BUSINESS NEWS AT A GLANCE

5/29/2013 7:00 PM
By Associated Press

c.2013 New York Times News Service

GENETICALLY ENGINEERED WHEAT FOUND IN OREGON FIELD

Unapproved genetically engineered wheat has been found growing on an Oregon farm, federal officials said Wednesday, a development that could disrupt U.S. wheat exports. The Agriculture Department said the wheat was developed by Monsanto to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup, but the project was dropped before the wheat was ever approved for commercial planting. The department said it was not known whether any of the wheat got into the food supply or into grain shipments. Even if it did, it would not pose a health threat. Still, the mere presence of the genetically modified plant could cause some countries to turn away exports of U.S. wheat.

CHINA, IN NEED OF PORK, TO BUY U.S. SUPPLIER

China’s biggest pork producer, seeking plentiful supplies and technical expertise, has agreed to buy Smithfield Foods, the 87-year-old Virginia-based meat giant with brands like Armour and Farmland, for $4.7 billion in cash. If completed, the deal that was announced Wednesday would be the biggest takeover of a U.S. company by a Chinese concern. But it must first overcome skepticism in Washington — and a potentially close examination process by U.S. regulators. Federal officials may consider whether the Chinese company, Shuanghui, has ties to organizations like the Chinese army, as well as whether Smithfield’s customer rolls include sensitive information like the locations of secure military installations.

BERKSHIRE UNIT IN $5.6 BILLION DEAL FOR NEVADA’S LARGEST ELECTRIC UTILITY

The billionaire investor Warren Buffett dived back into the acquisition pool Wednesday with a large bet in the energy sector. His Berkshire Hathaway s MidAmerican Energy Holdings agreed to buy Nevada’s largest electric utility, NV Energy, for about $5.6 billion. The purchase of NV Energy, a utility with about 1.3 million electric and natural gas customers in Nevada, is the largest-ever acquisition made by MidAmerican. Based in Des Moines, Iowa, MidAmerican serves 7.1 million residents across 10 states. MidAmerican’s acquisition is Buffett’s second big deal this year. In February, Berkshire teamed up with a Brazilian investment group on a takeover of the ketchup maker H.J. Heinz.

RISK OF BANK FAILURES IS RISING IN EUROPE, CENTRAL BANK WARNS

The European Central Bank warned Wednesday that the eurozone’s slumping economy and a surge in problem loans were raising the risk of a renewed banking crisis, even as overall stress in the region’s financial markets had receded. In a sober assessment of the state of the zone’s financial system, the ECB said that a prolonged recession had made it harder for many borrowers to repay their loans, burdening banks that had still not finished repairing the damage from the 2008 financial crisis. The ECB said the most vulnerable banks were those in countries with high unemployment or falling house prices, including Italy, Spain and Greece.

SWITZERLAND TO ALLOW ITS BANKS TO SIDESTEP SECRECY LAWS

The Swiss government said Wednesday that it would allow its banks to disclose information on U.S. clients with hidden accounts, a watershed move intended to resolve a dispute with the U.S. over tax evasion. The decision, which comes amid widening scrutiny in Europe of tax havens, is a turning point in what has been an escalating conflict between Switzerland and the United States. Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Switzerland’s finance minister, said the move would enable Swiss banks to accept an offer by the U.S. government to hand over broad client details and pay fines in exchange for a promise by U.S. authorities not to indict any banks.

IPO FOR EMPIRE STATE BUILDING WINS BACKING OF SHAREHOLDERS

After more than a year of behind-the-scenes battles, stakeholders that own the Empire State Building approved a plan this week to sell the 102-story tower as part of an initial public offering. The plan’s approval is a major victory for Peter L. Malkin and his son Anthony E. Malkin, the real estate barons who control the landmark tower but are minority owners. They have campaigned in recent months to persuade 80 percent of the building’s roughly 3,000 stakeholders to vote in favor of going public — a threshold that was finally crossed Tuesday. The public offering is expected to raise as much as $1 billion.

NEWSWEEK IS PUT UP FOR SALE

Newsweek, the once-venerable magazine that experienced one of the most precipitous declines in media over the last decade, is up for sale. In an internal memo that has been widely circulated on the Internet, Tina Brown, the editor in chief, and Baba Shetty, the chief executive, told the staff that they had decided to sell now so they could focus on building the companion brand, The Daily Beast. The memo added that its owner, IAC/InterActiveCorp, will sell only if the purchase price “reflects the value we’ve created.” The company will continue to run the brand if there are no takers.

SALLIE MAE WILL SPLIT AS LOANS FACE SCRUTINY

The nation’s largest private student lender, Sallie Mae, is cleaving itself into two companies — a move that will create a new home for more than $100 billion of student loans amid broad concerns from federal authorities that graduates hobbled by debt are increasingly falling behind on their payments. The overhaul by Sallie Mae is playing out as college students are defaulting on their loan payments at a rate of 13.4 percent, a level not seen for more than a decade. Federal authorities are worried that lenders have rekindled their dangerous infatuation with subprime borrowers, leading some to court borrowers who cannot repay the loans.

WOMEN AS FAMILY BREADWINNER ON THE RISE, STUDY SAYS

The share of mothers who bring home the bacon is on the rise. Four in 10 households with children under age 18 now include a mother who is either the sole or primary breadwinner, according to a Pew Research Center report released Wednesday. This share, the highest on record, has quadrupled since 1960. The shift reflects changing family dynamics. For one, it has become more acceptable and expected for married women to join the workforce. It is also more common for single women to raise children on their own; two-thirds of those mothers who are chief breadwinners for their families are single parents.

NASDAQ TO PAY $10 MILLION FINE OVER FACEBOOK IPO

Nasdaq’s parent company will pay the largest fine ever levied against an exchange for “poor systems and decision making” both before and after the bungled Facebook initial public offering in May 2012. The $10 million fine announced by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday helps the market operator put behind it an episode that hurt its reputation and damaged investor confidence in the stock market. The mishandled Facebook IPO was among a series of breakdowns that rocked the U.S. stock markets last year and led to questions about the safety and soundness of an increasingly complex and computer-driven system.


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