The Recap: Automakers pick up speed after long slog

U.S. auto sales in March hit 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 on to during the recession.

The big sales drivers were the Ford Fusion, Cadillac ATS (GM) and Ram pickup truck (Chrysler). General Motors, Ford and Chrysler sold a total of 154,722 full-size pickups, up 14 percent from a year ago.

Overall auto sales rose 3.4 percent from March of last year.

Business

Apple, Google and five other companies won a court order to block potentially thousands of employees, from engineers to sous-chefs, from proceeding in a group lawsuit that contends that their incomes were held down by the companies’ agreements not to recruit one another’s workers.

Ron Johnson, chief of struggling J.C. Penney, had his total compensation cut to $1.89 million last year. The former Apple retail chief was awarded $53.3 million in salary, bonus, stock awards and other compensation in 2011, when he became the retailer’s head.

Facebook has made its most significant foray into smartphones, with Home, a suite of applications that put a user’s Facebook page on the home screen of Android smartphones. Consumers would be able to instantly see updates from their Facebook friends and quickly reply to network messages.

Samsung Electronics, stepping up a battle with Apple, will staff mini-stores at Best Buy’s U.S. locations to showcase how its tablets, smartphones and televisions work together.

Wells Fargo’s bid to have an investor lawsuit against it dismissed was rejected by a federal judge. The suit alleges that the bank failed in its role as trustee for debt issued by Capital Holdings, a financing company that collapsed in 2009 in an estimated billion-dollar fraud.

Bank of America will pay $165 million to settle a dispute over mortgage-backed securities it sold to credit unions that later collapsed, according to the National Credit Union Administration, the agency that regulates credit unions.

Genworth Mortgage Insurance, United Guaranty, Mortgage Guaranty Insurance and Radian Guaranty were fined a total of $15.4 million by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for paying millions of dollars in kickbacks to home lenders in exchange for business, raising insurance prices for consumers.

Cameron International was dismissed from all claims arising from BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill after a judge said there was no evidence showing that the company was at fault for the disaster. Cameron made the blowout preventer that was designed to stop explosions in BP’s oil well. Witnesses testifying at a New Orleans trial over fault for the disaster have said the blowout preventer wasn’t properly maintained by the Transocean crew manning the drill rig.

A former Goldman Sachs trader, Matthew Marshall Taylor, pleaded guilty to wire fraud, admitting that he caused his company to lose $118 million in 2007 when he put $8 billion at risk. According to court papers, Taylor entered fictitious information in trading account records and lied to company representatives to cover up the fact that he had put 10 times more money at risk in the trade than he was allowed. He said the $8 billion at risk was only $65 million.

A U.S. appeals court revived a lawsuit by the former wife of Steven A. Cohen, founder of hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors, who accused the billionaire of hiding $5.5 million from her during proceedings that led to their 1990 divorce.

General Motors, planning to invest $1.5 billion in North America this year, said it will spend $332 million at four factories to prepare for new, more fuel efficient engines and transmissions.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook apologized to Chinese consumers for its iPhone warranty policies after weeks of condemnation of its after-sales service in China’s state-run media.

Wal-Mart is cutting gasoline prices by up to 15 cents a gallon for drivers in 21 states who pay with its cards in an attempt to woo shoppers grappling with high prices at the pump. U.S. sales have slowed in 2013 at the world’s biggest retailer as customers feel the pinch of higher gasoline prices, higher U.S. payroll taxes and delayed income tax refunds.

CVS Caremark agreed to pay $11 million to settle federal claims that its Oklahoma pharmacies violated recordkeeping requirements of the Controlled Substances Act. Some of CVS’s 46 pharmacy retail stores in Oklahoma created false federal registration numbers that were sometimes provided to state prescription drug monitoring programs, according to the claims. CVS did not admit liability.

American Airlines and Orbitz Worldwide settled their litigation over competing electronic flight-data systems. Orbitz was the last defendant in a lawsuit accusing it, Sabre Holdings and Travelport of conspiring to block the airline’s entry into the electronic flight-data and reservations market.

Deals

American Greetings agreed to be taken private by a group led by some of its top executives, including Chairman Morry Weiss, in a deal that values the company at about $580 million.

Economy

The U.S. economy will face the brunt of massive federal spending cuts just as growth in private sector jobs is plunging, according to government data. Businesses created a paltry 88,000 jobs in March — less than half what Wall Street expected. The jobless rate dropped to 7.6 percent.

Unemployment across the 17 European Union countries that use the euro in February hit 12 percent for the first time since the currency was launched in 1999.

U.S. factory orders rose 3 percent in February. That’s up from a 1 percent decline in January and the biggest gain in five months. The increase was caused mostly by a jump in orders for commercial aircraft.

Companies hired at the weakest pace in five months in March as recent strong demand for construction jobs evaporated and growth in the vast services sector slowed, signs that the economic recovery could be hitting a soft patch. Private employers added 158,000 jobs last month, falling short of economists’ expectations for 200,000.

Spending on U.S. construction projects rebounded by 1.2 percent in February, helped by a surge in home construction, which rose to the highest level in more than four years.

Washington

A $2 billion search for foreclosure errors was hampered by poor planning from federal regulators, the Government Accountability Office said.

Companies can use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to unveil key information about their operations, the SEC said.

Transitions

Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic famous for his thumbs-up, thumbs-down judgment of movies, died at age 70.

Mary Schapiro accepted a position at Promontory Financial, a premier financial services consulting firm, her first private-sector job after nearly four years as SEC chairman.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim called climate change a “fundamental threat” to global economic development.

James E. Hansen, an outspoken scientist on the issue of global warming, is stepping down from his NASA post to work full time in activism on the issue.

Alzheimer’s is the nation’s most expensive disease, costing families and society $157 billion to $215 billion a year, a study said.

The first results from a $2 billion instrument aboard the international space station have offered tentative support for the theory that invisible dark matter permeates the universe.

— From The Post and news services

$900 million: Amount that Stockton owes California to cover pensions

A judge last week granted the city Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, over the objections of creditors who balked at the city fully meeting 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.

 
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