As Facebook matures, is it losing its edge?
NEW YORK (AP) — To see what Facebook has become, look no further than the Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer.
Sometime last year, people began sharing tongue-in-cheek online reviews of the banana-shaped piece of yellow plastic with their Facebook friends. Then those friends shared with their friends. Soon, after Amazon paid to promote it, posts featuring the $3.49 utensil were appearing in even more Facebook feeds.
At some point, though, the joke got old. But there it was, again and again — the banana slicer had become a Facebook version of that old knock-knock joke your weird uncle has been telling for years.
The Hutzler 571 phenomenon is a regular occurrence on the world's biggest online social network. So the question is: Has Facebook become less fun?
That's something many users — especially those in their teens and early 20s — are asking themselves as they wade through endless posts, photos "liked" by people they barely know and spur-of-the moment friend requests. Has it all become too much of a chore? Are the important life events of your closest loved ones drowning in a sea of banana slicer jokes?
No let up for auto sales in March; pickups star
DETROIT (AP) — America is getting back to work, and it needs pickup trucks.
Strong truck demand in March drove U.S. auto sales to their highest monthly total since August 2007, as everyone from oil and gas producers to local home builders raced to replace the aging trucks they held onto during the recession. Overall auto sales rose 3.4 percent from March of last year.
March is typically a good month for the auto industry. Many car buyers put their tax refund checks toward a down payment. And Japanese automakers, whose fiscal year ends in March, often juice sales with big incentives to end the year on a high note.
Fannie's record profit a symbol of housing rebound
WASHINGTON (AP) — Home prices are up. Foreclosures are down. Construction is up. And now comes the latest sign of the U.S. home market's revival: Fannie Mae, the mortgage giant that nearly collapsed five years ago, has earned its biggest yearly profit ever.
Fannie Mae earned $17.2 billion last year and said Tuesday that it expects to stay profitable for "the foreseeable future." It also paid $11.6 billion in dividends to the U.S. Treasury in 2012.
And last year was Fannie's first since its takeover by the government in 2008 that it asked for no federal aid. As recently as 2011, Fannie lost nearly $17 billion and requested and received nearly $26 billion in aid.
The speed of Fannie's resurgence is a testament to a much healthier U.S. mortgage market.
Obama health care credits could trigger surprise tax bills
WASHINGTON (AP) — Millions of people who take advantage of government subsidies to help buy health insurance next year could get stung by surprise tax bills if they don't accurately project their income.
President Barack Obama's new health care law will offer subsidies to help people buy private health insurance on state-based exchanges, if they don't already get coverage through their employers. The subsidies are based on income. The lower your income, the bigger the subsidy.
But the government doesn't know how much money you're going to make next year. And when you apply for the subsidy, this fall, it won't even know how much you're making this year. So, unless you tell the government otherwise, it will rely on the best information it has: your 2012 tax return, filed this spring.
In India, dodging taxes is part of the game
NEW DELHI (AP) — In a country long defined by its poverty, it's easy now to find India's rich.
They're at New Delhi's Emporio mall, where herds of chauffeur-driven Jaguars and Audis disgorge shoppers heading to the Louis Vuitton and Christian Louboutin stores. They're shopping for Lamborghinis in Mumbai. They're putting elevators in their homes and showing off collections of jewel-encrusted watches in Indian luxury magazines. They're buying real estate in comfortable but unpretentious neighborhoods — neighborhoods thought of as simply upper-middle-class just a couple years ago — where apartments now regularly sell for millions of dollars.
They're just about everywhere. Unless it's income tax time. Then, suddenly, they barely exist.
The reality is simple: "There are very few people who are paying taxes," said Sonu Iyer, a tax expert at Ernst & Young in New Delhi. And tax dodging is everywhere. "It's rampant — rampant."
Cypriot finance minister resigns amid crisis probe
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Finance minister Michalis Sarris resigned Tuesday after less than five weeks in the job, as the government begins an investigation into how the country's economy nearly collapsed last month.
President Nicos Anastasiades accepted Sarris' resignation, which came as Cyprus finalized the details of its bailout with international creditors. Harris Georgiades, the 41-year-old former labor minister, will become the new head of finance.
Sarris, 66, was appointed to the position after Anastasiades' Conservatives won general elections in February, days before the island was overwhelmed by its financial crisis.
US factory orders up 3 percent in February
WASHINGTON (AP) — Orders to U.S. factories rose sharply in February from January on a surge in volatile demand for commercial aircraft. The gain offset a drop in key orders that signal business investment.
The Commerce Department said Tuesday that factory orders increased 3 percent in February. That's up from a 1 percent decline in January and the biggest gain in five months.
The increase was due mostly to a jump in orders for commercial aircraft. Those orders rose 95.1 percent. Orders for motor vehicles and parts also increased 1.4 percent.
Pension issue in Stockton, Calif., bankruptcy
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — On its first official day in bankruptcy, the city of Stockton now must grapple with the hard part of reorganizing its financial affairs — how to share the financial burden equitably among creditors while meeting its massive state pension obligations.
At the conclusion of a three-day trial, a judge on Monday formally granted the city Chapter 9 protection, over the objections of creditors who questioned whether it was fair for the city to fully meet its obligations to the state pension system while other debt holders go partly paid.
The issue — whether federal bankruptcy law trumps the California law that requires pension fund debts to be honored — could have huge implications across the state and the rest of the nation, experts say.
High-skilled visa requests likely to exceed supply
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Homeland Security Department expects applications for high-skilled immigration visas to outpace the available supply in a matter of days, one of the fastest runs on the much-sought-after work permits in years and a sign of continued economic recovery amid new hiring by U.S. technology companies.
The urgent race for such visas — highly desired by Microsoft, Apple, Google and other leading technology companies — coincides with congressional plans to increase the number available to tech-savvy foreigners.
The race to secure one of the 85,000 so-called H-1B visas available for the 2014 budget year started Monday and requests will be accepted through at least Friday. If petitions outpace the availability in the first week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — for the first time since 2008 — will use a lottery to pick which companies get visas to award to prospective employees.
Euro area unemployment at record 12 percent
LONDON (AP) — The eurozone economy has passed another bleak milestone.
Official figures Tuesday showed that unemployment across the 17 European Union countries that use the euro has struck 12 percent for the first time since the currency was launched in 1999.
Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, said the rate in February was unchanged at the record high after January's figure was revised up to 12 percent from 11.9 percent.
By The Associated Press(equals)
The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 89.16 points, or 0.6 percent, at 14,662.01. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 8.08 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,570.25. The Nasdaq composite rose 15.69, or 0.5 percent, to 3,254.86.
Benchmark oil for May delivery gained 12 cents to finish at $97.19 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, was up 67 cents to end at $110.69 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.
Wholesale gasoline fell 6 cents to finish at $3.04 a gallon. Heating oil rose 2 cents to end at $3.09 a gallon. Natural gas dropped 5 cents to $3.97 per 1,000 cubic feet.