Retail Sales Boosted by Autos

Americans spent more in July on discounted automobiles and paid record gasoline prices to run them, leading to a 1.8 percent increase in U.S. retail sales. Last month's gain followed a 1.7 percent increase in June, the Commerce Department said. Excluding autos, sales rose 0.3 percent.

The number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell last week to 308,000 from 314,000, the Labor Department said.


U.S. Airlines Raise Fares

Several U.S. airlines raised domestic fares by $10 to $20 per round trip as oil prices reached the highest level in more than two decades. The increases were initiated Wednesday night by United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, and followed yesterday by US Airways. American Airlines and other carriers said they might match the increases.

If the increase sticks, it will be at least the eighth time the industry has raised air fares since mid-February, when crude oil was selling for about $45 per barrel. On Thursday, the price of crude settled at $65.80 a barrel, the highest level since trading began on the New York Mercantile Exchange in 1983.


AIG Shareholders Keep Directors

American International Group shareholders reelected the 15 nominated directors and approved keeping PricewaterhouseCoopers as the company's auditor, Chairman Frank Zarb said. Proxy advisory firm Glass Lewis had recommended that shareholders withhold votes for everyone but Zarb, new chief executive Martin Sullivan and three AIG directors who were appointed this year.

AIG, which restated $3.9 billion of profit in May, now has a "productive" relationship with regulators investigating its accounting, Zarb told shareholders at the insurer's annual meeting in New York. "This company is committed to working openly, without reservation."


Teachers Join Wal-Mart Boycott

The two largest U.S. teachers' unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, joined a "back-to-school" boycott against Wal-Mart Stores to protest the retailer's labor practices. The unions are teaming with the United Food and Commercial Workers in urging shoppers to buy school supplies elsewhere, the UFCW said.

"The millions of parents and teachers who rely on Wal-Mart's low prices are able to see through this smear campaign," Wal-Mart said.


No Smoking at Pizza Huts, KFCs

Smoking will be prohibited in the 1,675 Pizza Hut and 1,200 KFC restaurants owned by Yum Brands. The company said it will encourage franchise operators to do the same.

The two chains' top executives said the new policy stemmed from concerns about health risks from secondhand smoke for customers and employees. Smoking in the restaurants is already banned by local laws in such metropolitan areas as New York.


Former CEO's Sentence Reduced

A federal judge trimmed a year from former Rite Aid chief executive Martin L. Grass' eight-year sentence for conspiring to obstruct justice and to defraud the nation's third-largest drugstore chain and its shareholders. U.S. District Judge Sylvia H. Rambo said she acted to reduce a disparity between Grass and other defendants sentenced for similar crimes.

Rambo had to resentence Grass because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year that invalidated the system under which his previous sentence had been calculated.

Target posted second-quarter profit of $540 million as record heat drove demand for summer apparel. That compares with a profit of $1.41 billion in the comparable quarter a year earlier, when the retailer had a gain from the sale of its Marshall Field's chain. Revenue in the quarter ended July 31 rose 14 percent, to $12 billion, as same-store sales grew 6.7 percent.

DreamWorks Animation swung to a loss in the second quarter, although the results were slightly better than the bleak fiscal picture the studio outlined last month. The company behind such animated hits as "Shrek" reported a loss of $3.7 million, compared with a profit of $146.1 million in the year-ago quarter. Revenue fell to $35.4 million from $300.3 million, due mainly to a high number of DVD titles that were returned from retailers.

Compiled from staff and news service reports.

Sales incentives from automakers helped drive a 1.8 percent increase in U.S. retail sales in July. Excluding cars, retail sales rose 0.3 percent.