Business Tidbits

U.S. Retail Sales Rose 0.5 Percent In December

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumers increased their spending at retail businesses in December, buying more autos, furniture and clothing. Steady job growth and lower gas prices kept consumers shopping, despite worries about potential tax increases.

Retail sales rose 0.5 percent in December from November, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That’s slightly better than November’s 0.4 percent increase and the best showing since September.

Sales of autos and auto parts rose 1.6 percent to lead all categories. Car companies closed out their best year since 2007.

Falling Food, Gas Costs Lower U.S. Wholesale Prices

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. wholesale prices fell for the third month in a row last month, pushed down by falling food and gas costs. The drop is the latest evidence inflation is tame.

The producer price index dropped 0.2 percent in December, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That follows a decline of 0.8 percent in November.

The index measures price changes before they reach the consumer. Wholesale prices rose 1.3 percent in 2012, much lower than the 4.7 percent increase in 2011.

U.S. Businesses Increased Stockpiles 0.3 Percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. companies increased their stockpiles at a steady pace in November from October, responding to a solid increase in sales.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that business inventories grew 0.3 percent in November, matching the October gain.

Sales rose 1 percent in November, the best showing since a 1.2 percent rise in September. In October, sales fell 0.3 percent, reflecting in part disruptions caused by Superstorm Sandy.

Banks Say New Agency’s Oversight Is Slow, Costly

WASHINGTON (AP) – Bankers and financial industry leaders are criticizing the early efforts of the government’s new consumer finance watchdog, saying a slow and inefficient oversight process has slowed lending and made it harder to do business.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s team that examines banks is understaffed, inexperienced and takes months to tell banks how they scored on routine audits, Consumer Bankers Association CEO Richard Hunt said Tuesday. For some bank examiners, it is their first job out of college, he said.

Hunt said that CFPB Director Richard Cordray is aware of the problems with the examination program and hopes to do better in the agency’s second year.

USDA Offers Loans to Farmers Who Grow for Locals

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) – With interest in locally grown food soaring, the federal government said Tuesday that it created a small loan program to help community farmers who might not be able to borrow money from banks.

Call it seed money.

The low-interest “microloans” of up to $35,000 are designed to aid startup costs, bolster existing family-run farms and help minority growers and military veterans who want to farm. Over the last three years, there has been a 60 percent increase in local growers who sell directly to consumers or farmers markets, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

South Africa Mine Threatens Closure, Loss of 14,000 Jobs

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The world’s largest platinum producer said Tuesday that it will close some operations, sell one mine in South Africa and cut 14,000 jobs, just months after mining strikes turned violent, killing dozens of people.

Anglo American Platinum said a nearly yearlong review found that four mine shafts needed to be closed and one mine sold because of unprofitable operations. The government’s minister of mines and the National Union of Mineworkers, NUM, expressed surprise and shock at the announcement.