April 4, 2013

Briefcase

Two reports suggest firms grew cautious last month

Two reports Wednesday showed that U.S. service companies grew more slowly in March and private employers pulled back on hiring. The declines suggest businesses may have grown more cautious last month after federal spending cuts took effect.

The Institute for Supply Management said its index of non-manufacturing activity fell to 54.4 last month. That's down from 56 in February and the lowest in seven months. Any reading above 50 signals expansion.

Slower hiring and a steep drop in new orders drove the index down. A gauge of hiring fell 3.9 points to 53.3, the lowest since November. That means companies kept hiring, but at a slower pace.

The ISM report covers companies that employ roughly 90 percent of the work force.

U.S. home prices increase by most since March 2006

U.S. home prices jumped in February by the largest amount in seven years, evidence that the housing recovery strengthened ahead of the all-important spring buying season.

Home prices rose 10.2 percent in February compared with a year earlier, CoreLogic, a real estate data provider, said Wednesday. The annual gain was the biggest since March 2006. Prices have increased on an annual basis for 12 straight months, underscoring the recovery's steady momentum.

The gains were broad-based. Prices rose in 47 of 50 states and in all but four of the nation's 100 largest metro areas. Delaware, Alabama and Illinois were the only states to report price declines.

Survey shows employers added fewer jobs in March

A survey shows U.S. companies added fewer jobs in March compared with the previous month, as construction firms held off on hiring after three months of solid gains.

Private employers added 158,000 jobs last month, payroll processor ADP said Wednesday. That's down from February's gain of 237,000 and January's 177,000.

Construction companies didn't add any jobs in March, after average monthly gains of 29,000 in the previous three months.

Boeing: More than half of battery-fix testing done

Boeing said it has finished more than half of the testing on its proposed battery fix for the 787, with the rest of the ground and flight tests coming in the next several days.

The results so far have been in line with the testing Boeing did when it was developing the fix, spokesman Marc Birtel said Wednesday.

Smoldering batteries -- including one fire on the ground -- prompted air safety authorities to ground the world's 787s in mid-January. Boeing has developed what it believes is a permanent fix, including more heat insulation and a system for venting battery gases outside of the plane.

Stanford joining Harvard, MIT in online course effort

Stanford University announced Wednesday that it is joining an initiative co-founded by Harvard and MIT to develop a computer system that allows colleges to offer free online courses, a collaboration that school officials said would benefit both educators and students around the globe.

Stanford already has its own fledgling platform for delivering massive open online courses, or MOOCs. The university has decided, however, to suspend work on it in favor of the system created by the two East Coast universities as a separate nonprofit enterprise, called edX, said John Mitchell, vice provost for online learning and a computer science professor at Stanford.

Stanford still plans to offer some of its courses through Coursera, a commercial Internet course provider founded by two Stanford professors. But with the demand for online learning increasing rapidly, it makes sense for institutions to team up, Mitchell said.

 

-- From news service reports

 

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