Cheaper gas, food last month push down producer prices

The prices U.S. companies receive for their goods and services fell in May, offering evidence that inflation is mild.

The producer price index, which measures the cost of goods and services before they reach the consumer, dropped 0.2 percent last month, the Labor Department said Friday. The decline was driven lower by cheaper food and gas, and follows two months of strong gains that had suggested inflation might be perking up after being dormant for two years.

In the past 12 months, producer prices have risen 2 percent, matching the Federal Reserve’s inflation target. That’s down from an annual gain of 2.1 percent in April.

Restaurant chain confirms credit and debit card breach

P.F. Chang’s confirmed Friday that data from credit and debit cards used at its restaurants was stolen.

The company learned about the security breach on Tuesday from the U.S. Secret Service and began investigating the breach with the agency and a team of forensics experts.

While it knows that customers were exposed, it doesn’t know how many, when it happened, or which restaurants were affected. There are no P.F. Chang’s in Maine.

Wireless companies put up more ‘stealth’ towers

One might be hidden in a cross on a church lawn. Others are disguised as a cactus in the desert, a silo in farm country or a palm tree reaching into a sunny sky.

Whatever the deception, the goal is the same: concealing the tall, slender cellphone towers that most Americans need but few want to see erected in their neighborhoods.

As telecommunications companies fill gaps in their networks, many have sought to camouflage the ungainly outdoor equipment that carries the nation’s daily supply of calls, texts and data. It’s another indication of how the industry is evolving to meet the demands of consumers who insist on ever-increasing amounts of wireless information but won’t tolerate large antennas looming over their homes, parks and other beloved sites.

Housing slump exacerbates China’s slowing economy

Six months ago, China’s housing market was so red-hot that Feng Xiaowei, a sales manager at a real estate agency in the eastern city of Hangzhou, rarely took a day off.

That all changed when lending and sales curbs imposed by the government to cool soaring housing costs started to bite and business evaporated. Now, Feng and seven employees he supervises spend the day playing cards.

The slump is dragging down economic growth that already had been slowing. Some analysts worry banks might be shaken if developers default on loans.

– From news service reports