth likely slowed in the July-September quarter as the hurricanes shut down thousands of businesses, people were forced to miss work, and power was cut to millions of homes. Analysts forecast that the economy expanded at a 2 per cent annual pace in the third quarter, down from a 3 per cent gain in the April-June quarter.Yet the economy is expected to rebound in the final three months of the year as rebuilding and repair work accelerates. Construction and engineering firms are expected to step up hiring as homes, commercial buildings and roads and bridges are fixed. Economists expect growth will pick up to a 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent pace.
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that government workers can’t be forced to contribute to labour unions that represent them in collective bargaining, dealing a serious financial blow to Democratic-leaning organized labour.The court’s conservative majority, re-empowered by Justice Neil Gorsuch, scrapped a 41-year-old decision that had allowed states to require that public employees pay some fees to unions that represent them, even if the workers choose not to join.The 5-4 decision not only will free non-union members in nearly two dozen states from any financial ties to unions, but also could encourage members to stop paying dues for services the court said Wednesday they can get for free.Union leaders said in reaction to the ruling that they expect to suffer some loss of revenue and also predicted that the same anti-union forces that pushed to get rid of the so-called fair shares that nonmembers had to pay will try to persuade members to cut their ties.“There are already plans,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. “They are going after our members.”But American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said unions would not be dissuaded: “Don’t count us out.”The labour leaders spoke after the court ruled that the laws requiring fair share fees violate the First Amendment by compelling workers to support unions they may disagree with.“States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees,” Justice Samuel Alito said in his majority opinion in the latest case in which Gorsuch, an appointee of President Donald Trump, provided a key fifth vote for a conservative outcome.Trump himself tweeted his approval of the decision while Alito still was reading a summary of it from the bench.“Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!” Trump said in the tweet.In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote of the big impact of the decision. “There is no sugarcoating today’s opinion. The majority overthrows a decision entrenched in this Nation’s law — and its economic life — for over 40 years. As a result, it prevents the American people, acting through their state and local officials, from making important choices about workplace governance. And it does so by weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.”The court’s three other liberal justices joined the dissent.In one sense, Wednesday’s result was no surprise and merely delayed by the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016. The court split 4-4, after Scalia’s death, when it considered the same issue in 2016.When Trump was elected, opponents of the fees hurried a case back to the court. And fearing what would happen, unions strongly opposed Gorsuch’s nomination to the high court.The unions say the outcome could affect more than 5 million government workers in about two dozen states and the District of Columbia.The case decided Wednesday involved Illinois state government worker Mark Janus, who argued that everything unions do, including bargaining with the state, is political and employees should not be forced to pay for it.The unions argued that fair share fees pay for collective bargaining and other work the union does on behalf of all employees, not just its members. More than half the states already have right-to-work laws banning mandatory fees, but most members of public-employee unions are concentrated in states that don’t, including California, New York and Illinois.A recent study by Frank Manzo of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and Robert Bruno of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign estimated that public-sector unions could lose more than 700,000 members over time as a result of the ruling and that unions also could suffer a loss of political influence that could depress wages as well.Alito acknowledged that unions could “experience unpleasant transition costs in the short term.” But he said labour’s problems pale in comparison to “the considerable windfall that unions have received…for the past 41 years.”Billions of dollars have been taken from workers who were not union members in that time, he said.“Those unconstitutional exactions cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely,” Alito wrote.Kagan, reading a summary of her dissent in the courtroom, said unions only could collect money for the costs of negotiating terms of employment. “But no part of those fees could go to any of the union’s political or ideological activities,” she said.The court’s majority said public-sector unions aren’t entitled to any money from employees without their consent.
NEW YORK, N.Y. – Who knew connecting the world could get so complicated? Perhaps some of technology’s brightest minds should have seen that coming.Social media bans of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones have thrust Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and others into a role they never wanted — as gatekeepers of discourse on their platforms, deciding what should and shouldn’t be allowed and often angering almost everyone in the process. Jones, a right-wing provocateur, suddenly found himself banned from most major social platforms this week, after years in which he was free to use them to promulgate a variety of false claims.Twitter, which one of its executives once called the “free speech wing of the free speech party,” remains a lonely holdout on Jones. The resulting backlash suggests that no matter what the tech companies do, “there is no way they can please everyone,” as Scott Shackelford, a business law and ethics professor at Indiana University, observed.Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and crew, and Google’s stewards of YouTube gave little thought to such consequences as they built their empires with lofty goals to connect the world and democratize discourse. At the time, they were the rebels aiming to bypass the stodgy old gatekeepers — newspaper editors, television programmers and other establishment types — and let people talk directly to one another.“If you go back a decade or so, the whole idea of speech on social media was seen as highly positive light,” said Tim Cigelske, who teaches social media at Marquette University in Wisconsin. There was the Arab Spring. There were stories of gay, lesbian and transgender teens from small towns finding support online.At the same time, of course, the companies were racing to build the largest audiences possible, slice and dice their user data and make big profits by turning that information into lucrative targeted advertisements.The dark side of untrammeled discourse, the thinking went, would sort itself out as online communities moderated themselves, aided by fast-evolving computer algorithms and, eventually, artificial intelligence.“They scaled, they built, they wanted to drive revenue as well as user base,” said technology analyst Tim Bajarin, president of consultancy Creative Strategies. “That was priority one and controlling content was priority two. It should have been the other way around.”That all got dicier once the election of President Donald Trump focused new attention on fake news and organized misinformation campaigns — not to mention the fact that some of the people grabbing these new social-media megaphones were wild conspiracy theorists who falsely call mass shootings hoaxes, white nationalists who organize violent rallies and men who threaten women with rape and murder.While the platforms may not have anticipated the influx of hate speech and meddling from foreign powers like Russia, North Korea and China, Bajarin said, they should have acted more quickly once they found it. “The fact is we’re dealing with a brave new world that they’ve allowed to happen, and they need to take more control to keep it from spreading,” he said.That’s easier said than done, of course. But it’s particularly difficult for huge tech companies to balance public goods such free speech with the need to protect their users from harassment, abuse, fake news and manipulation. Especially given that their business models require them to alienate as few of their users as possible, lest they put the flood of advertising money at risk.“Trying to piece together a framework for speech that works for everyone — and making sure we effectively enforce that framework — is challenging,” wrote Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice-president of policy, in a blog post Thursday. “Every policy we have is grounded in three core principles: giving people a voice, keeping people safe, and treating people equitably. The frustrations we hear about our policies — outside and internally as well — come from the inevitable tension between these three principles.”Such tensions force some of the largest corporations in the world to decide, for instance, if banning Nazis also means banning white nationalists — and to figure out how to tell them apart if not. Or whether kicking off Jones means they need to ban all purveyors of false conspiracy theories. Or whether racist comments should be allowed if they are posted, to make a point, by the people who received them.“I don’t think the platforms in their heart of hearts would like to keep Alex Jones on,” said Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School. “But it’s difficult to come up with a principle to say why Alex Jones and not others would be removed.”While most companies have policies against “hate speech,” defining what constitutes hate speech can be difficult, he added. Even governments have trouble with it. One country’s free speech is another country’s hate speech, punishable by jail time.Facebook, Twitter, Google, Reddit and others face these questions millions of times a day, as human moderators and algorithms decide which posts, which people, which photos or videos to allow, to kick off or simply make less visible and harder to find. If they allow too much harmful content, they risk losing users and advertisers. If they go too far and remove too much, they face charges of censorship and ideological bias.“My sense is that they are throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks,” Persily said. “It’s a whack-a-mole problem. It’s not the same threats that are continuing, and they have to be nimble enough to deal with new problems.”___AP Technology Writer Mae Anderson contributed to this story.
WASHINGTON – U.S. businesses added 163,000 jobs in August, a private survey found, a decent gain that suggests that employers are confident enough to keep hiring.Payroll processor ADP said Thursday that the job gains were the fewest since October. But last month’s pace of hiring is still enough to lower the unemployment rate over time.Solid economic growth is underpinning an optimistic outlook among businesses. Growth reached 4.2 per cent at an annual rate in the April-June quarter, the fastest pace in four years, spurred by tax cuts and robust consumer spending.ADP’s hiring figures come a day before the government will release its official jobs data for August. Economists have forecast that Friday’s report will show that employers added a solid 189,000 jobs last month, according to data provider FactSet.The job gains ADP reported for August were much lower than the 217,000 that it said were added in July. Hiring by small businesses — defined as those with fewer than 50 employees — remained sluggish last month and depressed overall job growth.Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said that with the unemployment rate at a low 3.9 per cent, smaller companies are having a harder time finding workers. Larger firms are typically able to offer high pay or more benefits and can pull in more employees as a result.Hiring was particularly strong last month for medium-sized companies, with 50 to 499 employees.Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, lowered his forecast for August hiring to 170,000 after the ADP report was issued.“This is a bit disappointing but hardly a disaster,” Shepherdson said.ADP compiles hiring data from millions of companies that are clients of its payroll services. Its figures frequently diverge from the government’s data but tend to approximate them over time.__The extended headline for this story was corrected to show that August’s job gains was the fewest in 10 months, rather than nine months.
Shares of Tesaro soared early Monday after GlaxoSmithKline said it would pay about $5.1 billion in cash to buy the cancer drugmaker.Glaxo plans to pay $75 per share for Tesaro, which makes the ovarian cancer treatment Zejula. That represents a premium of more than 60 per cent to the stock’s $46.38 closing price Friday. The total deal price includes Tesaro’s net debt.Glaxo CEO Emma Walmsley said in a statement that the deal will accelerate growth of the British drugmaker’s oncology business.Zejula brought in $166 million in revenue in the first nine months of this year, with third-quarter sales growing more than 60 per cent.Glaxo expects the deal to close in the first quarter.Shares of Waltham, Massachusetts-based Tesaro Inc. jumped nearly 60 per cent to $73.97 in premarket trading.The Associated Press
U.S. stocks couldn’t hang on to a big gain Wednesday, but they still finished broadly higher as technology and health care companies rose. That helped reverse some of the market’s big losses from the week before.On Wednesday:The S&P 500 index rose 14.29 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 2,651.07.The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 157.03 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 24,527.27.The Nasdaq composite jumped 66.48 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 7,098.31.The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks added 15.19 points, or 1.1 per cent, to 1,455.32.For the week:The S&P 500 is up 17.99 points, or 0.7 per cent.The Dow is up 138.32 points, or 0.6 per cent.The Nasdaq is up 129.06 points, or 1.9 per cent.The Russell 2000 is up 7.23 points, or 0.5 per cent.For the year:The S&P 500 is down 22.54 points, or 0.8 per cent.The Dow is down 191.95 points, or 0.8 per cent.The Nasdaq is up 194.92 points, or 2.8 per cent.The Russell 2000 is down 80.19 points, or 5.2 per cent.The Associated Press
BEIJING — While a Huawei executive faces possible U.S. charges over trade with Iran, the Chinese tech giant’s ambition to be a leader in next-generation telecoms is colliding with security worries abroad.Australia and New Zealand have barred Huawei Technologies Ltd. as a supplier for fifth-generation networks. They joined the United States and Taiwan, which limit use of technology from the biggest global supplier of network switching gear. This week, Japan’s cybersecurity agency said Huawei and other vendors deemed risky will be off-limits for government purchases.None has released evidence of wrongdoing by Huawei, which denies it is a risk and operates a laboratory with Britain’s government to conduct security examinations of its products. But the accusations threaten its ability to compete in 5G as carriers prepare to invest billions of dollars.The Associated Press
BEIJING — Apple’s $1,000 iPhone is a tough sell to Chinese consumers jittery over an economic slump and the trade war with Washington.CEO Tim Cook told shareholders Wednesday that iPhone demand is waning, mainly in China. That makes the tech giant the latest global company grappling with Chinese consumer anxiety.Other brand names from Ford Motor Co. to jeweler Tiffany & Co. already have reported abrupt declines in sales to Chinese consumers.China’s 2018 economic growth is forecast at about 6.5 per cent. But China’s tariff fight with the U.S. and tumbling auto and real estate sales are undermining consumer confidence.The spending slump in the world’s second-largest economy is a blow to global industries from autos to designer clothing that are counting on China to drive revenue growth.Joe McDonald, The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Sears is confirming reports its chairman and largest shareholder Eddie Lampert’s hedge fund has won a bid to buy roughly 400 stores and other assets for $5.2 billion.The move, announced Thursday, preserves 45,000 jobs and is subject to court approval on Feb. 1. Creditors will have the opportunity to object before then.The deal will then close Feb. 8.The agreement follows marathon negotiations that started early Monday as Lampert was fending off demands from creditors who were pushing for liquidation.Lampert’s ESL Investments was the only one to put forth a proposal to rescue the floundering company in its entirety. He had sweetened his bid multiple times.Still, many experts believe a smaller version of the retailer will not be viable as it faces increasing competition.Anne D’Innocenzio, The Associated Press
Canada Post said Monday that the backlog of mail and parcels is “severe” and expected to “worsen significantly” once online orders from Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales are processed.In a statement, the post office said it is experiencing delivery delays across the country and that’s expected to continue throughout the holiday season and into January.The union wants better pay and job security, guaranteed hours for its 8,000 rural and suburban carriers, and equality for those workers with the corporation’s 42,000 urban employees.CUPW also wants Canada Post to adopt rules that it says would cut down on workplace injuries — an issue the union has said is now at a “crisis” level. UPDATE – Workers are back to work following the Senate vote.FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Canada Post employees in Fort St. John have joined the rotating strike after the Senate voted in favour of back to work legislation.With the vote Monday night, mail service is supposed to resume at noon Tuesday. Royal assent was granted late Monday shortly after senators approved Bill C-89 by a vote of 53-25. Four senators abstained. Under the new legislation, the union said postal workers will be forced to go back to work under the old collective agreement, which it asserted would result in at least 315 disabling injuries and thousands of hours of forced, unpaid overtime.The previous Conservative government forced an end to a lockout of postal workers during a 2011 dispute by enacting back-to-work legislation, which was later declared by a court to be unconstitutional.But the Liberal government argues Bill C-89 is different, in that it does not impose immediate outcomes affecting postal contracts.Whereas the 2011 bill imposed a settlement that favoured Canada Post, the current legislation would give a mediator-arbitrator appointed by the government 90 days to try and reach contract settlements. Failing that, a settlement could be imposed either through a decision from the arbitrator or by choosing from one of the final proposals put forward by Canada Post or CUPW.(THE CANADIAN PRESS) The government had deemed passage of the bill to be urgent due to the economic impact of continued mail disruptions during the busy holiday season. It rushed the bill through the House of Commons last week. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers issued a statement declaring that it is “exploring all options to fight the back-to-work legislation.”“Postal workers are rightly dismayed and outraged,” said CUPW national president Mike Palecek. “This law violates our right to free collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”Some senators — independents, Liberal independents and even some Conservatives — agreed with that assessment and voted against the bill.But the majority either disagreed or concluded that it’s up to the courts, not senators, to rule on constitutionality.Negotiations have been underway for nearly a year, but the dispute escalated more recently when CUPW members launched rotating strikes Oct. 22.