TODAY

– May 4, 2015

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.

Latest Local News

Written on 05/04/2015, 4:05 pm by Business Journal staff
Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro announced the university will host an open community forum later this month.
Written on 05/04/2015, 3:57 pm by The Associated Press
Visalia's Suncrest Bank announced it completed a $13.5 million private placement of its common stock. The bank issued more than 1.9 million shares to both new and existing local investors, as well as institutions, as part of the offering. "Over the past couple of years we have achieved significant growth in core deposits and within our loan portfolio, while maintaining excellent credit quality and a strong balance sheet," said President and CEO Ciaran McMullan in a statement. "This new capital will allow us to continue our organic growth, and give us the flexibility to consider other strategic initiatives".
Written on 05/04/2015, 3:00 pm by Business Journal staff
Family HealthCare Network (FHCN) has named Manivanh Baum as the new interim clinical director for the organization’s Hanford and Goshen centers.  Baum has 12 years of nursing experience and is currently a physician assistant with FHCN in Hanford.  “Manivanh Baum is not only an excellent provider, but also possesses a strong commitment to serving the mission of our organization,” said Kerry Hydash, president and CEO of FHCN. “We are thrilled to welcome [Baum] to the leadership team at Family HealthCare Network and know that through her commitment, we will continue to positively impact our patients in Hanford and Goshen.” Baum received her Master of Medical Science from Saint Francis University in Loretto, California and completed a primary care association program at Stanford University.  FHCN is a nonprofit organization which runs 14 community health centers throughout Tulare and Kings Counties. 
Written on 05/04/2015, 1:17 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Stocks are closing slightly higher, putting the U.S. market close to record high. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose six points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,114 Monday. That's three points short of the record high it closed at on April 24. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 46 points, or 0.3 percent, to 18,070. The Nasdaq composite rose 11 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,016. Cognizant Technology Solutions jumped 6 percent, the most in the S&P 500, after the consulting company reported earnings that beat analysts' forecasts. Cognizant also raised its earnings and sales outlook for the year. Crude oil fell 22 cents to close at $58.93 a barrel in New York. Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.14 percent.
Written on 05/04/2015, 1:02 pm by Business Journal staff
Fresno's three Dutch Bros. Coffee locations recently raised $3,405 in a day to benefit Tree Fresno. In honor of Earth Day on April 22, Dutch Bros. donated $1 of every drink sold to the nonprofit that has planted more than 40,000 trees in Fresno-Clovis area. The Fresno Dutch Bros. locations are operated by Brent and Genesis Wilson. “Earth Day was a huge success,” Genesis Wilson said in a statement. “Our community continues to impress us; together we were able to make a difference for our neighborhood and community.”
Written on 05/04/2015, 12:53 pm by SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
(AP) — The Obama Administration's hotly debated plan to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the nation's power plants will save about 3,500 lives a year by cutting back on other types of pollution as well, a new independent study concludes. A study from Harvard and Syracuse University calculates the decline in heart attacks and lung disease when soot and smog are reduced — an anticipated byproduct of the president's proposed power plant rule, which aims to fight global warming by limiting carbon dioxide emissions. Past studies have found that between 20,000 and 30,000 Americans die each year because of health problems from power plant air pollution, study authors and outside experts say. The study was published Monday in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Climate Change. The proposed EPA rule, which is not yet finalized, is complex and tailored to different states. It aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Study authors said their research, while not hewing to the Obama plan exactly, is quite close and comparable. The study also finds about the same number of deaths prevented by reducing soot and smog that the administration claimed when the plan was rolled out more than a year ago. Some in Congress have been trying to block the regulation from going into effect, calling the plan a job-killer and an example of government overreach. The study finds that the rule would eliminate an average of 3,500 deaths a year — a range of lives saved from 780 to 6,100 — with more than 1,000 of the lives saved in just four states that get lots of pollution from coal power plants: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and Illinois. The new regulation would reduce hospitalizations by 1,000 a year and heart attacks by 220 a year, the study says. Cleaning the air as part of reducing carbon dioxide has immediate and noticeable benefits, the authors said. "There could be lives saved associated with the way we implement the policy," said study lead author Charles Driscoll, an environmental engineering professor at Syracuse. "Why not kill two birds with one stone if you can?" Lab studies on animals show how soot and smog harm the cardiovascular and respiratory systems and epidemiological studies link tens of thousands of deaths each year to soot and smog pollution, said study co-author Joel Schwartz, a Harvard environmental epidemiologist. The study's authors examined 2,417 power plants and used computer models to project and track their emissions. The study was praised by outside academics, the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental advocacy groups. But officials in the energy industry called it costly and flawed. "This is more than just an academic exercise to the tens of millions of Americans who depend on affordable, reliable electricity to power their homes and places of work every day," said Laura Sheehan, senior vice president for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. "For them, this is about their livelihoods. Coal provides nearly 40 percent of the nation's electricity and its use is becoming cleaner all the time. And while these academics are hypothesizing about unprovable consequences, what's known is that families are struggling to pay their monthly bills and companies are struggling to stay in business - and any increase in energy costs will unnecessarily burden them. " EPA, in a statement, said the study confirms their earlier research, which shows that for every dollar spent complying with the regulation, "Americans will see up to $7 in health benefits." Three top science officials in the George W. Bush Administration who are now outside academics — George Gray at George Washington University, John D. Graham at Indiana University and Howard Frumkin at the University of Washington — praised the study to various degrees. "This analysis is both sound and useful," Gray, former EPA science chief and now director of risk science and public health, wrote in an email. "The cool thing is the question they ask: What public health effects might occur due to changes in air pollutants as we act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?" ___Online:Nature Climate Change: http://www.nature.com/nclimate
Written on 05/04/2015, 12:50 pm by 
NEDRA PICKLER, JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press
(AP) — Acting in the aftermath of Baltimore's unrest, President Barack Obama helped launch a foundation Monday to take up his campaign to help minority young men by improving education, training and job placement in poor communities across the country. Speaking at Lehman College in the Bronx with young men who credited their mentors for overcoming obstacles, Obama praised their success in the face of barriers. "The future will be in good hands as long as we are giving them the love and the support that they need," Obama said. The new organization, My Brother's Keeper Alliance, is an outgrowth of Obama's year-old My Brother's Keeper initiative, which has focused on federal government policies and grants designed to increase access to education and jobs. While the effort predates the tensions in Baltimore that erupted after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, the significance of the new private-sector alliance has been magnified by the spotlight riots in the city placed on low-income neighborhoods. Over the past year, Obama has been called on to respond to what he last week referred to as the "slow-rolling crisis" of police relations with minority communities. The friction has been highlighted by Gray's death last month and Michael Brown's death last summer in Ferguson, Missouri. Gray died after sustaining a spinal cord injury while in the custody of Baltimore police. Six police officers were charged last week in connection with his death. With its high-profile names and ambitious focus, the alliance is a possible building block for Obama's post-presidential pursuits. With less than two years left in Obama's presidency, the new institution would likely sustain its work well after he leaves the White House. But White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the new alliance wouldn't necessarily be the vehicle for what Obama chooses to do. Earnest said decisions about who could give to the group and the reporting of donations would be made by the board of directors. He was responding to a question about whether the group's financing might spark some of the same controversies surrounding Bill and Hillary Clinton's family foundation. "The White House will not be involved in determining what their fundraising policies should be," Earnest said. He said that the board would be "well aware of the priorities the president has placed on transparency." Earnest said the group would follow a familiar model of businesses supporting some of the president's other priorities, noting as an example Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative to fight childhood obesity. The new alliance will be led by Joe Echevarria, the former chief executive of Deloitte, the giant accounting and consulting firm. The alliance already has obtained financial and in-kind commitments of more than $80 million from such companies as American Express, Deloittte, Discovery Networks, Fox News parent company News Corp., BET, Sprint and PepsiCo, the White House said. The alliance board is a who's who of the sport, corporate and entertainment world. Singer songwriter John Legend is the alliance's honorary chairman; former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning, BET CEO Debra Lee and Sam's Club CEO Rosalind Brewer are among the members of the board. The alliance's advisory council will include former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Attorney General Eric Holder and Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, the mayors of Indianapolis, Sacramento and Philadelphia, as well as former NFL player Jerome Bettis and former basketball standout Shaquille O'Neal. The group aims to mobilize the private sector to help young minority men, distribute grants and work with local communities to assist young people in communities that lack educational and employment advantages. Broderick Johnson, who chairs Obama's My Brother's Keeper task force at the White House, described the creation of the new alliance as "deeply personal." "As a proud son of Baltimore, this week's announcement comes at a time of unique and special resonance for me," Johnson said in an email to supporters. "As the country reflects on our shared responsibility to ensure that opportunity reaches every young person, I urge everyone to look at their own capacity to make a difference." While in New York, Obama was also taping an appearance on The Late show with David Letterman and attending two Democratic Party fundraisers.
Written on 05/04/2015, 12:47 pm by MICHAEL RUBINKAM, Associated Press
Two Delaware teenagers are still in critical condition more than six weeks after they were sickened by a banned pesticide that was sprayed at the Caribbean resort where they were staying, their family said Monday. Sean and Ryan Esmond and their parents fell ill after an applicator working for Terminix used methyl bromide at the resort in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The teens are hospitalized in Philadelphia. Their father and mother, Stephen Esmond and Theresa Devine, continue to undergo therapy, said the statement, which provided the first update on the family's medical condition in a month. "The Esmond Family thanks the nation for its outpouring of support and concern for the family's recovery from this unthinkable tragedy of pesticide poisoning during their family vacation," the statement said. The Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice and authorities in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are investigating. The EPA said in April that its probe had found the toxic pesticide was used at the Sirenusa Condominium Resort in St. John several times in the past, and may have improperly been used in Puerto Rico. The agency banned the chemical for residential use in 1984. "The family is confident that those responsible will be brought to justice," the Esmonds' statement said.Stephen Esmond is head of a private middle school in Wilmington, Delaware, and Devine is a dentist in the Philadelphia suburbs. The family had traveled to the Virgin Islands for vacation with several other families from Wilmington's private Tatnall School. Methyl bromide, an odorless and highly toxic gas, can severely damage the lungs and brain. The chemical was applied to a vacant unit directly beneath the Esmonds' unit at the posh resort overlooking Cruz Bay, according to environmental regulators. The teenagers' prognosis depends on how long they were exposed and how much they breathed in, said Dr. Reynold Panettieri, deputy director of the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania's medical school. "The potential for meaningful recovery is still there," Panettieri, who is not involved in the teens' care, told The Associated Press recently. "As you get farther and farther out, the potential for meaningful survival and living independently is going to become less and less likely." Terminix, the Memphis, Tennessee-based pest-control firm, previously said it is cooperating with investigators and conducting its own internal inquiry. A company spokesman did not immediately return an email seeking comment on what its internal probe has found. The Virgin Islands' Department of Planning and Natural Resources has suspended the Terminix applicator's license.
Written on 05/04/2015, 11:20 am by MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — Google wants the wireless services that connect mobile devices to digital content to be cheaper and more reliable. The reason has as much to do with the pursuit of profit as with trying to make smartphones more useful. More time spent using Google's dominant search engine or watching videos on its popular YouTube site translates into more opportunities for the company to show its moneymaking ads. Enter "Project Fi," the Internet company's recently launched attempt to usher in new ways to keep smartphones online while lowering the cost for streaming video, listening to music, getting directions and searching for information. "Wireless connectivity has become so essential that it's kind of like our lifeblood," says Nick Fox, the Google Inc. executive overseeing Project Fi. "This gives us a playground where we can try things out." In a break from the status quo, Project Fi will cost just $20 for basic service and then only charge for the amount of data consumed over cellular networks that Google is leasing from T-Mobile and Sprint. Most plans charge a flat rate under metered plans that limit customers to a specific amount of data. Google's service is also promising to automatically switch customers to publicly available Wi-Fi networks to avoid incurring charges for using data on the cellular networks. Here are some key things to know about Project Fi culled from a recent interview with Fox at Google's Mountain View, California, headquarters.STARTING SMALL, THINKING BIG Although Fox wouldn't disclose how many customers Project Fi will accept, it's clearly going to be a relatively small pool of U.S. consumers at the outset. Getting on the wireless service requires a Nexus 6 smartphone, a model made by Motorola for Google as a showcase for how it would like its services to work with its Android operating system. Nexus 6 owners also need an invitation to subscribe to Project Fi. Google, though, is hoping Project Fi reshapes the market. If some of its technological features work well, Google will implant them into future updates of Android so they are available on the hundreds of millions of other devices running on the software, Fox said. After spending more than two years developing Project Fi, Google is also counting on other wireless carriers copying its ideas, particularly on pricing. "We are focused more on Android where we can have the most influence, but to the extent that the ideas take off and go broader than Project Fi, that's great for users," Fox said. Google ultimately just wants people to spend more of their lives online because when that happens, it brings more traffic to its search engine, YouTube and other services such as Gmail and maps.BILLING BY MEGABYTE Google's pricing system seems the feature most likely to shake up the wireless market. Project Fi only charges subscribers for the precise amount of cellular data used, an approach that Google came up with after its internal studies concluded most people consume less than 2 gigabytes a month yet often pay for much higher limits. The solution: Project Fi subscribers will pay just a penny per megabyte of cellular data. That means 501 megabytes — a little over half a gigabyte — would cost just $5.01 even if a Project Fi user had signed up for a 2 gigabyte monthly plan listed at $20.SEAMLESS WI-FI Google knows a lot about the strength of public Wi-Fi networks because it gathers the information when people connect to it services. Project Fi is relying on this intelligence to automatically switch its users from a cellular tower to a free Wi-Fi system with a signal strong enough to stream video and music, another effort to save people money. This could mean a smartphone will shift to a Wi-Fi network downloading at 10 megabits, even if a T-Mobile or Sprint network is available at 30 megabits, Fox said, because the slower speed is still strong enough for a solid connection. The Wi-Fi switch won't automatically occur, though, on free networks in businesses and airports that require a user to accept terms of service or perform some manual acknowledgement. In an effort to protect passwords and personal data, Project Fi creates a private transmission channel while its subscribers are using a publicly accessible Wi-Fi system.BRIDGING DEVICES Project Fi will store subscriber phone numbers in Google data centers so that they may be accessed on other devices besides smartphones. That means a Project Fi user will be able to send and receive texts, or make or receive calls, on their personal computers, tablets or even other smartphones besides their own, as long as they logged in.NETWORK JUMPING Project Fi also is promising to automatically decide whether its subscribers are better off on either T-Mobile's or Sprint's cell network, no matter where they are. Google developed an identification, or SIM, card that can store 10 different network profiles to make it possible to toggle between networks run by two different carriers.
Written on 05/04/2015, 11:13 am by DAVID KOENIG, AP Airlines Writer
U.S. airlines are earning billions, and they're collecting more in fees on checked bags and reservation changes. Whether airlines are making more or less money than before depends on which figures you use. The Department of Transportation said Monday that airlines collected $3.5 billion in bag fees last year, a 5 percent increase over 2013, and $3 billion in reservation-change fees, a 6 percent hike. Fees began escalating in 2008, when airlines were losing money and facing a sharp rise in fuel prices. Fees are still around, and they make up a growing share of airline revenue. At Spirit Airlines, which touts low fares and adds lots of fees, only 63 percent of its revenue comes from fares. Southwest still lets customers check two bags or change a reservation for free; it gets 95 percent of revenue from the ticket price. Net income at the 27 airlines counted by the government fell to $7.5 billion last year from $12.2 billion in 2013. However, net income can include one-time gains or losses, and analysts usually prefer to look at operating profit. On that basis, the airlines did even better in 2014 than 2013 — pre-tax operating profit rose to $14.6 billion from $11.3 billion. One carrier, Delta Air Lines, accounted for more than the entire industry's decline in net income because it scored a one-time tax gain of $8 billion in 2013. That caused net income to plunge from $10.54 billion to $649 million in 2014. But take away the 2013 tax gain and 2014 losses on fuel-hedging contracts, and Delta saw just a modest decline in pretax operating profit — $2.93 billion last year, compared with $3.84 billion in 2013. Other than Delta, both net income and operating profit rose at all the other leading airlines — American, US Airways, which is now part of American, United and Southwest — according to government figures. Those carriers control more than 80 percent of the U.S. air-travel market.

Latest State News

Written on 05/04/2015, 11:20 am by MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — Google wants the wireless...
Written on 05/04/2015, 9:42 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — John Chambers plans to step down...
Written on 05/04/2015, 9:39 am by MARTHA MENDOZA, AP National Writer
(AP) — Howard University freshman...
Written on 05/04/2015, 9:33 am by ELLEN KNICKMEYER, Associated Press
(AP) — Oakland's mayor and police chief...

Latest National News

Written on 05/04/2015, 1:17 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Stocks are closing slightly...
Written on 05/04/2015, 12:53 pm by SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
(AP) — The Obama Administration's hotly...
Written on 05/04/2015, 12:50 pm by 
NEDRA PICKLER, JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press
(AP) — Acting in the aftermath of...
Written on 05/04/2015, 12:47 pm by MICHAEL RUBINKAM, Associated Press
Two Delaware teenagers are still in...