Business Briefs – April 14, 2016

Low Rates, Troubled Loans Send Bank Profits Lower

PHOENIX (AP) – 2016 is getting off to a lousy start for major U.S. banks. Energy loans are turning bad, low interest rates are making it hard to make profitable loans, and markets have been volatile.

On the bright side, first-quarter results from banks, which started coming out this week, haven’t been quite as bad as many analysts feared. Banks are still the worst-performing industry in the stock market so far this year, however. The financial component of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index is down 3.5 percent.

Poll: Americans Prefer Low Prices To Items ‘Made in the USA’

WASHINGTON (AP) – The majority of Americans say they prefer lower prices instead of paying a premium for items labeled “Made in the USA,” according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

Some presidential candidates are vowing to bring back millions of American jobs lost to foreign competitors, but public sentiment reflects core challenges confronting the U.S. economy. Incomes have barely improved, forcing many households to look for the most convenient bargains.

Nearly three in four say they would like to buy goods manufactured inside the U.S., but those items are often too costly or difficult to find, according to the survey released Thursday. Only 9 percent say they only buy American.

U.S. Applications for Jobless Aid Drop, Matching 1973 Level

WASHINGTON (AP) – The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits plunged last week, matching a March figure that was the lowest level since 1973.

Weekly applications for jobless benefits fell 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 253,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less-volatile figure, dipped 1,500 to 265,000. The number of people collecting benefits declined 4.9 percent to 2.17 million.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. The historically low figures over the past year indicate a healthy job market with companies holding onto their workers.

Puerto Rico Faces Defaults as Congress Stalls on Way To Help

WASHINGTON (AP) – House Speaker Paul Ryan said Congress needs to “bring order to the chaos” in Puerto Rico and prevent U.S. taxpayers from having to eventually bail out the territory, which is facing a $70 billion debt.

A House committee canceled a Thursday vote on legislation establishing a control board as Republicans remained divided over how Congress should address the economic crisis.

Puerto Rico has said it will likely default on an upcoming debt payment, which would mark the first time the island would default on general obligation bonds protected by the island’s constitution.

GM Says It Will Phase Out Cars Without Air Bags

DETROIT (AP) – General Motors Co. said Thursday it will phase out cars without air bags and other safety features after its Chevrolet Sail subcompact flunked a crash test in Latin America.

The Latin New Car Assessment Program — an independent testing organization — said Thursday the Sail received zero stars in its latest tests. The organization said the Sail is unstable and has no air bags. It also lacks three-point seat belts in all positions.

The Sail is made in China and exported to emerging markets. It has a starting price of less than $10,000.

It’s one of several Chevrolet cars that have done poorly on the tests. The Aveo, Spark and Agile cars without air bags also have gotten zero stars on Latin NCAP’s tests.

Alejandro Furas, Latin NCAP’s secretary general, said GM should follow the example of Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen, all of which sell cars that exceed minimal safety standards in Latin America.

Earlier this year, GM CEO Mary Barra defended selling cars without air bags in markets that don’t require them, saying they’re more affordable for low-income buyers.