Business Highlights


Pre-paid card users, under scrutiny, find tax refunds frozen

PHOENIX (AP) — Thousands of people have had their prepaid debit cards frozen when they try to direct their tax refund to their accounts, a result of financial industry efforts to combat an escalation in tax fraud.

It’s keeping people from their money, and delaying access to much-anticipated tax refunds. People who rely on prepaid debit card accounts are often poorer Americans who don’t have traditional bank accounts.

Prepaid debit card companies Green Dot, NetSpend and others say the problems are the result of tighter fraud protection measures. Both Green Dot and Wal-Mart have apologized, but emphasized the measures were there to protect their customers.


The young and the nestless: Helping millennials with housing

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Realizing that millennials are burdened with debt, a difficult job market, weak wage growth and a less affordable housing market than their parents, some states are looking to keep educated young professionals within their borders for years to come by helping out with their housing costs.

Initiatives like mortgage down-payment assistance, rent subsidies, urban homesteading incentives, partial student loan reimbursement and even “millennial villages” are being considered across the country to help professionals put down roots in communities. Some programs already in place are being embraced by members of what’s become a coveted population because of their sheer numbers, their education levels and their ability to spur urban revitalization and economic growth.

The first phase of Maryland’s “You’ve Earned It” program ran out of money in less than two months because of demand. Now in its second phase, the program provides a discounted mortgage rate and down payment assistance to college graduates with more than $25,000 in student debt and who buy a home in certain regions of the state.


Study: Renters’ rise extends beyond big US cities to suburbs

NEW YORK (AP) — In the American imagination, suburbs are places to buy a house and put down roots. But a growing percentage of suburbanites rent, according to a new study.

About 29 percent of metropolitan-area suburbanites were renters in 2014, up from 23 percent in 2006, according to a report being released Tuesday by New York University’s Furman Center real estate think tank and the bank Capital One.

The finances of home ownership since the mortgage meltdown might be a lead reason for the change, but the cost of renting also is rising in most of the biggest metropolitan areas, the study found.


United faces battle with unhappy investors over board seats

NEW YORK (AP) — Fed up with poor performance at United Continental Holdings, two investment firms want to shake up the airline’s board of directors and give a prominent role to an ex-CEO credited with saving Continental Airlines more than a decade ago.

In a surprise move Tuesday morning, Altimeter Capital Management and PAR Capital Management made a public pitch to add six of their own nominees to the board. The two investment firms own a combined 7 percent stake of United Continental Holdings Inc.

Brad Gerstner, CEO of Altimeter Capital, said in a statement that investors are “greatly disappointed with United’s poor performance and bad decisions over the last several years.” The firms’ announcement comes one day after United increased its existing board by three members to 15, a move Gerstner called “a cynical attempt to preserve power by this entrenched board.”


Sponsors ditch Sharapova, world’s top-earning female athlete

MOSCOW (AP) — Maria Sharapova, the world’s highest-earning female athlete for many years, was abandoned Tuesday by some of her biggest sponsors after the Russian tennis star acknowledged taking a recently banned substance for a decade.

Sportswear giant Nike, Swiss watch brand Tag Heuer and German luxury car company Porsche quickly distanced themselves from the five-time Grand Slam winner, who announced on Monday that she tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January, days after the drug was banned.

The former world No. 1 took full responsibility for her mistake and could face a lengthy ban from the International Tennis Federation, possibly ending her season and preventing her from competing for Russia at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.


Chevron cuts spending budget again

NEW YORK (AP) — Chevron is cutting its spending budget by nearly 40 percent for 2017 and 2018 as it deals with plunging oil prices, a bigger cut in spending than it previously expected.

The oil and gas company said that it expects to spend between $17 billion and $22 billion on drilling and other projects in 2017 and 2018, lower than the $20 billion to $24 billion range the company had expected in October. The company has a spending budget of $26.6 billion this year, down 24 percent from the year before.


Health law fines double for many uninsured at tax time

WASHINGTON (AP) — Many people who went without health insurance last year are now seeing fines more than double under President Barack Obama’s health care law, tax preparation company H&R Block said Tuesday.

Among its customers who owe a penalty for the 2015 tax year, the average fine is $383, compared with $172 for 2014, the company said.

Separately, among those who complied with the law and took advantage of its taxpayer-subsidized private health insurance, 6 in 10 are now having to pay back to the IRS some portion of their financial assistance.


Dick’s 4Q stung by warmer-than-usual winter weather

CORAOPOLIS, Pa. (AP) — Dick’s Sporting Goods fiscal fourth-quarter performance missed Wall Street’s view as warmer-than-usual winter weather crimped the sporting goods retailer’s sales. It also provided guidance below analysts’ estimates.

Many people are wondering how Dick’s will fare now that rival Sports Authority has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Last week privately held Sports Authority announced its bankruptcy filing, saying that it planned to close or sell about a third of its 463 stores.

Dick’s may be able to take advantage by grabbing some of the customers that had gone to Sports Authority stores that are going to be closed.


Medicare to test new payment model for some outpatient drugs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Medicare is proposing new ways to pay for drugs administered in a doctor’s office, including many chemotherapy medications.

Chief Medical Officer Patrick Conway said Tuesday that Medicare plans to begin testing its new approach later this year.

The government won’t be telling doctors which drugs to prescribe.


China’s trade falls sharply in February

BEIJING (AP) — China’s trade plunged in February as weak global demand and a business shutdown during the Lunar New Year holiday combined to depress sales.

Exports fell 25.4 percent from a year ago to $126.1 billion, worsening from January’s 11.2 percent contraction, customs data showed Tuesday. Imports shrank 13.8 percent to $93.5 billion, an improvement over January’s 18.8 percent decline.

The trade slump has complicated the ruling Communist Party’s efforts to overhaul its state-dominated economy by adding the risk of politically dangerous job losses. The ruling party’s plans call for keeping trade steady to protect millions of export-related jobs.


The Dow Jones industrial average fell 109.85 points, or 0.6 percent, to 16,964.10. The S&P 500 fell 22.50 points, or 1.1 percent, to 1,979.26. The Nasdaq composite gave up 59.43 points, or 1.3 percent, to 4,648.82.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.40 to $36.50 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, which is used to price international oils, fell $1.19, or 3 percent, to $39.65 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline fell less a penny to $1.388 a gallon, heating oil dropped 2.3 cents to $1.20 a gallon and natural gas rose 2.2 cents to $1.712 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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