Fed’s Beige Book: Hiring Picks Up Broadly, but Wage Growth Is Muted – Wall Street Journal

U.S. businesses added jobs across the country and sectors in October and November, though wage gains were muted outside a handful of fields facing a shortage of skilled workers, according to a Federal Reserve survey of regional economic conditions.

The Fed’s latest “beige book” for the period through Nov. 24 was broadly upbeat, marked by expanding economic activity across most of the country and optimism about growth prospects. The collection of anecdotal reports from the 12 Fed districts on hiring, spending and other…

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Oil prices jump on Iraq anxiety, stocks fall – Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Crude oil prices spiked on Thursday on supply concerns and equities sold off as violence threatened stability in Iraq.

Crude jumped after Iraqi Kurdish forces took control of the northern oil hub of Kirkuk, in the face of a triumphant Sunni Islamist rebel march towards Baghdad that threatens Iraq’s future as a unified state. President Barack Obama did not rule out U.S. action against the militants.

Brent crude futures LCOc1 rose 2.7 percent, the most in ten months, to $113.04 a barrel while U.S. crude CLc1 added 2.1 percent to $106.56, the highest reading for both since September. The Thomson Reuters/Jefferies CRB index .TRJCRB rose 1.1 percent, the most in two months.

“If this conflict knocked out Iraq as an exporter, that would have significant impact on prices,” said Christopher Bellew, a trader at Jefferies Bache. Iraq is the second-largest OPEC producer.

On Wall Street, stocks fell on caution over Iraq after drifting lower on weaker-than-forecast retail sales and an increase in first-time applications for unemployment benefits.

Energy shares, however, were higher on the heels of the jump in oil prices.

“It’s a bit of a crisis mode here,” said Timothy Ghriskey, chief investment officer at Solaris Asset Management LLC in New York. “Geopolitical concerns have definitely taken over. It’s a very fluid situation and things are happening very fast, it seems.”

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI fell 109.67 points or 0.65 percent, to 16,734.21, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 13.76 points or 0.71 percent, to 1,930.13 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 36.11 points or 0.83 percent, to 4,295.82.

The FTSEurofirst 300 .FTEU3 index of top European shares closed flat, just off the 6-1/2 year high of 1,398.65 hit earlier this week. MSCI’s global stocks gauge .MIWD00000PUS fell 0.3 percent.

The New Zealand dollar jumped the most in four months to hit its highest since mid-May after the central bank raised interest rates and kept a hawkish bias. The kiwi surged 1.5 percent to $0.8681.

The soft U.S. data, alongside growing geopolitical risk, dampened speculation of a more hawkish stance from the Federal Reserve, scheduled to meet next week. Fed Chair Janet Yellen was expected to be pressured on the timeline for rate hikes in a press conference on Wednesday.

The euro is, however, set to post its fifth week of losses versus the dollar in the last six.

The shared currency was recently up 0.3 percent at $1.3567. It earlier hit a low of $1.3510, near the low of $1.3503 hit last Thursday after the European Central Bank cut rates.

In fixed income, the violence in Iraq drove investors into U.S. Treasuries that had inched up in price after the soft data.

U.S. 10-year notes were up 15/32 in price to yield 2.5879 percent, from 2.641 percent late on Wednesday. The 30-year bond rose 1-2/32 to yield 3.41 percent.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos, additional reporting by Angela Moon, Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss and Lorenzo Ligato; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Meredith Mazzilli)

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Apple unveils iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite – CNNMoney

wwdc ios8
Apple rolled out iOS 8, OS X Yosemite and other new features at its developers conference.

Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco on Monday to announce the latest features for iPhones, iPads and Macs.

You can follow our live blog of the event here.

Apple (AAPL) unveiled iOS 8, an update to the operating system that powers iPhones and iPads.

One of the biggest additions to iOS 8 is a new HealthKit application. The app will monitor users’ heart rates, sleep, activity and breathing among other health-related information.

But other changes are far more subtle than in years past. After last year’s complete makeover, iOS 8 includes oft-requested fixes, such as interactive notifications, suggested words when typing and quicker access to contacts.

With interactive notifications, iOS 8 will allow users to respond to texts or like something on Facebook (FB) directly from the notification — even on the lock screen. A double tap on the home button reveals several frequent contacts, allowing you to call, message or email those people with two quick taps. And a new predictive text feature allows you to type, and iOS 8 will suggest the next word based on your typing history.

The new iOS 8 also will include improved group messaging. Users can send audio and video messages and leave a group text with a new do not disturb feature. There also is a self-destruct feature similar to social media startup Snapchat.

Apple is also expected to unveil an improved Maps app with transit directions, simplified notifications and a separate iTunes Radio app.

Yosemite is the new OS X

Apple also unveiled the new operating system for the Mac, dubbed Mac OS X Yosemite. It got a big design update, making the interface for Macs look much more iPhone- and iPad-like.

Mac OS X Yosemite features a revamped “spotlight” search feature that searches across the Mac and Microsoft Bing (not Google (GOOGL), interestingly). The new iCloud Drive feature syncs all Mac folders across every Mac, iPhone or Windows PC that a user owns. That feature is like cloud storage service Dropbox.

And a new “handoff” feature allows Mac users to place and receive calls and texts via their Mac, even to non-iPhone users.

Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi showed off the feature by calling Dr. Dre — one of Apple’s newest employees after the company purchased Beats Electronics for $3 billion last week.

The new Mac OS has a Windows-like translucent look as well as a “dark mode.” Speaking of Windows, Cook noted that 51% of Mac users are already using the latest version of Mac OS X, called Mavericks — a free update for Mac OS X customers. Just 14% of Microsoft (MSFT) Windows customers are on Windows 8, though users of previous Windows iterations have to pay to upgrade to the latest version.

Related: What we wish Apple would unveil at WWDC

Other expected announcements include a new platform that would enable people to control all the items in their homes with the iPad or iPhone.

Apple could also release new iMacs and update the MacBook Air, which does not yet support Apple’s ultra-sharp Retina Display. Apple is not expected to unveil its newest iPhone, however. That is more likely to take place in August.

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Price of Beef on the Rise – KFBK

The price of beef is going up, causing some sticker shock for both consumers and restaurant owners.

The growing export demand from other countries and the dwindling number of cattle, have caused the average retail cost of fresh beef to climb to five-dollars-28-cents a pound in February.

And prices will likely stay high for a couple years as producers rebuild their herds and wait for rain to replenish pastures.

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Best Buy’s Discounting Failed to Help Holiday – Wall Street Journal

Best Buy Co.’s U.S. holiday sales were weaker than a year earlier, raising concerns that months of effort to improve operations aren’t gaining traction where it counts. The company’s shares plunged more than 30% in early trading on the news.

The company’s discounting strategy appeared to blow up in its face. Best Buy indicated it cut prices aggressively to compete with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., but those moves reduced the overall value of sales and squeezed profits. In addition, the discounting appeared to do nothing to persuade shoppers to buy more electronics. Instead, they just reduced the price of what was sold.

“The highly promotional environment has not led to higher industry demand,” Chief Executive Hubert Joly told analysts during a morning conference call.

Best Buy shares had soared last year on hopes new Chief Executive Hubert Joly would get the big-box retailer back on its feet, amid concerns that its stores were becoming little more than a testing ground, or showroom, for products that ultimately would be bought elsewhere, particularly on Amazon.com. The holiday results indicated Best Buy’s challenges may be harder to fix than many thought.

In the nine weeks leading up to Jan. 4, Best Buy’s sales excluding newly opened or closed stores fell 0.9% in the U.S. The company said the discounting also took a heavy bite out of its operating margins for the current quarter. Shares fell to $26 from Wednesday’s close of $37.57.

The company said it would respond by more aggressively cutting costs, following similar moves by Macy’s Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. and pointing to further shrinkage for a retail industry that has effectively trained customers to only buy when discounts are deepest.

Best Buy boosted its promotions to compete with other retailers during the holiday season and warned in November that its fiscal fourth-quarter margins could take a hit as a result. The company was among a long list of retailers that opened most of its doors on Thanksgiving Day in an effort to attract more shoppers. Best Buy also extended its hours in the days leading up to Christmas.

The company said the moves helped it win market share over the holidays, but that didn’t move the top line higher.

Mr. Joly said holiday revenue was hurt by factors including supply constraints for key products, significant traffic declines during the middle of the holiday season and a “disappointing” mobile-phone market.

Same-store mobile phone sales rose 3.2%, a relatively weak improvement that Chief Financial Officer Sharon McCollam attributed to a lack of “newness” in the category. But the company also blamed shortages of some high-end tablets and mobile phones for the stumble.

Results were weak enough to prompt Chairman Emeritus Richard Schulze, the store founder who shook up the company last year with a buyout proposal, to release a statement backing its executives.

“I have complete faith in the long-term strategy and I am confident that management is taking the steps required to win and position the company for a successful future,” he said.

Best Buy now expects its operating income will decline in the fourth quarter. The slump follows weak guidance earlier this month from electronics and appliances retailer HHGregg Inc. and GameStop Corp.

Larger rivals Amazon.com Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. haven’t yet released quarterly results. Ms. McCollam said the company will invest more in online marketing and customer databases this year to catch up with its competitors’ more advanced techniques.

“We were out-competed from an online marketing standpoint,” she said.

Write to Drew FitzGerald at andrew.fitzgerald@wsj.com and Tess Stynes at tess.stynes@wsj.com

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