TODAY

– October 23, 2014

Amazon hikes Prime membership to $99 per year

(AP) — Amazon is raising the price of its popular Prime membership to $99 per year, an increase of $20.

It's the first price increase since the online retailer introduced its Prime membership program, which includes two-day free shipping on many products, in 2005. The company said it would probably raise the price by $20 to $40 in January.

The hike will apply to users when they renew their membership. Users who renew membership before April 17 will pay $79 for the year. After April 17 the price will change to $99. New customers that start a free trial between now and March 20 will lock in the $79 rate for the first year.

Amazon has spent heavily to grow its business and expand into new areas, from movie streaming to e-readers and groceries, and it has accomplished that goal.

The company said it added a million new Prime members in the week before Christmas and a surge in online ordering in the U.S. contributed to huge delays for people sending gifts just ahead of the holiday.

But that has rankled some investors, who are looking for bigger returns.

In an email Thursday to members, the Seattle company stressed that it has not raised the price on Prime in the nine years since its launch, even though shipping costs have increased and it has added new services, such as video streaming. The number of products available for two-day shipping has grown to 20 million from 1 million.

Amazon doesn't disclose how many Prime members it has, but it said in December that it has "tens of millions" of members worldwide.

Cowen & Co. analyst John Blackledge estimates there are about 23 million U.S. prime members. Blackledge said that since the bulk of new memberships occur in the fourth quarter, around the holidays, the benefit of the price hike will probably be felt next year.

He added that he doesn't expect the continued growth of Prime members to slow down despite the price increase.

The announcement was an immediate hit with investors.

Shares rose $10.05, or 2.7 percent, to $380.69 during morning trading. The stock is down 7 percent since the beginning of the year.

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Written on 10/23/2014, 12:51 pm by SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
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Written on 10/23/2014, 12:48 pm by DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer
 (AP) — From violence to verbal taunts, abusive dating behavior is pervasive among America's adolescents, according to a new, federally funded survey. It says a majority of boys and girls who date describe themselves as both victims and perpetrators. Sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, the National Survey on Teen Relationships and Intimate Violence was conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, a prominent research center which provided preliminary results to The Associated Press. Input came from a nationwide sample of 667 youths aged 12-18 who'd been dating within the past year and who completed a self-administered online questionnaire. Nearly 20 percent of both boys and girls reported themselves as victims of physical and sexual abuse in dating relationships — but the researchers reported what they called a startling finding when they asked about psychological abuse, broadly defined as actions ranging from name-calling to excessive tracking of a victim. More than 60 percent of each gender reported being victims and perpetrators of such behavior. The survey found no substantive differences in measures by ethnicity, family income or geographic location.Elizabeth Mumford, one of the two lead researchers for the survey, acknowledged that some of the behaviors defined as psychological abuse — such as insults and accusations of flirting — are commonplace but said they shouldn't be viewed as harmless. "None of these things are healthy interactions," she said. "It's almost more of a concern that our gut reaction is to accept this as natural." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in its campaigns against teen dating violence, also stresses the potential seriousness of psychological abuse. "Teens often think some behaviors, like teasing and name calling, are a 'normal' part of a relationship," says a CDC fact sheet. "However, these behaviors can become abusive and develop into more serious forms of violence." Bruce Taylor, the other lead researcher for the NORC survey, said the overall abuse figures were higher than previous national studies of dating abuse, revealing "the startlingly widespread nature of this problem." Using a definition under which adolescent relationship abuse can occur in person or through electronic means, in public or private, and between current or past dating partners , the survey estimates that 25 million U.S. adolescents are victims and nearly 23 million are perpetrators. Taylor and Mumford said the high rates in their survey may stem in part from youths being candid due to the privacy of the online format. They also suggested that dating abuse is now so common that young people have little concern about admitting to it. The survey found fairly similar rates of victimization and perpetration among boys and girls — even in the sub-categories of physical abuse and sexual abuse. Many previous studies have found that girls are markedly more likely to be victims of physical and sexual dating abuse than boys. However, the researchers detected a shift as adolescents age. "We found that girls perpetrate serious threats or physical violence more than boys at ages 12-14, but that boys become the more common perpetrators of serious threats or physical violence by ages 15-18," they wrote. Mumford noted that the questionnaire did not delve into such details as which party instigated a two-way confrontation, or whether injuries resulted. She said it was possible girls suffered more serious injuries than boys. "Our work suggests that prevention programs need to address both victimization and perpetration, not one or the other," Mumford and Taylor wrote. They recommended starting prevention programs in middle school, and noted that that teen dating violence is viewed as a possible precursor to adult intimate-partner violence. Andra Tharp, a health scientist with the CDC's violence prevention division, said two-way teen dating violence — with both partners engaging in abuse — is widespread. She said it's an ongoing challenge among experts in the field to find the right balance in addressing the role of gender — exploring the extent to which both boys and girls are perpetrators, while identifying situations where girls are likely to suffer more serious harm. For example, Tharp said that if a boyfriend retaliates against a girlfriend who hit him, there's a higher risk of injury to the girl if —as is likely — the boy is stronger. Dr. Elizabeth Miller, chief of adolescent medicine at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, said it's important to make distinctions about the types of abuse. She contends that, while boys and girls may engage in psychological abuse at comparable levels, girls are more likely to be the victims in cases of sexual violence and coercion. "When you look at the need for medical attention, females are experiencing more severe consequences," she said. "We're doing ourselves a disservice if we pretend it's all the same." While many girls are capable of aggressive behavior, they generally don't share the view of some boys that sexual coercion is acceptable, Miller said. The research by Mumford and Taylor is expected to be published soon in The Journal of Interpersonal Violence, a peer reviewed academic journal. The Associated Press and NORC conduct joint polling under the name AP-NORC, but this study was conducted independently by NORC.
Written on 10/23/2014, 12:46 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — A Silicon Valley company is paying more than $43,000 in back wages and penalties after labor regulators found eight employees imported from India were being treated like they were in an overseas sweat shop while they were working on a special project in the U.S. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor determined that Electronics for Imaging Inc. paid eight workers transferred from Bangalore, India, below California's required minimum wage of $8 per hour last year while they helped the company move its headquarters to Fremont, California. The workers also logged as many as 122 hours in a week without overtime. As result, they were paid as little as $1.21 per hour. Electronics for Imaging, a specialist in printing technology, says it "unintentionally overlooked" U.S. labor law.
Written on 10/23/2014, 11:55 am by Business Journal staff
The Fresno Pulmonary Hypertension Support Group will host their third annual Six-Minute Marathon at Railroad Park in Clovis on Saturday. The event aims to help raise awareness for those affected by the disease and the public is invited to attend, participate and learn more about those affected by pulmonary hypertension. The marathon name comes from the fact that patients with pulmonary hypertension often struggle to breathe and six minutes of activity feels like running a marathon.   Registration for the event begins at 11 a.m., the walk begins at 11:30 with a barbecue and live music to follow. Community Medical Center clinical staff will be on hand during the event.  President of the national Pulmonary Hypertension Association, Rino Aldrighetti, will be visiting from Washington DC to recognize the Fresno support group as one of the largest and most well-attended support groups in the nation. In addition to providing support for patients and their caregivers, the Fresno Pulmonary Hypertension Support Group offers opportunities to patients to be part of cutting-edge treatments and participate in clinical trials.  The group is currently applying for accreditation and would be the first accredited program in the nation. 
Written on 10/23/2014, 11:02 am by Business Journal staff
Local officials gathered in Mendota today to celebrate the start of a 60-megawatt solar project. First Solar, Inc. is building the project expected to be completed next year. About 410 construction jobs will be created from the project, which is expected to generate enough energy to power more than 21,000 average California homes. The project site is located west of Highway 33 on California Avenue. Arizona-based First Solar purchased the project, originally developed by a joint venture called Northlight Power, last year.
Written on 10/23/2014, 10:30 am by Business Journal staff
Hanford Marketplace developers are asking the local community for input on what businesses and restaurants they would like to see in the new shopping center. The 500,000-square-foot project was approved in August and will be located at the northwest corner of Highways 198 and 43. Costco Wholesale will anchor the development.  An online survey has been set up and connected to the Hanford Marketplace Facebook page. The survey asks the public which retail or restaurant locations they would like to see in the Costco Center & Hanford Marketplace. Demographical information is also requested in the survey but the questions are optional.  Data generated from the survey will be used to help bring in potential tenants and residents are encouraged to share the survey with their friends and family on social media. Construction updates, pictures and basic information about the project will be frequently posted to the Hanford Marketplace Facebook page. 
Written on 10/23/2014, 10:09 am by NOMAAN MERCHANT, Associated Press
(AP) — The Dallas hospital where a man diagnosed with Ebola died and two nurses were infected with the virus has seen patients flee the hospital, with a more than 50 percent decline in visits to its emergency room since the crisis began. Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas said in financial statements Wednesday that its revenue fell 25 percent in the first 20 days of October, a period that began shortly after Thomas Eric Duncan was admitted into the hospital with Ebola. Visits to its emergency room were down 53 percent during that time, and its daily patient census fell 21 percent. Operating-room surgeries were also down 25 percent. The numbers reflect the serious concerns in North Texas about the hospital's handling of Ebola. The hospital has criticized for making repeated mistakes, including allowing Duncan to leave its emergency room Sept. 26 after he came on his own with a fever and other symptoms of Ebola. Duncan returned two days later by ambulance and was diagnosed with Ebola. After he was admitted, two of its nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, became infected with the virus themselves. Pham and Vinson were transferred to other hospitals for treatment. The hospital's parent company, Texas Health Resources, remains profitable and has more than $3 billion cash on hand. It said in one filing that it has enough resources to weather any long-term damage. The company also said it believes its insurance will cover any damages due to the Ebola cases, and that no lawsuits have been filed against Presbyterian Dallas. Presbyterian Dallas is responsible for about 17 percent of the chain's revenue, according to Moody's Investors Service.
Written on 10/23/2014, 10:06 am by 
JOSH FUNK, AP Business Writer
(AP) — Union Pacific Corp. delivered a 19 percent increase in its third-quarter profit as the railroad hauled 7 percent more freight and increased rates. "We are optimistic about the remainder of the year," CEO Jack Koraleski said. "Assuming the economy and weather cooperate, we are well positioned to finish up the year with record results." The Omaha, Nebraska-based railroad said Thursday that it earned $1.37 billion, or $1.53 per share, for the quarter ended Sept. 30. That's up from $1.15 billion, or $1.24 per share, a year ago. Union Pacific's revenue climbed 11 percent to $6.18 billion from $5.57 billion. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected Union Pacific to report earnings per share of $1.51 on revenue of $6.10 billion. Union Pacific reported the most growth in shipments of intermodal shipping containers, industrial products and agricultural goods. Coal was the only sector that didn't grow in the quarter but after the decrease in coal demand in recent years, reporting flat coal volumes and a 2 percent increase in revenue was positive. Edward Jones analyst Logan Purk said Union Pacific again delivered impressive results while controlling costs well. "Union Pacific has shown they can do much more with the type of growth they're seeing," Purk said. Investors have been talking about the possibility of railroad mergers because Canadian Pacific and CSX railroads disclosed they held preliminary talks about combining before abandoning the idea. But Koraleski said he doesn't think merging any of the big railroads makes sense because it wouldn't necessarily improve service and could run into regulatory problems. "I am not convinced that merging is the way you solve service issues in this industry," Koraleski said. "Particularly right now, I don't think mergers make sense." Union Pacific shares rose $4.19, or 3.9 percent, to $111.05 in morning trading. Its shares have risen 27 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index has risen slightly more than 4 percent. The stock has increased 38 percent in the last 12 months. Union Pacific operates 32,400 miles of track in 23 states from the Midwest to the West and Gulf coasts.
Written on 10/23/2014, 10:01 am by DAVID KOENIG, AP Business Writer
(AP) — Saving a nickel or a dime per gallon might not seem like much to the average motorist, but for airlines that burn hundreds of millions of gallons of fuel every month, it adds up quickly. Profits are soaring at the biggest U.S. airlines, and a chunk of credit goes to those savings at the pump. Fuel is an airline's biggest expense. Heading into the busy holiday-travel period, the airlines expect to see even cheaper fuel prices, thanks to the recent slide in crude oil prices. While getting a break on fuel, airlines are benefiting from continued strong travel demand that allows them to push fares higher. Executives report strong bookings for holiday travel and say they see no signs that Ebola is scaring away travelers. The four largest U.S. airlines sold at least 83 percent of their seats in the third quarter. A decade ago, more than a quarter of seats went empty. The results were there to see Thursday, as several leading airlines reported financial results for the third quarter, which includes the end of the heavy summer-vacation travel season: — The world's biggest airline operator, American Airlines Group Inc., earned an all-time best $942 million profit in the June-through-September quarter. It was an 87 percent increase over the amount that American and US Airways earned separately last year before their December 2013 merger. CEO Doug Parker predicted more records for fourth-quarter and full-year earnings. — United Continental Holdings Inc. posted net income of $924 million, up from $379 million a year earlier. Excluding one-time items, adjusted profit was a record $1.1 billion. — Southwest Airlines Co.'s profit rose 27 percent to $329 million. All three companies beat Wall Street expectations for earnings. United cut its fuel bill by $135 million compared with last year, a reduction of 4.1 percent on its largest single expense. Including United Express regional flights, the company paid $3.02 per gallon, a dime less than last summer. Southwest saved $64 million, or 4.4 percent, on fuel. It paid $2.94 per gallon, a nickel less than last year, and the savings are likely to surge — Southwest predicted that it will pay between $2.70 and $2.75 per gallon in the fourth quarter. Airlines could share that windfall with passengers in the form of cheaper tickets, but that doesn't look likely, at least not yet. The big airlines just pushed through a modest fare increase on U.S. routes even though oil prices have fallen by about one-fifth since the last such fare increase back in April. Recent mergers have reduced competition and helped the airlines limit the number of flights, making it easier to push fares higher. Southwest is one of the few airlines that reports details on fares. Its average one-way price inched higher, to $160.74, an increase of just $1.35 over the same time last year but up nearly $50 in the last five years, a period in which mergers reduced the number of competitors and fuel prices climbed. American doesn't give fare figures, but it said that the amount passengers paid to fly each mile, a figure called yield in the airline business, set a record. Airline investors were spooked by the appearance of the first U.S. cases of the deadly Ebola virus, especially the news this month that a nurse had flown on two Frontier Airlines flights shortly before testing positive. They worried that people might stop flying, and airline stocks fell. That fear started to subside last week when the CEO of Delta Air Lines Inc. expressed confidence that authorities would prevent a U.S. outbreak; the stocks have rallied. On Thursday, United officials said that they saw no indication that Ebola was affecting bookings. However, United offered a lackluster fourth-quarter forecast for a key revenue figure, and the company's stock fell. While not addressing Ebola, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said his airline's trend toward higher revenue has continued into October, and bookings for November and December looked good. JetBlue Airways Corp., which is about to change CEOs, reported net income of $79 million. Its earnings and revenue both fell short of Wall Street forecasts. Alaska Air Group Inc.'s earnings topped Wall Street forecasts. In late-morning trading, shares of American rose 59 cents to $37.63; Southwest gained 75 cents to $34.95; JetBlue climbed 20 cents to $11.38; and Delta Air Lines Inc., which reported last week that third-quarter net income fell due to one-time costs such as accounting losses on fuel hedging, rose $1.10, or 3 percent, to $38.40. United's shares slipped 43 cents to $48.63 on the flat fourth-quarter revenue-figure outlook. Alaska Air gained $2.36, or 5.1 percent, to $49.13.
Written on 10/23/2014, 9:58 am by RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press
(AP) — HealthCare.gov's simpler online application is being touted as a big win for consumers. But it can't be used by legal immigrants and naturalized U.S. citizens, who represent millions of potential new health insurance customers. That's prompting worries that many Hispanics and Asians will end up in long enrollment queues when the second sign-up season for coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law gets underway next month. The administration says immigrants are not being overlooked, and points to other improvements in the application process. Officials say what they can do is limited by the law's requirements. Advocates aren't buying that explanation. "The whole idea was that HealthCare.gov was going to be a seamless and easy process, but that doesn't seem to be the case for immigrants," said Alvaro Huerta, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles. "I think this is happening because the federal government hasn't taken the steps necessary to resolve issues with their verification system." The White House wants more Latinos to sign up under the health care law for 2015. As the nation's largest minority group, Hispanics tend to be younger and more likely to be uninsured. The law offers taxpayer-subsidized private health insurance for people who don't have access to coverage on the job. Open enrollment for 2015 starts Nov. 15. It's estimated that 6 million more people will sign up for next year, bringing the total to about 13 million. The federal HealthCare.gov website will be the sign-up platform in 38 states, two more than it served last year. States in the federal marketplace include immigrant-rich Florida, Texas, and Nevada. The remaining states are running their own insurance exchanges. While immigrants living in the country illegally cannot get coverage through the law, millions who are lawfully present are entitled to benefits, as well as people who were born overseas and later became U.S. citizens. The new easy online application for most consumers will feature 16 screens, instead of the 76 that people muddled through last year. But immigrants and naturalized citizens are a major exception, a category the administration calls "complex cases." Andy Slavitt, the official who oversees HealthCare.gov operations, said there have been several improvements to help immigrants, including expanding the list of documents that people can use to establish eligibility and updating the computer system so it won't get hung up on special characters used in some names. "I wouldn't say by any means that we have achieved the best we can, but I do think we have taken appropriate steps across the board," Slavitt said. "I would suspect in future years we will be able to do more and more electronically." Consumers navigating the new HealthCare.gov will encounter early on a screen with a series of questions, the gateway to the streamlined application. But legal immigrants, naturalized citizens, and families in which someone is an immigrant or naturalized citizen will have to work through more screens and answer more questions. About half of Latino adults were born abroad, according to research from the Pew Hispanic Center. Of those who have become U.S. citizens, 21 percent lack health insurance. That's well above a 15 percent uninsured rate among naturalized U.S. citizens who are not of Hispanic origin. Latinos are also more likely to be married to an immigrant. "Immigrants could be unjustly excluded even though they are eligible," Huerta said. Asian-American groups are also concerned. "The problems will persist for our communities," said Bonnie Kwon, health law program manager for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum in San Francisco. "It shows a lack of commitment to provide adequate access for immigrants." Many immigrants need help to get through the application, said Kwon. Trained helpers are in short supply. So the more time it takes to finish one application, the fewer uninsured people can be helped. Slavitt disagreed that the administration has overlooked immigrants. The law's requirements mean that some people have to answer more questions and supply more documentation. He also said immigrants will benefit indirectly from the EZ application because it may free call-center operators from handling routine cases. "The immigrant community has been a particular thrust, and more of a passion, for us," Slavitt said. "These are the people our team spent time with all of the year. If we don't make it easier for them on the front end, it will mean spending more time with them on the back end."

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