TODAY

– December 18, 2014

New GM boss Barra stands behind lossmaking Opel 


(AP) — New General Motors chief Mary Barra has stressed the company's support for its struggling Adam Opel AG subsidiary in Europe, saying Opel workers will get the job of building a new vehicle at the main plant in Germany.

Barra said it was "no accident" that Opel's headquarters in Ruesselsheim was the destination for her first foreign trip since becoming CEO on Jan. 15.

"I thought it was very important to reinforce in person my commitment and GM's commitment to Opel," she said during a brief appearance before journalists Monday. She called Opel "clearly a vital part of our company."

Barra reiterated the commitment made last year by her predecessor Dan Akerson to turn Opel around after years of losses.

She said Opel's Ruesselsheim assembly plant would be the site for a new vehicle that for competitive reasons she couldn't name. The plant, which produces the Insignia model, will lose production of the Astra compact when the current model is replaced. The company is closing another plant in Bochum at the end of this year.

General Motors Co., which has headquarters in Detroit, considered selling Opel to Magna International in 2009 but changed its mind. Akerson went to Germany last year and underlined the automaker's commitment to turning its European business around by rebuilding its brand image and launching new models.

GM now aims to return Opel to break-even by mid-decade, and is plowing 4 billion euros ($5.5 billion) into the European business. Opel will roll out 23 new models and 13 new engines over the next several years.

Barra cited the company's success with recent models such as the tiny Adam city car and the Mokka small SUV as grounds for optimism. Opel's market share inched up to 6.8 percent in the European Union from 6.7 percent last year. Still, the division lost money, recording an operating loss of $200 million in the third quarter.

Europe's mass-market carmakers are struggling with weak demand in an economy that is recovering only slowly from a financial crisis. The economy is growing again but unemployment remains painfully high at 12.1 percent.

Should the United States normalize relations with Cuba?

Latest Events

Fri, Nov 28th, 2014
Portraits with Santa at River Park
Thu, Dec 18th, 2014
Fresno Chamber Mixer
Fri, Nov 28th, 2014
Portraits with Santa at River Park
Fri, Dec 19th, 2014
CCHCC Toastmasters Meeting
Fri, Nov 28th, 2014
Portraits with Santa at River Park
Fri, Nov 28th, 2014
Portraits with Santa at River Park
Fri, Nov 28th, 2014
Portraits with Santa at River Park
Fri, Nov 28th, 2014
Portraits with Santa at River Park
Fri, Nov 28th, 2014
Portraits with Santa at River Park
Wed, Jan 7th, 2015
San Joaquin Valley Grape Symposium

Blogs

gordonwebstergordonwebster Gordon Webster - Publisher
gordonwebstergordonwebster Gabriel Dillard - Managing Editor

Latest Local News

Written on 12/18/2014, 9:02 am by Business Journal staff
Jalisco Jewelers is celebrating its first 25 years in business with a free dance for customers on Dec. 20. 
Written on 12/18/2014, 8:58 am by 
J.M. HIRSCH, AP Food Editor
Have you picked a side yet? If not, you'd better think fast, because the battle lines are being drawn and they cut right down the dinner table. For if there was any theme to the food world in 2014, it was the prevalence of polarizing issues. Whether we were tussling over genetically modified organisms, or debating how healthy is too healthy for school lunches, or scolding one another for our gluten choices, this year our collective culinary consciousness seemed mired in disputes.So here's a roundup of some of the more contentious items on this year's menu of food news: — TO GLUTEN OR NOT TO GLUTEN Oh, that pesky grain protein. For several years now gluten has been the "new fat," that demonized ingredient-of-the-moment that countless Americans obsess over. And like so many dietary fads before it, the anti-gluten movement has heralded a tidal wave of products and promises. But this is no ordinary Snackwell's situation. Gluten — which can pop up unexpectedly across the food chain — really can make people diagnosed with celiac and other digestive disorders exceedingly ill. Except that those folks alone — by some measures about 3 million — can't account for the growth of the gluten-free market into a multi-billion-dollar industry. And there's our dispute. Experts increasingly — and with greater volume — question the value of going gluten-free without a diagnosis, yet plenty of people staunchly stand by anecdotal health benefits. And so we have a glut of gluten-free products, from doughnuts to dog food. Now even Fido can pick a side. At least we can now agree on what gluten-free means. As of August, the term is regulated, meaning manufacturers no longer can slap it willy-nilly on packages. — GMO, YES OR NO? Like it or not, genetically modified foods are on the menu. So this year, the debate centered on how much we should know about that. Advocates of GMOs — mostly business interests behind the industry — say the foods not only are safe but are key to managing the world's increasingly complex agricultural needs. Critics say we don't yet know enough about the foods to make that leap. But seeming to accept that the foods are here to stay, lately they have focused their efforts on legislation that would require labeling for foods containing GMO ingredients. That set the stage for big-spending battles to win over voters. In May, Vermont became the first state to require the labels, but that's on hold pending legal challenges. Ballot measures that would have required labeling in California and Washington already had been defeated, and a similar measure in Oregon failed this year. Chefs like Tom Colicchio and Jose Andres lobbied on behalf of labeling, while some companies tried to get out in front of the issue. In January, General Mills announced that its Original Cheerios would no longer contain GMO ingredients, but that's a rarity. And rather than allow the food industry to face a patchwork of state laws, next year Congress is likely to take up the issue. — LUNCH-LINE SHOWDOWN It's Michelle Obama vs. Congress in a weighty battle. To help address childhood obesity, the first lady made it her mission to help push through tougher nutrition standards for food served in schools. The changes — including prioritizing produce and whole grains — have been phased in since 2012. But it's been a struggle. Some schools asked to opt out, saying the healthier foods were too costly, too difficult to prepare and unpopular with kids. The first lady this summer said she'd fight "to the bitter end" to keep standards high. The opt-out request didn't fly, but this month Congress did greenlight easing off the requirements on whole grains, as well as delaying tougher standards on sodium. And the waistline war will wage on. Child nutrition and school lunches will come before Congress again next year, and the standards are almost certain to be reconsidered. — WAGES AND WORKERS Fast-food workers continued their push to get consumers thinking about the other side of the Dollar Menu equation. The "Fight for $15" campaign that seeks higher wages for fast-food industry workers organized protests and job actions around the country, sometimes resulting in arrests. Many fast-food workers make barely more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That's about $15,000 a year for a 40-hour week. And then there was the Market Basket battle. In a family/corporate feud more complex than a Tolstoy novel, the board of the New England grocery chain ousted its popular CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas. But workers — who praised him for generous pay and benefits — stood by their man and orchestrated weeks of job actions that hobbled the company. And customers — who love the company's low prices — stood by the workers by shopping elsewhere until Demoulas was reinstated and bought out opposing family members. — THE NEXT ROUND Fear not, there will be food fights aplenty to keep 2015 interesting. In addition to a continuation of this year's battles, we'll also see heightened tensions over restaurant reviews. Online sites like Yelp have taken heat for playing host to what some chefs feel is a business-bashing free-for-all. And in Texas, a cluster of restaurants has declared war on a newspaper food critic. Both spats could change the way reviews are handled. And next year could see plenty of name-calling. Or rather, name-changing. The European Union and the United States are at odds over efforts to restrict the use of food names such as Parmesan and brie to products made in the European regions for which they are named. U.S. lawmakers say it's all a bunch of baloney. Or should that be Bologna?
Written on 12/18/2014, 8:56 am by CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — Fewer Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, a sign of solid job security and growing confidence among employers. Weekly unemployment benefit applications dropped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 289,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That is the lowest level since late October. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined 750 to 298,750. Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The average has fallen nearly 13 percent in the past year, evidence the job market is improving. Companies are cutting fewer jobs as the economy expands and hiring has picked up. In the first 11 months of this year, employers have added 2.65 million jobs. That already makes 2014 the best year for hiring since 1999. The figures are "low enough to signal very strong payroll growth," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. The current level of applications is consistent with monthly job gains of about 300,000, he added. Just 2.37 million people are receiving benefits, down from more than 4 million a year ago. Some former recipients have found jobs, but many have used up all the benefits available to them. A federal extended benefits program expired at the end of last year. Barely a quarter of the 9.1 million people out of work receive unemployment aid. Still, hiring is accelerating. Employers added 321,000 jobs in November, the most in nearly three years. The unemployment rate held steady at 5.8 percent, down from 7 percent 12 months earlier. The average hourly wage rose 9 cents to $24.66, the biggest gain in 17 months. Over the past 12 months, hourly pay has risen 2.1 percent, above the 1.3 percent inflation rate. Other recent data also point to an improving economy. Shoppers spent more in November at retail stores and restaurants, as tumbling gas prices left them with more money to spend on other goods and services. And factory output rose at a healthy clip last month, fueled by more auto production. Manufacturing output has now surpassed its pre-recession peak.
Written on 12/18/2014, 8:55 am by MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer
(AP) — The space station astronauts will have to wait until next month for their Christmas delivery. On Thursday, the SpaceX company announced it was delaying this week's planned launch of an unmanned supply capsule until January. SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said a test firing of the rocket engines earlier this week did not go precisely as planned at the Cape Canaveral launch pad. The company wants to conduct a second test on the Falcon rocket before committing to a launch, he said. Combined with the Christmas and New Year's holidays, as well as the sun's angles on the space station, the earliest the California-based company can launch is Jan. 6. The liftoff should have occurred Friday, already a few days late. NASA says the delay will not affect the space station or its six occupants: two Americans, one Italian and three Russians. The space agency is paying SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. to launch supplies and experiments to the orbiting lab. Orbital's shipments are on hold, however, because of October's launch explosion. The Antares rocket blew up seconds after liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia. Orbital Sciences said it will be 2016 before it can launch again with an improved Antares rocket from Wallops Island. The Virginia-based company is shifting much of its intended station shipment to an Atlas rocket that would fly from Cape Canaveral sometime later next year. A second Atlas might also be needed to pick up the slack.___Online:SpaceX: http://www.spacex.com/NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html
Written on 12/17/2014, 1:14 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — The U.S. stock market is closing with its biggest gain in more than a year after the Federal Reserve said it was in no rush to raise rates. The Federal Reserve indicated Wednesday it was moving closer to raising rates from record lows because the U.S. economy and job market are strengthening. The Fed said it would be "patient" in its approach to raising rates. The Standard & Poor's 500 gained 40 points, or 2 percent, to 2,012, the largest increase since October 2013. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 288 points, or 1.7 percent, to 17,356. The Nasdaq climbed 96 points, or 2.1 percent, to 4,644. Energy shares rose the most Wednesday as oil gained. Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.14 percent.
Written on 12/17/2014, 12:45 pm by JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer
(AP) — The top theater chains in North America have dropped "The Interview" after hackers threatened terrorist attacks at theaters showing the comedy, effectively squashing the Christmas Day release of the film. Regal Cinemas, AMC and Cinemark have each pulled the movie. In a statement, Regal said it was delaying any showings of "The Interview" because of "the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats." Hackers calling themselves Guardians of Peace on Tuesday threatened moviegoers with violence reminiscent of the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Sony did not immediately comment on the news Wednesday. On Tuesday, the studio told exhibitors that the company understood if exhibitors pulled the film in light of the threats. The country's fourth largest chain, Carmike, pulled its scheduled showing of the film Tuesday.
Written on 12/17/2014, 12:42 pm by Business Journal staff
Homes sales plummeted in the Central Valley during November as prices continued to tick up, straining affordability for many. According to a new report from the California Association of Realtors, homes sales in Fresno County fell 20.9 percent from October to November and 3.7 percent compared to November 2013. The median price of a home in the county stood at $200,000 in November, down just 0.3 percent from the prior month but up 3.6 percent compared to $193,020 a year ago. Home sales in Tulare County plunged 25.9 percent from October and 15.8 percent compared to November 2013. The price of a median home in the county stood at $187,000 in November, up 4.4 percent from $179,060 the prior month and 15 percent from $161,330 last year. Madera County saw its home sales fall 4.3 percent during the latest month but increase 10 percent in the year-over-year comparison. The county's median home price shot up by 42 percent in November to $235,710 from October's price of $166,000. That's also up 47.3 percent from $160,000 a year ago. Home sales in Kings County were down 21.9 percent compared to October and 10.9 percent year-over-year. The county's median home price increased 14.1 percent in the month, going from $168,670 in October to $192,500 in November. That's also up 12.1 percent from $171,670 last year. Home sales may have decreased in the Valley but the available supply of houses was on the rise. Fresno County's unsold inventory index, or number of months to deplete the supply of homes at the current sales rate, was up to 5.7 months in November compared to 4.9 months in October and 5.1 months a year ago. Tulare County's index stood at 5.5 months compared to 4.4 months in October and 4 months last year. Madera County's index increased to 5.1 months from 4.9 months in October, but remained below 5.2 months last year. Kings County's index went from 3.6 months in October and 3.9 months a year ago to 4.4 months in November. Statewide, home sales totaled 376,480 units in November, down 5.3 percent from 397,400 October and also down 3.4 percent from 389,580 in November 2013. "The declining sales-to-list price ratio suggests that mismatched expectations of home prices between sellers and buyers still exist in most markets, except for the Bay Area, where there’s a dearth of homes for sale," said 2015 C.A.R. President Chris Kutzkey. "Prospective buyers facing affordability constraints recognize the slowing housing market and are looking for deals, while many sellers are still reluctant to adjust their listing prices to reflect the moderation of price gains in recent months."
Written on 12/17/2014, 11:34 am by 
KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press
(AP) — Colorado was poised Wednesday to award more than $8 million for medical marijuana research, a step toward addressing complaints that little is known about pot's medical potential. The grants to be awarded by the state Board of Health would go to studies on whether marijuana helps treat epilepsy, brain tumors, Parkinson's disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. Though the awards are relatively small, they represent a new frontier for marijuana research. That's because the Colorado grants are outside the usual federal channels for approving studies on pot, a process some say stymies marijuana research. "This is the first time we've had government money to look at the efficacy of marijuana, not the harms of marijuana," said Dr. Suzanne Sisley, a Scottsdale, Arizona, psychiatrist who will help run one of the studies, on marijuana to treat veterans with PTSD. Sisley plans to do her research in private practice after previously working for the University of Arizona. Federal approval to study marijuana's medical potential requires permission of the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And there's only one legal source of the weed, the Marijuana Research Project at the University of Mississippi. Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C., allow marijuana use by people with various medical conditions. But under federal law, pot is considered a drug with no medical use and doctors cannot prescribe it. Dr. Larry Wolk, Colorado's Chief Medical Officer, says the lack of research on marijuana's medical value leaves sick people guessing about how pot may help them, and what doses to take. "There's nowhere else in medicine where we give a patient some seeds and say, 'Go grow this and process it and then figure out how much you need,'" Wolk said. "We need research dollars so we can answer more questions about medical efficacy" of marijuana, he said. Three of the eight research projects, including the veterans study, will still need federal clearance and access to the Ole Miss marijuana. The other five are "observational studies," meaning the subjects will be providing their own weed. Among the projects poised for approval Wednesday: — Two separate studies on using marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder ($3.1 million) — Whether adolescents and young adults with irritable bowel syndrome benefit from marijuana ($1.2 million) — Using marijuana to relieve pain in children with brain tumors ($1 million) — How an oil derived from marijuana plants affects pediatric epilepsy patients ($524,000) — Comparing marijuana and oxycodone for pain relief ($472,000) The money is coming from Colorado's medical marijuana patient fees, not Colorado's new taxes on recreational pot. Last year, lawmakers authorized $10 million from reserves for "objective scientific research regarding the efficacy of marijuana and its component parts as part of medical treatment." A group of medical marijuana patients announced a lawsuit Wednesday challenging Colorado's marijuana research. They say Colorado's medical marijuana law requires excess cash to be refunded to patients who paid the fees, not diverted to other research. Colorado received 57 applications for research grants. An advisory board whittled those to eight proposals totaling $7.6 million. The Board will be asked to authorize the spending of up to $8.4 million. The money comes from fees paid by medical marijuana patients to get a "red card," or authorization to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana. One of the researchers poised to study marijuana and PTSD called the Colorado awards groundbreaking because the state is providing money without federal red tape. "The opportunity in Colorado is an amazing one," said Marcel Bonn-Miller, a psychiatrist with the University of Pennsylvania who leads the Substance Abuse and Anxiety Program for the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department. (The VA is not participating directly in his marijuana studies.) Colorado has about 117,000 medical marijuana patients who pay $15 a year to be on the registry. The number has grown slightly since Colorado voted two years ago to make marijuana legal for recreational purposes, not just medical purposes. ___Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt
Written on 12/17/2014, 11:33 am by The Associated Press
(AP) — Federal regulators are accusing Sprint Corp. of illegally billing its wireless customers tens of millions of dollars in unwanted charges for text message alerts and other services. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Wednesday it has sued the telecom company over billing for unauthorized charges, a practice known as "cramming." The agency said Sprint failed to oversee third-party companies, allowing illegal charges to be put on customers' bills. The bureau said the charges ranged from one-time fees of 99 cents to $4.99, to monthly subscriptions costing $9.99 a month. It said Sprint received up to 40 percent of the revenue from the charges. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Federal Communications Commission is expected to fine Sprint a record $105 million for the alleged violations.
Written on 12/17/2014, 11:32 am by 
PAUL HAVEN, Associated Press
(AP) — After 53 years of hostility between the United States and Cuba, the timing to make amends was perfect for both governments. The breakthrough in US-Cuban relations came with the release of American Alan Gross and an unnamed US intelligence agent, and the freeing of three jailed Cuban agents. The longtime enemies announced they would move toward full diplomatic relations, and Washington said it would ease economic and travel restrictions. The surprise moves come as President Barack Obama is turning his attention to legacy issues, and Raul Castro is trying to boost his nation's economic fortunes in the face of stalled reforms and falling oil prices that have hit his allies hard. "After today, everything changes," said Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban diplomat who lives on the island and has close relations with the Castro government. "This promises to be the biggest shift in our relations in 50 years," said Ted Henken, an analyst and author of "Entrepreneurial Cuba," which examines the economic and social changes Castro has instituted since taking over from his more famous brother in 2006. Those changes have allowed Cubans to buy and sell property, purchase a car, travel abroad without permission, open their own businesses and hire employees. But the reforms have fizzled recently due to Cubans' lack of cash. Cuba's moribund economy grew by just 1.4 percent this year, according to the government's own estimates, and many private businesses that opened to fanfare in the last couple of years have closed. A recent foreign investment law so far has failed to attract much capital. Meanwhile, the dramatic slide in global oil prices has cratered the economy of Cuba's main benefactor, Venezuela, which supplies the island with about $3 billion a year in heavily subsidized oil. Another key ally, Russia, also is in economic turmoil. "If you look around the world, (Cuba is) in urgent need of economic resources, hard currency. Russia's under sanctions of course, Iran's under sanctions, the Chinese are pretty hard-headed businesspeople," said Paul Webster Hare, a former British ambassador to Havana. "So if they want to quickly turn on the tap of new hard currency, America is top of the list." Another reason for Cuba's openness could be more personal. Raul is 83, Fidel, 88, and both men are acutely aware they will not be around much longer to oversee the revolution they led in 1959. President Castro has said he aims to step down in 2018 and wants to leave the country well on a path to reform — on his terms. Alzugaray, the former Cuban diplomat, said Castro could face opposition from hardliners, but that he has the political clout to deal with any dissent, something his successor might not. "This is Raul Castro we're talking about, the historic second in command of the revolution, and that will be of influence with even the most hard line sectors," he said. For Obama, the timing also is propitious. The announcement, which was immediately criticized by powerful Cuban-American lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, came the day after Congress adjourned, and before Republicans take control of both houses in January. It also comes after investigations by The Associated Press revealed embarrassing covert programs by USAID, including an effort to set up a clandestine "Cuban Twitter" service, and another to co-opt Cuban hip-hop artists. The New York Times has also published a series of influential editorials calling for a change in Cuba policy. The head of USAID announced Wednesday that he is stepping down. Since the Democrats' midterm election shellacking in November, Obama has been on a mission to demonstrate that he is not a lame duck, using his executive powers to make sweeping policy changes on immigration and the environment, and announcing a climate change deal with China. Still, obstacles remain to fully normalized relations. Washington still prohibits American tourism to Cuba, and the Obama Administration cannot end the trade embargo without Congressional approval — something unlikely to happen while a Castro remains in control in Havana. Any final agreement will likely need to address compensation for Cuban exiles who lost property when they fled their homeland decades ago. For his part, Castro has made clear that his country remains committed to the Communist ideals of the revolution, meaning a multi-party political democracy, free press and full-blown capitalism are not in the cards anytime soon. And while commercial ties may be strengthened, Obama will not be cutting any ribbons on a McDonald's or Starbucks in Cuba in the near future. "He is creating the momentum that ultimately will lead to opening a Marriott," said Julia Sweig, a Cuba expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "But we're not opening a Marriott tomorrow."____Paul Haven, based in Mexico City, was Havana bureau chief for The Associated Press from 2009 to 2013. Andrea Rodriguez in Havana, Peter Orsi in Managua, Nicaragua and Marjorie Miller in Mexico City contributed.

Latest State News

Written on 12/18/2014, 8:55 am by MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer
(AP) — The space station astronauts...
Written on 12/17/2014, 11:26 am by Associated Press
(AP) — Stanford University wants to...
Written on 12/17/2014, 11:19 am by Associated Press
(AP) — Napster co-founder Sean Parker...
Written on 12/17/2014, 11:17 am by Associated Press
(AP) — Two Los Angeles men have been...

Latest National News

Written on 12/18/2014, 8:58 am by 
J.M. HIRSCH, AP Food Editor
Have you picked a side yet? If not,...
Written on 12/18/2014, 8:56 am by CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer
(AP) — Fewer Americans sought...
Written on 12/17/2014, 1:14 pm by The Associated Press
(AP) — The U.S. stock market is closing...
Written on 12/17/2014, 12:45 pm by JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer
(AP) — The top theater chains in North...