– January 30, 2015

California judge orders Walgreens to pay $16M

Walgreens stores accused of improperly handling hazardous wasteWalgreens stores accused of improperly handling hazardous waste(AP) — A California judge has ordered drugstore chain Walgreens to pay $16.57 million to settle a lawsuit claiming more than 600 of its stores in the state illegally dumped hazardous waste.

The settlement announced Thursday stems from a lawsuit filed in June by district attorneys around the state. The legal action followed inspections of trash bins at Walgreens stores.

It accused the stores of illegally handling and disposing pesticides, bleach, paint, pharmaceutical waste and other items. The stores were also accused of unlawfully disposing of customer records containing confidential medical information.

Walgreen Co. spokesman Jim Graham said the company did not acknowledge any wrongdoing and settled the case to avoid protracted litigation.

He said Walgreens ships all hazardous materials are shipped to a hazardous waste disposal facility, where they are incinerated.

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Written on 01/30/2015, 8:57 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — A federal appeals court said Friday that many advertising claims for POM Wonderful juice were deceptive in asserting that it curbs the risk of...
Written on 01/30/2015, 8:56 am by Business Journal Staff
Yogurtland in River Park will celebrate National Frozen Yogurt Day on Feb. 2 with free yogurt and toppings from 4 to 7 p.m. This is the fourth year the business has participated in National Frozen Yogurt Day and this year's celebration will include the debut of two new handcrafted flavors: Hershey - York Peppermint Pattie and Hershey's Chocolate Milkshake. Peppermint Patties Minis and Hershey's Mini Kisses will also be introduced as new toppings.  Those who are registered for the chain's Real Rewards program can also receive double points from Feb. 2-8.  Yogurtland's National Frozen Yogurt Day celebration is sponsored by Hershey and the California Milk Advisory Board. 
Written on 01/30/2015, 8:36 am by Associated Press
(AP) — Ohio State University is cashing in after the Buckeyes' victory in the NCAA's championship football game. The university expects a $3 million increase this year in royalties from licensed merchandise sales as fans continue to buy national championship gear and keepsakes, The Columbus Dispatch reports ( ). Officials anticipate about $17 million in total royalty revenue for the year. Retailers say the team's story has helped boost sales. The Buckeyes, who defied naysayers in their 42-20 victory over the University of Oregon, earned the final playoff spot after losing two starting quarterbacks to injuries. "People were energized long before the game, and people are still coming through the door," said Lori Leavitt Watson, vice president of a flag store in Columbus. The fact that Ohio State hadn't won a championship in more than a decade has also helped increase sales, said Rick Van Brimmer, an assistant vice president for the school's trademark and licensing operations. When the Buckeyes beat the University of Miami for the title in 2002, royalties doubled from the previous year, bringing in about $5 million in total revenue. More than half of the money that comes into the school's licensing office goes to academic affairs. The athletics department, alumni association and student life program then each receive 15 percent. The boost in sales is bigger than sports, Brimmer said. "It transcends athletics and helps us tell the overall Ohio State story," he said. "The world's eyes were on us for an incredible run to the championship, but we stay on their minds for a much longer time."
Written on 01/30/2015, 8:34 am by PAUL WISEMAN, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — U.S. consumers are more confident than they've been since January 2004. The University of Michigan said Friday that its index of consumer sentiment rose to 98.1 in January from 93.6 last month. Consumers say the prospects for the U.S. economy are the strongest in a decade, and half of consumers expect the expansion to keep going another five years. Over the past six months, households with annual incomes of less than $75,000 have reported gains in confidence as big as households with higher incomes. Still, most consumers are expecting only modest wage income gains, which could constrain their spending. "Without sufficient wage gains, consumers will be forced to demand large price discounts to complete their purchases," said Richard Curtin, chief economist for the Michigan survey. The Michigan survey was the latest evidence that an improving economy and tumbling oil prices have lifted consumers' spirits. The Conference Board on Tuesday reported that its consumer confidence index climbed to the highest level since August 2007. And the Commerce Department reported Friday that consumer spending rose from October through December at a 4.3 percent annual pace, fastest since the first three months of 2006. Underlying consumers' improving mood: The job market is the strongest it's been in years. Employers last year added nearly 3 million jobs, most since 1999. Gasoline prices have plunged to $2.05 a gallon from $2.27 a month ago and $3.28 a year ago, according to AAA. Overall, the economy grew at a steady 2.6 annual rate the last three months of 2014. For the full year, it grew a modest 2.4 percent, pulled down by bitter winter weather at the start of 2014. Over the last nine months of last year, economic growth averaged at a healthy 4.1 percent annual rate.
Written on 01/30/2015, 8:32 am by CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — Wages and benefits rose at a slightly healthier rate last year, a sign strong job gains could be forcing companies to pay a bit more for workers. The Labor Department said Friday that the employment cost index, which measures pay and benefits, rose 2.2 percent in 2014, up from 2 percent the previous year. It's also ahead of inflation, which rose 1.3 percent. Yet the increase is still sluggish by historical standards. In a healthy economy, the index usually rises at about a 3.5 percent pace. "While still quite tame, wages have picked up a little," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. "We expect more acceleration, especially if the unemployment rate falls some more, as seems highly likely." The employment cost index began to creep up last spring, increasing 0.7 percent in the second and third quarters. Wages and benefits rose 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter. The final three quarters of 2014 saw the strongest gains since the recession. And last year's annual increase of 2.2 percent is the biggest calendar-year increase since 2008. The Federal Reserve is closing watching wages as it considers when to raise the short-term interest rate it controls. Fed Chair Janet Yellen considers rising wages a key sign that the job market is nearing full health. Higher pay can also push up inflation, which typically prompts the Fed to raise interest rates. Employers added nearly 3 million jobs in 2014, the best year for hiring in 15 years. That helped drive the unemployment rate down to 5.6 percent, the lowest in six years, from 6.7 percent a year earlier. Such trends usually push up paychecks, as companies are forced to offer higher salaries to attract a dwindling number of unemployed workers. Other measures of wages don't show any pickup. Average hourly pay, a gauge included in the monthly jobs report, rose just 1.7 percent in 2014, below the previous year's pace. Yet most economists think the employment cost index is a better measure of wages. It focuses on how pay levels change within occupations and industries. The average hourly wage figure is influenced by changes in which industries are hiring. As a result, big job gains in lower-paying sectors, such as restaurants and retail, can drag down average hourly pay. Higher wages can be a precursor for higher inflation. As Americans earn more at their jobs, they spend more, enabling stores and other businesses to raise prices. Consumers may not like higher prices, but the Fed would love to see them. Fed policymakers prefer inflation to be at about 2 percent a year. That provides them a cushion against deflation, a destabilizing fall in wages and prices. Yet prices rose just 1.3 percent last year, according to the Fed's preferred measure. They have been below the Fed's target for three years. The Fed's policymaking committee attributed much of the weakness to lower gas prices in a statement Wednesday. It also said it expects inflation will rise gradually to 2 percent in the "medium term" as the impact of the gas prices fades.
Written on 01/30/2015, 8:27 am by MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — The U.S. economy slowed in the final three months of 2014, but a burst in consumer spending and the prospect of continued low energy prices are bolstering confidence that growth will strengthen this year. The economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, grew at a 2.6 percent annual rate in the October-December period, the government said Friday. That was down from a sizzling 5 percent gain in the previous quarter. Though business investment, government spending and trade weakened, consumers signaled rising confidence by stepping up their spending at the fastest rate in nearly nine years. Thanks to steady job growth, tumbling oil prices and signs that pay may finally be picking up, Americans appear poised to keep the economy expanding at a solid pace. On Friday, the University of Michigan reported that its index of sentiment showed that U.S. consumers are more confident than they have been since January 2004. Also Friday, the government said wages and benefits are ticking up, a sign that steady job gains may be compelling employers to pay a bit more. An index that measures pay and benefits rose 2.2 percent in 2014, up slightly from 2 percent in 2013 and ahead of inflation, which rose 1.3 percent. Though the overall GDP figure for last quarter was mildly underwhelming, many of the components of the report were consistent with an economy that's outpacing others around the world and is on course to post solid growth this year. Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said the fourth quarter's slowdown is "nothing to worry about." Ashworth noted that the result was heavily influenced by a swing in the volatile defense spending category. He pointed to the acceleration in consumer spending as more indicative of where the economy is headed. "With the collapse in energy prices increasing households' purchasing power, we expect strong consumption growth to continue driving GDP growth in the first half of this year," Ashworth said. For 2014 overall, the economy grew a moderate 2.4 percent. The year began on a sour note as a brutal winter sent the economy into reverse. GDP dropped at a 2.1 percent annual rate in the first quarter. But the economy rebounded, with growth averaging a 4.1 percent annual rate over the next three quarters. Many analysts expect growth above 3 percent this year. That would mark a significant acceleration after a prolonged period of weakness. Since the recession ended in 2009, the economy's expansion has averaged 2.2 percent a year, far below the gains typical after a deep recession. In the October-December period, consumer spending — which accounts for roughly 70 percent of the economy — grew at a 4.3 percent rate, up from 3.2 percent in the third quarter. It was the best gain for consumer spending since the first three months of 2006. But business investment in equipment shrank after big increases in the previous two quarters. Economists partly blamed the weakness on cutbacks in oil and gas drilling by energy companies grappling with the plunge in energy prices. Government spending fell at a 2.2 percent annual rate after a 4.4 percent gain in the third quarter. The third quarter had been bolstered by a 16 percent rise in defense spending, which backpedaled last quarter. Trade reduced growth by a full percentage point in the fourth quarter. Business stockpiling added 0.8 percentage point. The government's estimate of GDP — the total output of goods and services — was the first of three for the October-December quarter. Even with the fourth quarter slowdown, the U.S. economy is still the star of the global economy. Europe is battling renewed weakness, Japan is in a recession, and even growth in China slowing. Last week, the International Monetary Fund cut its outlook for global growth over the next two years, warning that weakness in most major economies will trump lower oil prices. But the IMF increased its outlook for the U.S. economy, pegging growth this year at 3.6 percent. If that forecast proves accurate, it would mark the fastest annual U.S. growth in over a decade. "It took us awhile to get here, but I think the economy is finally off and running," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "Businesses are hiring aggressively, and the big drop in gas prices means that people have more money to spend on other items." Global oil prices have fallen nearly 60 percent in seven months, with the nationwide average for gasoline now around $2 a gallon. That decline translates into a savings for consumers of about $175 billion, Zandi said. "A big part of growth this year will be people spending their gas savings," he said. The Federal Reserve on Wednesday took note of the brightening economic picture while pledging to remain "patient" in deciding when to begin raising interest rates from record lows. The Fed has leeway to be patient because the weaker global economy has helped strengthen the dollar against other countries, and gasoline prices are plunging. Both developments are helping to hold down already-low inflation.
Written on 01/29/2015, 1:39 pm by 
ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated press
(AP) — A Colorado man accused of operating a "revenge porn" website has settled with federal regulators who said he broke the law by posting nude pictures of women without their consent or knowledge. The FTC says Craig Brittain of Colorado Springs, Colo., ran the website, which is no longer operational. Officials say the site worked like this: A man would obtain the images while dating the woman. But upon breaking up, the woman's ex would supply the photos to Brittain, who would post them along with the woman's full name, age, home town, phone number and link to her Facebook profile. The FTC says Brittain advertised a separate legal service that claimed to be able to take down the photos for a fee of up to $500. A phone number tied to Brittain's address had been disconnected, and he could not be reached for comment. It's unclear whether Brittain had a lawyer. The case signals an increased interest by regulators in revenge sites, which have proliferated in recent years in part because of lax laws aimed at protecting free speech on the Internet and preventing website operators from being punished for linking to content they believe is lawful. The case is the first of its kind for the FTC, which has the authority to sue companies for unfair and deceptive business practices. "One key factor in this case was the publication not only of victims' intimate images, but also extensive personal identifying and location information, which significantly increased the harm that victims could face," said Mark Eichorn, assistant director of the division of privacy and identity protection at the FTC. Under the settlement, Brittain is required to delete all of the images and other personal information he received while operating the site. He also is prohibited from publicly sharing intimate videos or photographs of people without their consent. The website, "," is no longer operational. Brittain won't be required to pay financial restitution. While the agency doesn't have the authority to seek civil penalties, it could demand that Brittain repay any women who paid his bogus legal service in an attempt to erase embarrassing photos. The FTC won't say publicly why it declined to seek refunds in this case. But it noted that it takes several factors into account when deciding whether to pursue money to pay back victims of a scam, including the person's ability to pay. "As to other cases, we can't confirm or deny the existence of any other investigations, but this remains an area we're interested in," Eichorn said in an email in response to questions by The Associated Press. An increasing number of states have taken on the issue of revenge porn, under pressure from victims who say these sites put them at physical risk. But groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have questioned legislation they worry run afoul of the First Amendment. According to the FTC, Brittain made $12,000 off the site before it shut down in April 2013.
Written on 01/29/2015, 1:37 pm by CANDICE CHOI, AP Food Industry Writer
(AP) — McDonald's new boss must feel like a freshly crowned king under siege. The world's biggest hamburger chain is facing an onslaught of competition, from better-burger chains like Five Guys to brands like Chipotle that tout the superior quality of their ingredients. Supermarkets and convenience stores are selling more on-the-go food, too. Last year, visits to convenience stores for prepared foods rose 3 percent, while visits to supermarkets were up 1 percent, representing millions of visits, according to The NPD Group. After seeing its own customer visits decline at established U.S. locations for two straight years, McDonald's Corp. said Wednesday it was replacing CEO Don Thompson with its chief brand officer, Steve Easterbrook. It was the latest in a string of changes the company has announced in hopes of appeasing investors and winning back customers. In addition to plans to simplify its menu and improve service, McDonald's recently launched a marketing campaign intended to associate its brand with the positive emotion of loving. And in early March, it's planning a "Turnaround Summit" for franchisees in Las Vegas. But even if McDonald's gets its house in order, its rivals aren't going away. Here's a look at what it's up against in its flagship U.S. market: PROBLEM? BURGER BOOMLETMcDonald's is facing new burger competition. Shake Shack, which is expected to make its much anticipated debut on the New York Stock Exchange, promotes its use of hormone- and antibiotic-free beef and is emblematic of the "better burger" trend. The company has grown to 63 locations around the world, including 36 in the U.S. Over time, it sees potential for at least 450 U.S. locations. That's tiny when compared with McDonald's, which has more than 36,000 locations around the world, including more than 14,000 in the U.S. But Shake Shack isn't the only one rushing into the burger market. Five Guys, for instance, has more than 1,000 U.S. locations and more than 1,500 in development, according to its website. BurgerFi, which was founded in 2011 and has 63 locations, says it plans to add up to another 50 this year. Traditional rivals also are pressuring McDonald's. Burger King in 2012 rolled out a new menu and marketing in hopes of revitalizing its brand. It has since introduced items that compete more directly with McDonald's, including a "Big King" sandwich that resembles a Big Mac. Wendy's, meanwhile, is trying to position itself as a more premium fast-food chain with burgers and sandwiches made with specialty bread and remodeled stores with more inviting decor. MCDONALD'S ANSWER: To step up its own game, McDonald's plans to roll out an option that lets people build their own burgers at 2,000 stores by later this year. PROBLEM? CHIPOTLE FACTORThe gravitation toward places that promise better ingredients doesn't end with burger rivals. Chipotle, for instance, is often cited as the successful contrast whenever McDonald's troubles are mentioned. A big part of Chipotle's draw is that people can walk down a line and watch their food being assembled quickly, exactly as dictated. Since McDonald's sold its stake in the chain in 2006, Chipotle has grown to more than 1,700 locations. In the latest quarter, sales surged 19.8 percent at established locations. It's not just the format that attracts people, however. Chipotle also burnishes its image with its "Food with Integrity" slogan. That ethos around good ingredients is turning up throughout the industry. Subway this month rolled out new chicken strips that it says doesn't have artificial flavors or preservatives, and says it's working on improving other ingredients. MCDONALD'S ANSWER: McDonald's is taking note. Mike Andres, president of McDonald's USA, said last month the company is also looking at shrinking the ingredients it uses. PROBLEM? COFFEE AND BREAKFAST COMPETITIONFor established coffee chains like Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, a key way of driving sales is becoming more of a destination for food. Already, Starbucks says about a third of its transactions include a food item, and the company is pushing hard to increase that figure. It's introducing new salads and sandwiches that can be heated up in an oven. And to attract customers in the evenings, it's rolling out wine, beer and "small bites" like chicken skewers to thousands of locations in coming years. Dunkin' Donuts is trying to boost food sales as well, and has expanded sandwich offerings for the breakfast and lunch hours. Like Starbucks, it's trying to make more use of its stores in the afternoons, when the morning rush dies down. Meanwhile, Taco Bell, which is owned by Yum Brands, last year launched a national breakfast menu in hopes of stealing some McDonald's customers. The Mexican-style food chain targeted the breakfast leader by featuring real-life people named Ronald McDonald professing their love for items like the waffle taco. ANSWER: McDonald's has said it plans to play up its coffee offerings, which can be a draw for people who end up spending more on food. It's also playing up the fresh eggs it uses for its popular Egg McMuffin.
Written on 01/29/2015, 1:35 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — The U.S. stock market is closing sharply higher after investors received encouraging news on corporate earnings and the jobs market. The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 225 points, or 1.3 percent, to close at 17,416 Thursday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 19 points, or 1 percent, to 2,021. The government reported Thursday that weekly claims for unemployment benefits dropped to a 15-year low. Ford, Harley-Davidson, Coach and Ally Financial were among the companies that reported quarterly results that exceeded Wall Street's expectations The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged up to 1.76 percent from 1.72 late Wednesday.
Written on 01/29/2015, 1:32 pm by MICHAEL MELIA, Associated Press
(AP) — Widely regarded overseas as places only for children of the rich and powerful, top American universities like Yale and Harvard are increasing efforts to attract the best international students, regardless of their financial backgrounds. With more undergraduates coming from abroad than ever, the Ivy League universities that have worked to overcome reputations for serving only children of the elite in the U.S. are trying to do the same the world over with travel, novel recruiting strategies and some help from the U.S. State Department. Yale sophomore Yupei Guo, for one, does not fit the mold of the traditional Ivy Leaguer from China: Her journalist parents are neither wealthy nor members of the governing elite. Although university grants cover much of her tuition, many people she meets around New Haven assume she came from a much different background to reach the campus of Gothic buildings. "I did get asked if I were some sort of distant royal family member, which I'm not," she said. No country is receiving more attention than China, which sends far more students to the U.S. than any other country. Nearly 275,000 students came from China last year, 31 percent of all international students, according to the Institute of International Education. As China has grown more prosperous, many U.S. colleges have stepped up recruiting there, seeking revenue-generating students who can pay their full way. A small number of schools pledge, like Yale, to meet the full financial need of admitted international students, and for them it is a matter of making that known around the country of 1.3 billion people. A student-run organization at Harvard University holds college-style seminars annually for dozens of Chinese high school students, offering financial aid to help draw from all the country's provinces. At Yale, which in 1854 graduated the first Chinese person to earn a degree from a U.S. college, international students are deputized as "ambassadors" to talk with students while home on break. Admissions officers from both schools regularly travel to China. Yale extended its need-blind admissions policy to international students in 2001, and Dean of Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan said the makeup of students from China and other countries has since changed dramatically. International students have gone from representing 3 percent of the student body, mostly from high-income families, to 11 percent, with greater diversity. "The diversity of our international student body has really exploded, frankly to a greater extent than our U.S. socio-economic diversity has over time," Quinlan said. He said most of the dozens of Chinese undergrads receive financial aid at Yale, where tuition, room and board cost nearly $60,000 a year. Guo attended a selective public high school in Beijing and learned from upperclassmen the names of U.S. schools with need-blind admissions — Yale, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Dartmouth and Amherst. She visited Yale during high school — on a U.S. visit for model United Nations — and felt energized by the posters advertising campus activities. At home, her departure was met with a mix of admiration and scorn. Yale is a celebrated name in China, where her acceptance prompted calls from reporters. But Guo said there is also a stigma that comes with attending college in the U.S., as though those leaving failed to fit into the Chinese system. And there is bitterness: Financial concerns prevent many of her friends from going to college at all. Two Chinese real estate moguls, Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, are prodding American universities to do more by giving them money to support low-income students from China. Through their SOHO China Foundation, they so far have awarded $15 million to Harvard and $10 million to Yale. The admissions directors at Yale and Harvard say the gifts align with their goals of encouraging more Chinese students to apply. The universities say it's about promoting empathy and creating the diversity sought by students and faculty. "We want to make sure that we get the most talented students from every corner of the world, and it's just that simple," Harvard Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons said. Finding candidates outside China's elite circles is not easy. The affluent have access to the best schools — even more than in the United States — and admissions officers say many students assume they must have political connections. There are also language and logistical hurdles: The SAT has limited availability in China and applicants must be fluent in English. Guo learned English as a child when her parents were posted in the United Kingdom by their Chinese newspaper for three years. For the SAT, she had to travel to Hong Kong. To help address such difficulties, the State Department's EducationUSA program created a $1 million fund to provide aid for costs like application fees, said Evan Ryan, an assistant secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs. "The State Department thought, 'Wait, we're really losing a whole population of the students that are important to the U.S. higher education system and important to our relationships around the world,'" Ryan said. EducationUSA has eight advisers in Beijing and is sending four more — to Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang — to reach students beyond the capital. The agency has been important to recruiting, Yale officials say, because it makes referrals knowing the school has the resources to cover students' need. Guo said Yale did not cover her airfare to the U.S., but she has taken advantage of a hotel made available for international students unable to return home during breaks. With so many Chinese students traveling, she said flights are particularly expensive. Despite some uncomfortable questions about her background, Guo said she does not feel out of place at Yale, where the Chinese students are increasingly diverse with several freshmen coming from inland cities. "This place," she said, "is amazing."

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Written on 01/30/2015, 8:57 am by The Associated Press
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