Stocks Down at Close, Potential Drops in Oil Production Raising Concerns

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Stocks wavered as crude prices hovered near $104 a barrel. The Dow closed down a point, the Nasdaq lost 14 and the S&P gave up two points Wednesday.

This is also the second anniversary of a benchmark day for the financial world.  Wednesday marked the start of the fastest bull market since the 1950s.

Meanwhile, the conflict in Libya has raised concerns about a drop in oil production.  That has caused a surge in prices and weighed on markets. Oil prices are up about $20 a barrel since mid-February, when the uprising began.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


GE Wages Never-Say-Die Campaign for Jet Engine Contract

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In a never-say-die approach, General Electric's CEO Jeffrey Immelt has vowed to continue to fight for a high-priced military jet engine contract that President Obama, the Pentagon, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate have all said they don't want.

"GE will continue to press our case in the U.S. Senate and elsewhere," Immelt wrote in a note to aviation workers after the recent House vote to eliminate funding for the company's controversial jet engine. The defeat in the House would not, he said, halt development of the Joint Strike Fighter engine, intended as an alternate for one already built for the futuristic fighter by rival firm Pratt & Whitney.

General Electric has already shelled out millions in relentless pursuit of the engine contract, and its vow to fight on is the latest evidence of the company's aggressive strategy for Washington influence. It is an approach that has helped GE become the nation's top corporate spender on lobbying, spending more than $238 million on lobbyists over the past 12 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics -- money that has helped GE gain access to the corridors of power and some of the most remote crevices of the governing process.

"It shows what deep lobbying is all about in Washington," said Ellen Miller, a founder of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which monitors the influence industry. "It's lobbying members of Congress, it's being friendly to the administration, it's being all over the agencies."

While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Medical Association have spent more on lobbying over the past decade, GE sits high atop the list of corporate spenders. AT&T, the nearest competitor, spent $162 million, while Northrop Grumman and Exxon Mobil spent just over $150 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

ABC News requested an interview with Immelt to talk about the company's lobbying strategy. Spokesman Rick Kennedy turned down that request and did not respond to specific questions sent by e-mail about the company's lobbying in general and specifically about the effort to secure the lucrative jet engine contract. Last year, Kennedy told ABC News there was a reason Congress had agreed to fund the development of its engine for years, despite opposition from the Bush and Obama administrations.

"We have been reinstated year after year after year in the budget because the case for competition is simply too compelling for a program of this size," he said. "For this reason, we feel like we're standing on the side of the angels."

An ABC News review of General Electric lobbying found that the company has more than angels on its side -- it has an arsenal of former congressional leaders from both parties, including such well-known figures as former Sen. Trent Lott and former Rep. Dick Gephardt.

Last year, GE also hired Barack Obama's former campaign manager, David Plouffe, as a consultant, according to Plouffe's recently filed financial disclosure forms. It is unclear what Plouffe was hired to do, though his relationship with the president and senior White House staff is close to unparalleled. Plouffe is now back working as a senior advisor to Obama.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Stocks Down and Oil Prices Up

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The bull market celebrates its third year Wednesday, when stocks roared back from 12-year lows in the spring of 2009. The Standard and Poor's 500 index is up 95 percent since then.

Stocks fell Wednesday as the fighting continues in Libya. There are reports an oil production line and storage depot were hit by Ghadafi's Air Force. Meanwhile,  the U.S. and other members of the U.N. Security Council are talking about a possible no fly zone. So far no action taken and oil prices continue to rise.

Medtronic, the world's number one medical device company, says its resolved two warning letters from the FDA. Regulators criticized lax oversight at two manufacturing plants. The settlement clears the way for new Medtronic product approvals.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Toyota Expanding Line of Hybrid Cars

Toyota(AICHI, JAPAN) -- Toyota is expanding its line of eco-friendly hybrid cars just as news comes that gas prices have reached their highest levels in years.

The Japanese carmaker announced plans to add a five-seat Prius wagon and seven-seat minivan to the lineup of gas-electric cars. The wagon will come equipped with a lithium-ion battery, a first for a Prius. The vehicles are expected to make their debut in the U.S. later this summer.

Toyota plans to add nearly a dozen new models to its hybrid lineup in the next few years.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Wall Street Report: Stock Market Futures See Small Rise

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Stock market futures are up Wednesday morning after solid gains the day before.

The Dow rose 124.35 points Tuesday while the Nasdaq gained 20.14 and the S&P added 11.69.  Meanwhile, overseas, Asian stocks  were mixed overnight, after an up day in the previous session.

Also on Wednesday morning, global oil prices slipped back a bit.  West Texas crude is now at $104 a barrel.  The recent oil price run up is largely based on fears that the unrest in the Arab world could spread.

On another note, the American Petroleum Institute said supplies of crude oil rose last week -- another sign that there is no shortage of oil right now, despite the crisis in Libya.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tax Tip: Before All Else, Prepare the Necessary Paperwork

Ryan McVay/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When it comes to filing your taxes, follow the Boy Scout motto and be prepared.  As you begin to get your paperwork together for your 2010 taxes, it may help to first look at your 2009 tax return.

"Seeing what your sources of income were and what type of deductions you had," can give you a ballpark of what to expect this year, accountant Janice Hayman said.

Another tip?  Make sure you have the right documents for both sides of the ledger.

"You say, 'Here's how much I've earned' and then you say 'Here are the deductions that I can take to reduce my taxable income,'" said H&R Block's Kathy Pickering.

Obtain your W-2 forms from all of your employers, your bank and investment statements, and any paperwork to support your deductions.

Note that it's possible not everything will come in the mail, according to Kiplinger's Mary Beth Franklin.

"As more and more of us are receiving documents electronically, certain things will no longer be in the mail. So make sure you're reading your e-mail inbox as well for those important documents."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Starbucks Begins Rolling Out New Logo in Time for 40th Birthday

Starbucks(NEW YORK) -- Starbucks turns 40 years old this month and to celebrate, the world's largest coffee chain began rolling out its new logo Tuesday.

The new logo was unveiled in January and features a much simpler design than its predecessor.  It loses the words "Starbucks" and "Coffee" and consists solely of the Melusine, a two-tailed, mermaid-like figure that has been part of the logo from the beginning.

Since first setting up shop in Seattle on March 30, 1971, Starbucks has grown to operate in 55 countries and serve an estimated 60 million customers.

The coffee chain has also expanded its menu over the years, adding food items, which accounts for "about 20 percent of our business and growing," according to company CEO Howard Schultz.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Overlooked ATM Fees for Cash Withdrawals Can Be Costly

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Are you spending money on things you really don't need?  It's easy to ignore small weekly charges, and ATM fees for cash withdrawals are just one of many examples.

Most consumers make several cash withdrawals a month, and to many, ATM fees don't seem that expensive.

"Maybe its a $1.50 here, $2 there, both by the ATM that you're using and by your home bank that might add up to $3 or $4 a transaction," says Robert Long of

But Long says that cost can grow over time, and "can quickly add up to $10, $20 over the course of a month and then ultimately hundreds of dollars over the course of a year."

One solution: switching banks.

Long, who recently switched banks with his wife, says their new "local bank covers those costs," and that they "don't pay a dime on any of our ATM withdrawals" or withdrawals from other banks.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Smithsonian Promises to Sell More American-Made Souvenirs

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- From the Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial to the White House and the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C. is home to iconic American landmarks.  But the souvenirs sold there so visitors can take a small piece of the nation's capital home with them are anything but American.

It's difficult to find a D.C. keepsake that's not foreign-made.  The busiest gift shops in the city are at the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, where everything from presidential busts to Elvis bobbleheads are made in China.

On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called the Smithsonian's top officials into his office to demand they sell "Made in the U.S.A." products.  Previously the Smithsonian suggested that it was just too expensive, but any tourist can find domestically-produced gifts at a thriving shop called Appalachian Spring a few blocks away.

The Smithsonian hosts 30 million visitors every year and last year its gift shops made almost $44 million.

After the meeting with Sanders, Smithsonian officials said they would sell more American-made souvenirs and promised to devote one gift shop to American-made products.

Sanders said, "It's a start."  But for some in Congress, it's not good enough.

Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the top Democrat on the committee that oversees the Smithsonian, said he plans to introduce a bill that would require the Smithsonian to sell only American-made goods.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Rental Car Agencies Band Together Against NHTSA Study

Thinkstock Images/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Three major car rental companies have sent a joint letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calling into question the results of a NHTSA survey that helped lead to the recent introduction of the proposed Safe Rental Car Act.

Representatives from Enterprise, which owns National and Alamo, Hertz and Avis/Budget said in the March 3 letter, "The information... does not accurately reflect the performance of our respective companies in this area."

A day before the letter was sent to NHTSA, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said he was inspired in part by the NHTSA study when he announced the Safe Rental Car Act, which would make it illegal for rental car agencies to rent out cars that are subject to a recall notice.

Under current law, auto dealers cannot sell cars that have been recalled, but the restriction does not extend to rental car agencies. The lack of regulation, he said, "boggles the mind."

"Rental car companies should be immediately barred from renting cars that would be pulled from showrooms and car dealer lots because of safety recall concerns," Schumer, D-New York, told reporters. "It's wrong, it's dangerous and it must be stopped."

In a study of 10 General Motors and Chrysler recalls launched by NHTSA between June 2006 and July 2010, after 90 days, Enterprise had fixed an average of 65 percent of the cars subject to the recall. For Avis/Budget, 53 percent of the cars were fixed within 90 days of the recall. At Hertz, only 34 percent of the recalled cars had been fixed within 90 days.

The agencies said in the letter that the data provided to the NHTSA by auto manufacturers was not correct because the information was not up to date.

"The inaccuracies in the data reported by the manufacturers are, in part, a function of an inherent limitation in the timeliness of vehicle owner data reported to the manufacturer," the letter said.

The letter does not directly address the issue of renting out cars that are under recall, but a spokesman for Enterprise told ABC News last week that under current company policy "virtually all" cars under recall are grounded until they're fixed -- except for rare exceptions in which the company chooses not to fix certain recalled cars.

"The safety of our customers is our top priority and it is the most fundamental aspect of our commitment to do business responsibly," Enterprise spokesperson Laura Bryant said. "[The NHTSA survey] is not indicative of where the industry is today."

Bryant said rental car companies receive thousands of recalls issued every year with no differentiation for the severity of the issue. Enterprise bases the rare exceptions in which cars under recall on not grounded on information provided by the car manufacturer. After the survey, Hertz told ABC News it dramatically changed its policy to ground all cars under recall.

A NHTSA spokesperson did not dispute the claims of inaccuracy in the letter, but told ABC News, "NHTSA is concerned about rental vehicles not being repaired. Through our audit query, we hope to obtain information to better understand how widespread the problem is."

The letter said that manufacturers rarely have an accurate count of the particular vehicles in a rental car fleet because they are often sold quickly and the new ownership is sometimes not registered until months later. Therefore, the letter says, the total numbers of vehicles reportedly owned by the companies while under recall will always be higher -- at times significantly -- than the actual number.

The letter also noted that sometimes an inspection or repair of a vehicle under recall goes inadvertently unreported, lowering the number of fixed cars.

But to Clarence Ditlow, executive director for the Center for Auto Safety, any percentage of fixed cars rented out under 100 percent is unacceptable.

"They cannot pick and choose," Ditlow said. "They're gambling with your life."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio