Central bank clears way for increase in dividends

Bank shareholders got a long-awaited gift from the U.S. Federal Reserve on Friday when the central bank cleared the way for major lenders to increase their dividends.

It was the last hurdle left on the path to recovery for banks and signified a return to health for the industry. Banks were forced to cut their dividends to preserve cash after the financial crisis that peaked in September 2008, when the industry was propped up by a U.S. government bailout package totaling $700 billion.

Banks that received clearance to raise their dividends wasted little time in doing so. JPMorgan Chase & Co. said it would increase its quarterly dividend to 25 cents a share from 5 cents. Wells Fargo & Co. raised its dividend to 12 cents, while U.S. Bancorp increased its dividend to 12.5 cents a share. 

Japanese shares go higher on G-7 pledge of support

The yen backed away from historic highs and Japanese shares rose Friday after the Group of Seven major industrialized nations promised coordinated intervention in currency markets to support Japan’s recovery from a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.

The G-7 pledge came a day after the yen soared to an all-time high against the dollar, possibly threatening Japan’s exports and hampering its economic recovery from the March 11 quake that triggered an unfolding nuclear crisis. 

Unemployment rate rises in most large U.S. cities

Unemployment rose in nearly all of the 372 largest U.S. cities in January compared to the previous month, mostly because of seasonal changes such as the layoff of temporary retail employees hired for the holidays.

The Labor Department said Friday that the unemployment rate rose in 351 metro areas, fell in 16, and was unchanged in 5. In December, the rate fell in 207 areas and increased in 122.

Other seasonal trends, such as the layoff of construction workers due to winter weather, contributed to the widespread increase. 

General Mills makes offer to buy stake in Yoplait

General Mills Inc. has entered into exclusive negotiations to buy a majority stake in French yogurt company Yoplait, the company said Friday.

Yoplait is the world’s second-largest yogurt maker and is owned by French investment firm PAI partners and French cooperative dairy group Sodiaal. If successful, General Mills would acquire the roughly 50 percent stake held by PAI partners and work with Sodiaal, which is retaining its stake. 

Borders plans on closing an additional 28 stores

Borders Group Inc. plans to close an additional 28 stores, bringing the total closings to 228, as it tries to reorganize in bankruptcy protection.

The closings would bring the remaining store total to about 400. The closings are set for a wide variety of states, including seven in California. Stores previously on the list are expected to be closed by the end of April and the 28 additional stores by the end of May. 

Starbucks raising prices for its packaged coffee

Starbucks Corp. is raising prices it charges retailers for packaged coffee by up to 12 percent to cope with higher costs for beans.

The world’s largest coffee chain said that it informed grocery customers Friday of the increase for Starbucks and Seattle’s Best Coffee brands. It’s up to the grocers and other retailers to decide if they want to pass along that increase to consumers.

Starbucks also raised the price it suggests stores charge to $9.99 from $8.99 for a 12-ounce package of Starbucks coffee and to $7.99 from $6.99 for Seattle’s Best.