TODAY

– April 17, 2014

Stocks close higher on Wall Street; Sonic soars

(AP) — Stocks are closing higher on Wall Street as the market shrugs off a two-day decline.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose eight points, or 0.4 percent, to close at 1,865 Tuesday.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 91 points, or 0.6 percent, to 16,367. The Nasdaq composite rose eight points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,234.

Drive-in restaurant company Sonic jumped 11 percent after posting strong sales gains despite the cold winter weather. Spice maker McCormick rose 6 percent after reporting higher earnings.

Three stocks rose for every two that fell on the New York Stock Exchange. Only one of the 10 industry sectors in the S&P 500 index fell.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note climbed to 2.75 percent.

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Written on 04/16/2014, 10:37 am by SCOTT MAYEROWITZ, AP Airlines Writer
 (AP) — Airline executives frequently complain about fuel costs. But the truth is higher prices actually have been good for business.
Written on 04/16/2014, 10:32 am by 
ALAN FRAM, Associated Press
(AP) — Democratic worries about this November's elections, a lack of Senate votes and House opposition are forcing congressional gun-control supporters to significantly winnow their 2014 agenda, a year after lawmakers scuttled President Barack Obama's effort to pass new curbs on firearms. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently said he needs additional votes before revisiting a proposed expansion of gun sale background checks that the Senate derailed last April. That has left advocates of tighter gun curbs hoping Reid will allow votes on more modest proposals, such as one by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., to add convicted stalkers to the list of criminals barred from acquiring guns. But with Reid wary of exposing Democratic senators facing tight re-election contests in some conservative and Western states to politically risky votes — and the Republican-run House showing no appetite to restrict guns anyway — people aren't holding their breath waiting for proposed gun restrictions to reach the Senate floor before Election Day. "This kind of change doesn't happen overnight," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "There are obviously a lot of other considerations and variables in play here, like elections." Klobuchar's bill on stalkers would play into Democrats' campaign-season theme of pushing legislation that appeals to women, a key Democratic voting bloc. She said Tuesday she has discussed her legislation with Reid but didn't ask about holding a vote because she's first trying to round up Republican support to make the measure bipartisan. Democratic caution on the gun issue has been displayed several times recently, even as the December 2012 killings of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that fanned interest in firearms restrictions fade further into the past. The September 2013 shooting deaths of 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard and this month's slaying of three people outside Jewish community centers in Overland Park, Kan., were greeted with no fresh Democratic legislative pushes. And in the face of National Rifle Association opposition last month, the White House paused its effort to push its surgeon general nominee through the Senate — Dr. Vivek Murthy, a Harvard Medical School physician, Obama political organizer and gun-control supporter. "They're waiting for another tragedy to exploit," Chris Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, said of the Senate hiatus on gun activity. "The question is, do they want gun owners across this country to be more enraged this election cycle than they're already going to be?" White House officials say they've not abandoned the issue. They cite 23 executive orders Obama issued last year, including restarting federal research on gun violence, plus additional steps like starting to close a loophole that let some felons get machine guns by registering them to trusts or corporations. "We're just going to keep pushing until Congress does the right thing," presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett told gun-control activists last week. As the issue has ebbed in Congress, it has accelerated in the states, where legislatures are debating hundreds of gun-related bills, some weakening and others strengthening restrictions. Meanwhile, powerful groups are revving up for the fall elections. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire and advocate of firearms curbs, plans to spend $50 million this year setting up a new group that will mix campaign contributions with field operations aimed at pulling gun-control voters to the polls. The new organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, will focus on women, especially mothers, and work on state and federal elections, the group said Wednesday. Bloomberg said Wednesday on NBC's "Today" that his group will reward candidates "who are protecting lives, and make sure that those who are trying to keep people from being protected lose elections." Also planning campaign activity this year is Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun-control group headed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband, ex-astronaut Mark Kelly. The group reported late Tuesday that its political committee has raised nearly $14.5 million since it was founded in January 2013, and it plans to spend its money on federal and state races, said spokesman Mark Prentice. Giffords was severely wounded in a Jan. 8, 2011, shooting rampage that killed six people. The National Rifle Association spent nearly $20 million on federal campaign activity in 2012 races. Its true strength is viewed as its claimed 5 million members, many of whom consider gun issues strongly when voting. One area where fights over gun policy seem likely is in the annual bills Congress must pass to finance federal agencies. Those bills traditionally contain more than a dozen longstanding, gun-related provisions. These include language making it easier to import antique guns and harder for the government to get gun-tracing information from licensed firearms dealers. When lawmakers consider those spending measures, Republicans could try blocking requirements that gun dealers in states bordering Mexico report multiple purchases of shotguns or rifles to one buyer, an effort the Democratic-led Senate thwarted last year. Democrats could try requiring dealers to conduct annual inventories and report the results to the government. A year ago, Reid fell five votes short of the 60 needed to bust a GOP procedural blockade against the background check measure. He and others have said they've not yet lined up any additional votes. Also defeated were Democratic efforts to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, tools used by some assailants in recent mass shootings. The background check provision, written by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., would have required such checks for all commercial firearms purchases at gun shows and online. Currently, background checks — aimed at preventing criminals and the mentally ill from acquiring weapons — are required only for sales handled by licensed federal gun dealers. In a sign of how times change, Toomey and Manchin are working again this year on background check legislation — aimed this time at making sure teachers and others who work with children are not sexual predators.
Written on 04/16/2014, 10:30 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Bank of America said Wednesday that it swung to a loss in the first quarter, hurt by $6 billion in legal charges. The Charlotte, N.C., bank reported a loss applicable to common shareholders of $514 million, compared with a profit of $1.11 billion a year earlier. The loss amounted to 5 cents a share. A year earlier, the bank earned 10 cents a share. Revenue totaled $22.66 billion after stripping out an accounting change. That was down 3.8 percent from last year. The $6 billion legal expense stems from a previously announced settlement with the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and additional reserves for other mortgage-related matters. The bank also said it reached a settlement with the Financial Guaranty Insurance Company, as well as separate settlements with The Bank of New York Mellon, over residential mortgage-backed securities. The bank continues to slim down as a result of the financial crisis. The bank had 238,600 full-time employees this quarter, down from 262,800 employees from a year ago. It reduced the number of bank branches to 5,095, a 5 percent less than a year earlier. Bank of America shares fell 35 cents, or 2 percent, to $16.04 in midday Wednesday trading.
Written on 04/16/2014, 10:15 am by Business Journal staff
A national search for the new dean of the Lyles College of Engineering at Fresno State ended when interim dean Dr. Ram Nunna was selected for the position on a permanent basis. Nunna has been a faculty member at Fresno State since 1998 and interim dean at the Lyles College of Engineering since August 2010. Prior to his current job, he served as associate dean and chair of Fresno State's Department of Electric and Computer Engineering. "Dr. Nunna has done an exceptional job leading the Lyles College of Engineering," said Fresno State Provost Andrew Hoff, announcing Nunna's appointment. "He has forged a number of significant partnerships that will benefit the college in the years to come. I am certain the Lyles College will thrive under his leadership." Nunna is currently a member of Fresno State President Joseph Castro's Commission on the Future of Agriculture, the DISCOVERe tablet initiative and the university's Task Force on Internationalization. He previously served on the President's Commission on Human Relations and Equity, the Grants Research Advisory Board, the Academic Senate's GRaduate Committee and Academic Policy and Planning Committee. Nunna earned his doctoral and master's degrees in computer engineering from the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, and a bachelor's degree in electronics and communication from Bangalore University in India. One of eight academic colleges at Fresno State, the Lyles College of Engineering offers six nationally accredited degree programs in civil engineering, computer engineering, construction management, electrical engineering, geomatics engineering and mechanical engineering. The college also offers graduate degrees and options in civl engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and water resources and environmental engineering.
Written on 04/15/2014, 2:07 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — Aaron Kushner believes he can launch and grow a print newspaper in a world gone digital. The former greeting card executive is trying to turn the Orange County Register into a media giant in southern California, largely driven by paper and ink. The unconventional effort gets a jolt Wednesday when Freedom Communications Inc., the company Kushner bought with other investors two years ago, launches the Los Angeles Register. The daily newspaper will be available at 5,500 locations around L.A. — at many newsstands and vending boxes where the 132-year-old Los Angeles Times is found. It's the first direct challenge on the Times' home market since the Herald-Examiner folded in November 1989. Kushner hopes to build the newspaper's readership by differentiating it from the Times with deep coverage of local news and a political stance that's center-right. He's pulled focus away from digital content and advertising sales, insisting that chasing low-value clicks won't matter if the print product, which accounts for 90 percent of his newspapers' revenues, cannot be turned around. It's an unconventional move considering that the economics of the newspaper business have worsened in the last quarter century as advertising dollars and readers migrated to the Internet. "We will sell newspapers the way every newspaper sells newspapers," he said in an interview. "There's nothing particularly magical that we need to invent that way." "The heart of our strategy is creating a better, richer, more engaging product that leads to a cycle of long-term growth," he said. Since taking over as Freedom's CEO in 2012, Kushner has implemented a number of changes. He has limited free access to the Orange County Register's website; nearly doubled the editorial staff to about 370; and purchased and launched smaller newspapers in the area to spread the company's ad-sales reach and dilute the cost of reporting over a wider geographic area. Kushner says the strategy is largely working. He told a luncheon at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in February that with combined advertising and circulation revenue from print growing in the double digit percentages, Freedom is on track to be profitable this year. The company doesn't release its financial results to the public. Kushner has been able to do what many publishers have not: boost circulation. In the six months through September, the latest period for which results are available, the average Monday-to-Friday circulation of all Freedom's 34 publications was 362,242, a 27 percent jump from a year earlier. The circulation gains are almost entirely due to Freedom's near doubling of the print run of weekly "branded editions," which publishers are increasingly using to spread distribution as newspaper circulation falls. The core Orange County Register, in fact, saw weekday circulation decline 8 percent to 162,600. The branded editions must publish at least weekly, represent themselves as editions of the main newspaper and contain some editorial content. The six-page Orange County Register Minute is chock full of ads and is delivered for free to every household in a certain area. More than a million branded editions hit the streets every Thursday, boosting the daily average. Kushner acknowledged that expanding the mini editions was a key pillar of his strategy. "That's really where we're focused on, in terms of local community-building coverage," he said. The Los Angeles Register's launch follows Kushner's introduction of the Long Beach Register and several other small papers in the last year or so. The company announced Tuesday it would launch a dozen new community weeklies through next month, adding another half million copies to circulation every week. Ken Doctor, a newspaper industry analyst with Outsell Inc., believes the L.A. Register could help Freedom's profits if it sells as few as 20,000 to 25,000 copies a day, especially because it is using existing staff to produce it. Kushner believes the Register can coexist with the Times, which has a daily circulation of roughly 672,000, down 9 percent from five years ago. But he has his share of skeptics, including Gabriel Kahn, a USC Annenberg professor of journalism, who doubted the bet on print would help take advantage of the changing habits of a younger generation. "I'm not saying he should do as everyone else has done, because everyone else has failed at this, too," Kahn said. "Have you seen the movie, 'Argo'? It's kind of the best bad idea we've got."
Written on 04/15/2014, 1:59 pm by Business Journal staff
Completion rates dropped throughout California's community college system, a testament of the five years of deep budget cuts that stifled opportunities for students. According to the Student Success Scorecard released by the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, only 48.1 percent of community college students who enrolled in 2007 transferred or received a degree within six years. That's down from 50.7 percent of students who enrolled in the previous six-year cohort. The figures were an even lower 40.5 percent for those entering college unprepared in math or English as opposed to 70.2 percent who did not need to take remedial education. At Fresno City College, which enrolls around 16,408 full-time students, the six-year completion rate was 41.7 percent overall for those that enrolled in 2007. That compares to 45.5 percent for 2006 enrollees and 47 percent for those that enrolled in 2003. College of the Sequoias, with some 14,000 students, went from a 47.2 percent six-year completion rate for new students in 2003 and 47.7 percent for 2006 enrollees to 42.8 percent for 2007. Reedley College, with nearly 17,700 students, stood at a 46 percent six-year completion rate for 2007 enrolled students. That's down slightly from 46.5 percent for students enrolling the year before and 47.6 percent for those that signed up in 2003. Porterville College, serving around 5,000 students, dropped from a 51.9 percent for 2006 first-time students to 45.2 percent for new students in 2007. That's still up from the 43.7 percent rate for 2003. West Hills College Coalinga, enrolling nearly 4,400 students, had a student success rate of 45 percent for 2007 enrolled students, down from 53.6 percent of new students in 2006 and 49.4 percent for those beginning classes in 2003. West Hills College Lemoore, with around 5,700 students, had a six-year completion rate of 42.5 percent for new students in 2007, down from 48.3 percent for the 2006 cohort. The Student Success Scorecard, available on the college chancellor's website at scorecard.cccco.edu/scorecard.aspx, includes measures such as persistence, career technical education courses taken, and the need for remedial education. The numbers are also broken down by age, sex, rate and ethnicity. Community College Chancellor Brice Harris said much of the decline in completion rates is due to the recession and budget cuts that led to 20 percent fewer credit classes throughout the 112 college system. "Students with goals of transferring competed for fewer seats at California State University and University of California," Harris said, in a  release. "Sadly, the only transfer activity that increased was for students who could afford to go out of state." However, the rate of students persistent past the first year of their education increased, as did the rate of students who completed 30 units.
Written on 04/15/2014, 1:56 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — It's not just tax day. Tuesday also is the two-week extension deadline to sign up for health coverage through California's insurance exchange. Consumers who were unable to create an account or fill out an application because of technical problems on the Covered California website have until midnight Tuesday to secure a health insurance policy and avoid a tax penalty. The agency offered the extension after its systems were overwhelmed by the number of people trying to sign up before the March 31 enrollment deadline under President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Exchange officials are encouraging people to contact service representatives, enrollment counselors and certified insurance agents to help them complete the process. More than 1.2 million people had enrolled before the deadline. Covered California plans to release updated figures Thursday.
Written on 04/15/2014, 1:54 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — A research firm says Southern California's median home sale price has hit $400,000, setting a new six-year high. DataQuick said Tuesday that the median price for new and existing houses and condominiums was $400,000 in March, up 4 percent from $383,000 in February and up 16 percent from $345,500 in March 2013. It's the 24th straight annual gain, including the last 20 months in double digits. The median price was the highest since February 2008. Tight inventories kept a lid on sales in the six-county region. Slightly more than 17,600 homes sold during March, down 14 percent from the same period a year earlier. It was the slowest March in six years. DataQuick says price increases have put new homes out of reach for some buyers.
Written on 04/15/2014, 1:44 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Stocks managed to close with modest gains on Wall Street after a day of up-and-down trading. Coca-Cola rose 4 percent after reporting higher sales of non-carbonated beverages. Johnson & Johnson rose 2 percent after its income rose. Toll Brothers and other homebuilders fell after a measure of the industry's confidence in the housing market remained low. Apple and Netflix also fell. Major U.S. indexes moved between gains and losses all day before ending slightly higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 12 points, or 0.7 percent, to close at 1,842 Tuesday. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 89 points, or 0.6 percent, to 16,262. The Nasdaq added 11 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,034. Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.62 percent.
Written on 04/15/2014, 12:00 pm by Business Journal staff
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. paid more than $302 million in property taxes and franchise fees across its service territory, boosting revenues for cash-starved Valley counties. The company, which provides gas and electric service to 15 million Californians, paid $158 million in property taxes to 49 counties and 243 cities in which it operates. The payment, covering the period from January 1 to June 30, is in addition to the year's first property tax installment of $158 million paid in December. PG&E's entire property tax bill for the 2013 fiscal year totaled nearly $317 million, an increase of $11 million over the previous year. Fresno County took in $11.85 million of the latest property tax installment, up from $11.45 million last year, followed by Madera County with $1.68 million, up from $1.6 million. Kings County got $974,557 of the total, up from $900,000 the year before, and Tulare County received $389,583, down from $401,058. In addition, PG&E completed its 2013 franchise fee payments to cities and counties this month. The fees, which give the utility the right to use public streets for gas and electric facilities, totaled more than $144 million, an increase of almost $8 million from the previous year's payments. Of that, $40 million was for natural gas facilities and equipment and nearly $104 million was for electric infrastructure. A recent economic impact report showed that PG&E contributed $22.2 billion of economic activity and supported nearly 71,600 jobs in its Northern and Central California service area in 2012.

Latest State News

Written on 04/15/2014, 2:07 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — Aaron Kushner believes he can...
Written on 04/15/2014, 1:56 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — It's not just tax day. Tuesday...
Written on 04/15/2014, 1:54 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — A research firm says Southern...
Written on 04/15/2014, 11:17 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Legislation set to be unveiled...

Latest National News

Written on 04/16/2014, 10:37 am by SCOTT MAYEROWITZ, AP Airlines Writer
 (AP) — Airline executives...
Written on 04/16/2014, 10:32 am by 
ALAN FRAM, Associated Press
(AP) — Democratic worries about this...
Written on 04/16/2014, 10:30 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Bank of America said Wednesday...
Written on 04/15/2014, 1:44 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — Stocks managed to close with...