Business Briefs – August 18, 2016

Self-Driving Uber Cars to Carry Passenger Soon in Pittsburgh

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Uber will soon start using self-driving cars to carry passengers in Pittsburgh, raising the stakes in the race to deploy autonomous vehicles.

The ride-hailing company said Thursday that customers will be able to opt into the test program, which will use autonomous Ford Fusions summoned by the touch of a smartphone. Although other companies are testing self-driving cars on public roads, this is the first time the public will get access to them.

The rides, which come with a human backup driver to handle situations that the autonomous cars haven’t seen, will be free to those willing to take part.

Applications for U.S. Unemployment Benefits Fall to 262,000

WASHINGTON (AP) – Fewer people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, evidence that layoffs are scarce and employers are likely hiring at a solid clip.

Weekly applications for unemployment aid slipped 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 262,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, typically a less volatile measure, rose 3,000 to 265,250.

The number of people receiving benefits ticked up 15,000 to 2.18 million. That’s nearly 4 percent lower than a year earlier.

Gap Offers Muted Outlook For Annual Profit

NEW YORK (AP) – Gap offered a muted outlook Thursday after reporting a 43 percent drop in net income for the second quarter, weighed down by store closures.

The company, which operates Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy stores, said it earned $125 million, or 31 cents per share, for the period. That compares with $219 million, or 52 cents per share, last year. Adjusted results were 60 cents per share, a penny above market forecasts. Revenue slipped 1.2 percent to $3.85 billion.

The company has been revamping its brands, but a promised turnaround has failed to come to fruition.

Wal-Mart Raises Annual Profit Outlook, Reports Strong Sales

NEW YORK (AP) – Wal-Mart’s vast fleet of stores and its online business are starting to click together.

The company raised its earnings outlook for the year on Thursday and delivered strong profit and sales for the second quarter, as moves to improve the store and online experience are winning over customers.

Wal-Mart has launched a flurry of changes, from making sure vegetables look good to cleaning up the stores to being sharper on keeping prices low. It’s melding online services with the stores — rolling out a mobile payment system to speed checkouts. And it’s pressing ahead with online grocery and pick-up services.

Hormel’s Sales Rise After Being Hurt by Avian Flu Last Year

AUSTIN, Minn. (AP) – Hormel Foods reported better-than-expected quarterly sales on Thursday, as the maker of meat and turkey products recovered from avian flu that hit its results a year ago.

The company said total sales were up 5 percent, boosted by a 1 percent increase in volume.

For the quarter, the company earned $195.7 million, or 36 cents per share. That was better than the 34 cents per share analysts expected, according to Zacks Investment Research. Total revenue of $2.3 billion in the period also topped market expectations of $2.24 billion.