Business Briefs – September 18, 2016

Americans Take on More Mortgage Debt As Housing Recovers

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Fed’s quarterly report on household wealth showed that Americans’ net worth climbed 1.2 percent during the April-June quarter, to $89.1 trillion.

Stock and mutual fund portfolios increased 2.3 percent to $21.2 trillion. Housing wealth rose 1.9 percent to $25.6 trillion. The value of checking and savings accounts, as well as pension entitlements, also climbed. Mortgage debt rose 2.5 percent in the second quarter at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, the biggest quarterly gain in more than eight years.

Household wealth, or net worth, reflects the value of homes, stocks and other assets minus mortgages, credit card debt and other borrowing.

Software Company Says It Warned Tesla

DETROIT (AP) – The company that made the camera and computer system for Tesla Motors’ semi-autonomous Autopilot says the electric car maker ignored its warnings of safety problems.

Mobileye said Friday that it warned Tesla, prior to the release of Autopilot, not to allow drivers to use the system without their hands on the steering wheel. The system Tesla rolled out in the fall allows drivers to remove their hands, while the car takes control.

Mobileye’s statement escalates a public spat with Tesla and will almost certainly draw the interest of two federal agencies investigating the death of a driver while using Autopilot in a May crash in Florida.

Johnson & Johnson to Buy Abbott’s Vision Unit for $4.33B

NEW YORK (AP) – Johnson & Johnson says it is paying more than $4.3 billion in cash to buy the eye health unit of Abbott Laboratories to boost its vision business.

The unit, called Abbott Medical Optics, makes equipment used for cataract surgery and laser vision correction procedures. It also makes eye drops and contact lens cleaners.

Johnson & Johnson says the purchase will enter it into the cataracts surgery market and help its vision business.

House Panel to Probe Wells Fargo Opening of Accounts

WASHINGTON (AP) – A House panel is starting an investigation of Wells Fargo amid a growing scandal over its opening of millions of unauthorized accounts.

The House Financial Services Committee on Friday announced an investigation of the allegedly illegal activity by Wells Fargo employees to meet aggressive sales goals as well as the role of federal regulators in the debacle.

California and U.S. regulators fined the company a combined $185 million last Thursday. The bank says it has refunded to customers $2.6 million in fees charged for products that were sold without authorization.

U.S. Consumer Prices Ticked Up 0.2 Percent in August

WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. consumer prices edged up 0.2 percent in August as a surge in medical care offset flat readings for food and energy.

Core inflation, which excludes the volatile categories of food and energy, rose 0.3 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday. It was the biggest monthly increase since February. The climb in core inflation was led by a record jump in drug prices and the biggest rise in doctor and hospital charges in a quarter-century.

FAA Contemplating Whether Millions of Drones Will Fill Skies

WASHINGTON (AP) – So many people are registering drones and applying for drone pilot licenses that federal aviation officials said they are contemplating the possibility of millions of unmanned aircraft crowding the nation’s skies.

Earl Lawrence, director of the FAA’s drone office, said new registrations are coming in at a rate of 2,000 a day. By comparison, the FAA says there are 260,165 manned aircraft registered in the U.S. Since the Federal Aviation Administration created a drone registration system, more than 550,000 unmanned aircraft have been registered with the agency.

Sinkhole Leaks Fertilizer Plant’s Water Into Florida Aquifer

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — More than 200 million gallons of contaminated waste water from a fertilizer plant in central Florida leaked into one of the state’s main underground sources of drinking water after a massive sinkhole opened up beneath a storage pond, a phosphate company said Friday.

Mosaic, the world’s largest supplier of phosphate, said the hole opened up beneath a pile of waste material called a “gypsum stack.” The 215-million gallon storage pond sat atop the waste mineral pile.

Mosaic says it’s monitoring groundwater and has found no offsite impacts.