Business news briefs
The outlook for the U.S. job market brightened after a report showed a sharp drop in the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits. Weekly applications fell 27,000 to 341,000. Falling applications signal fewer layoffs. More hiring usually follows, but not always. A separate government report earlier this week showed layoffs fell to a 10-year low in December. But overall hiring didn't pick up.
Chrysler is recalling 278,000 pickup trucks and SUVs to fix a problem with a nut coming losse that can cause the rear axles to lock up, potentially causing drivers to lose control. The recall covers many Ram 1500 pickups from 2009 through 2012 model years, as well as Dodge Dakota pickups from 2009 through 2011. Also included are Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango SUVs from 2009.
Rio Tinto posts
$3B 2012 loss
Rio Tinto PLC, the parent of Kennecott Utah Copper, posted a $3 billion loss for 2012 after taking a $14 billion writedown from its aluminum business and the acquisition of a coal company in Mozambique. It reported a profit of $5.8 million in 2011. Revenue from operations declined 40 percent to $16.5 billion.
GM sees profit
General Motors' profit fell 36 percent to $4.9 billion in 2012, partly because of one-time tax changes. Revenue rose 1 percent to $152.3 billion. GM made $6.9 billion in North America, and its U.S. factory workers will get $6,750 profit-sharing checks, it lost $1.8 billion in Europe because of the troubled economy there.
PepsiCo's fourth-quarter net income rose 17 percent on higher prices and strength in Latin America. For the period ended Dec. 29, PepsiCo Inc. earned $1.66 billion, or $1.06 per share, compared with $1.42 billion, or 89 cents per share, a year ago. Revenue dipped 1 percent to $20 billion.
Drugmaker Merck agreed to pay $688 million to settle two investor lawsuits over a long delay in releasing results of a study meant to show its cholesterol drugs reduced plaque buildup in arteries. But it found that Merck's Zetia and Vytorin were no better than a cheap generic pill.
Global gold sales slipped in 2012 for the first time in three years as the biggest central bank purchases in a half century weren't able to offset a decline in demand from India. The World Gold Council said 4,406 metric tons were sold in 2012, down 4 percent from 4,582 metric tons in 2011. It was the first annual decline since 2009.