Consumer news

Monday, March 15, 2010
credit card (stock art)

Banks goose credit card rewards to push card use

Not every letter from a credit card company is bad news these days. While millions of card users received notices of interest rate hikes and new fees in recent months, a select portion learned they're getting new perks. Citigroup Inc., for example, let certain customers with cards that carry the American Airlines logo know they now get 1.2 miles for each dollar they spend, up from a 1-mile-for-$1 ratio. JPMorgan Chase & Co. similarly upped the miles-to-dollars ratio for their British Airways card by 25 percent, to 1.25 miles for each $1 spent. Chase also boosted the ability to rack up rewards on Marriott cards.

The credit card industry calls these upgrades "earnings accelerators." They are designed to make it more appealing to use one card over another -- to "place our cards at the top of their wallet," Citi spokesman Sam Wang put it. But just because you have one of these cards, or a similar reward card from a different bank, doesn't mean you'll automatically get an upgrade. Citi, for example, limited its enhancements to customers with good track records. -- AP

US Apple iPad launch slightly delayed to April

In this Jan. 27, 2010 file photo, the Apple iPad is examined after its unveiling at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Apple said Friday, March 5, its much-anticipated iPad tablet will hit U.S. store shelves on April 3.(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The much-anticipated iPad tablet computer from Apple Inc. will start hitting U.S. store shelves on April 3, slightly later than originally planned. When Apple unveiled the device Jan. 27, the company said the first iPads would reach the market in "late March." Apple did not specify why the tablet is not coming out until April. However, Canaccord Adams analyst Peter Misek said that Apple might have to delay the launch because of an "unspecified production problem." Misek said Apple's Taiwan-based supplier, Hon Hai Precision, could be facing a production bottleneck or a shortage of components.

Investors shrugged off the delay, and Apple shares rose $4.59, or 2.2 percent, to $215.30 in premarket trading. The first iPads will connect to Wi-Fi networks only and cost $499, $599 or $699, depending on the data storage capacity. More expensive versions that can connect to "3G" cellular networks and cost up to $829 are expected to go on sale in late April. U.S. customers will be able to begin placing orders for both models from Apple's Web site beginning on March 12. Both models also will be available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K. by late April. Other countries are expected to get the device later in the year, Apple said. Apple says the touch-screen iPad will include 12 new applications designed especially for the device. -- AP

Ingredient used in many processed foods recalled

A wide range of processed foods -- including soups, snack foods, dips and dressings -- is being recalled after salmonella was discovered in a flavor-enhancing ingredient. Food and Drug Administration officials said March 4 that the ingredient, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, is used in thousands of food products, though it was unclear how many of them will be recalled. The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said no illnesses or deaths have been reported. The officials said the recall, which dates to products manufactured since Sept. 17, is expected to expand in the coming days and weeks. It only involves hydrolyzed vegetable protein manufactured by Las Vegas-based Basic Food Flavors Inc. Jeffrey Farrar, associate commissioner for food protection at the FDA, said that many products that contain the ingredient are not dangerous because the risk of salmonella is eliminated after the food has been cooked. Many of the foods involved in the recall are ready-to-eat items that are not cooked by the consumer. "At this time we believe the risk to consumers is very low," Farrar said. A list of more than 50 recalled foods on the FDA Web site includes several dips manufactured by T. Marzetti, Sweet Maui Onion potato chips manufactured by Tim's Cascade Snacks, Tortilla Soup mix made by Homemade Gourmet and several prepackaged "Follow Your Heart" tofu meals manufactured by Earth Island. The FDA said the contamination was discovered by a new tracking system implemented to improve tracing of foodborne illnesses. -- AP

Retailers report strong gains for February

Shoppers shrugged off cold weather and worries about the economy to buy full-price spring clothing and other items at the nation's malls, resulting in the strongest retail sales gain since November 2007, a month before the recession started. The upbeat news also helped soothe fears among some economists that weak consumer spending might make the economic recovery short-lived. A broad array of merchants, from luxury retailer Nordstrom to midbrow Macy's Inc. to discounter Target Corp., reported better-than-expected solid sales increases on on March 4 that beat Wall Street analysts' estimates. The overall 3.7 percent gain in February, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers's index of 31 merchants, came in the face of a decline in consumer confidence, high joblessness and tight credit. It marked the third consecutive monthly sales increase for retailers, according to the ICSC. -- AP

Mo. jobless rate falls slightly to 9.5 pct in Jan.

Missouri's unemployment fell slightly in January, but the state also shed 12,800 nonfarm jobs. The state Department of Economic Development reports that the jobless rate dipped 0.1 percentage point to 9.5 percent last month. The agency says the nation's average unemployment rate for January was 9.7 percent. In its report March 2, the agency pinned some job losses last month on cold weather. Missouri's construction sector shed 7,700 jobs, while roughly 3,400 were lost in administrative and support services. Leisure and hospitality lost 3,100 jobs. The losses were offset by gains in manufacturing, retail trade, management and government. -- AP

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