Business Briefs – January 21, 2016

Falling Oil Prices Could Lead Consumers to Spend More Later

WASHINGTON (AP) – Cheaper gasoline and heating oil are giving consumers worldwide more money that they can use to step up spending later — and perhaps energize economies in the United States, Europe and much of Asia. The question is, will they — and when will they start?

Oil prices began falling in mid-2014 but have so far failed to deliver the kind of boost to U.S. growth that economists had expected. And many Americans have saved, rather than spent, the money left over after filling up.

 Starbucks U.S. Sales Jump 9 Percent Over 4th Quarter

SEATTLE (AP) – Starbucks says sales rose 9 percent in its flagship U.S. market and 8 percent globally during the final three months of the year. The increase at home and abroad was the result of a mix of higher customer traffic and increased spending.

At the end of 2015, the company said $1.9 billion was loaded onto Starbucks cards. It said 1 in 6 American adults received a Starbucks card as a present.

American Express To Trim $1 Billion In Expenses

NEW YORK (AP) — American Express plans to trim $1 billion in expenses over the next two years as the credit card company continues to deal with a strong U.S. dollar and fierce competition for its cardholders.

Its fourth-quarter profit declined 38 percent from a year ago, and shares fell in after-hours trading.

The company has had an unusually dramatic year with the end of its exclusive arrangement with Costco, unfavorable legal matters, growing strength of the dollar and the death an executive believed to be the potential successor to its current CEO.

ECB Holds Out Chance of More Stimulus at March Meeting

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) – European Central Bank head Mario Draghi let rattled investors know that the bank is poised to take action as soon as its next meeting in March if plunging oil prices and market turmoil threaten the economy.

At a news conference Thursday, Draghi underlined his willingness to expand existing stimulus efforts, saying several times that there was “no limit” to measures it might take.

As expected, the 25-member ECB governing council left its key interest rates untouched Thursday and didn’t ramp up its existing 1.5 trillion-euro ($1.63 trillion) monetary stimulus program.

Cheaper Fuel Boosts 4Q Profit At United, Southwest

DALLAS (AP) — Lower fuel prices are boosting airline profits and leaving enough over for passengers to get slightly lower fares.

United Continental Holdings Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. reported Thursday that fourth-quarter earnings soared as fuel spending dropped by about one-third, saving them hundreds of millions of dollars. Both airlines announced plans to buy more planes and reward shareholders by purchasing more of their own stock, which makes remaining shares more valuable.

Airline stocks have slumped in early 2016 as investors fear that cheap fuel will encourage airlines to add too many flights, creating a glut of seats.

Auto Recalls Last Year Break Annual Record Set In 2014

DETROIT (AP) — Automobile recalls hit another record last year as stronger government enforcement and widening recalls of exploding air bags pushed the total above 51 million vehicles.

The 2015 number barely beat the old record set in 2014, after that total was adjusted downward from nearly 64 million to eliminate double counting in the massive recalls of air bag inflators made by Takata Corp., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The agency recorded almost 900 separate recalls last year, beating the 2014 record of 803.