OPERATIONS

Consumer confidence rebounds in February

BY Marianne Wilson

New York — Consumer confidence rebounded in February, reversing three straight months of declines, according to The Conference Board, a private research group. The Conference Board’s closely-watched Consumer Confidence Index stands at 69.6, up from 58.4 in January. Economists had expected 60.5, according to research firm FactSet.

It was the highest reading since November’s 71.5 metric.

"Consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions is more positive than last month,” said the group’s director of economic indicators, Lynn Franco. “Looking ahead, consumers are cautiously optimistic about the outlook for business and labor market conditions. Income expectations, which had turned rather negative last month, have improved modestly."

Consumers’ assessment of present day conditions improved in February. Those claiming business conditions are “good” rose to 18.1% from 16.1%, while those stating business conditions are “bad” decreased to 27.8% from 28.4%. Consumers’ appraisal of the labor market was mixed. Those saying jobs are “plentiful” increased to 10.5% from 8.5%, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” edged up to 37.0% from 36.6%.

Consumers were more optimistic about the short-term outlook this month. Those expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months increased to 18.9% from 15.6%, while those expecting business conditions to worsen declined to 16.5% from 20.4%.

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Ax falls at Best Buy; cutting 400 headquarters jobs

BY Marianne Wilson

Minneapolis — Best Buy Co. announced it is cutting 400 jobs at its headquarters as part of its “Renew Blue” transformation efforts.

The job reductions are part of a move to save $150 million in selling, general and administrative costs. The cuts are the first phase of the larger cost-cutting plan that new CEO Hubert Joly announced at an investor and analyst meeting last November. At that time, he said that Best Buy would remove $725 million in costs. This $150 million reduction is the first phase of the initiative, with additional reductions to come during the year.

Best Buy said it will offer more details on its cost reduction efforts when it reports fourth-quarter results on March 1. The chain had planned to report earnings Feb. 28, but it postponed the reporting release by one day to see whether founder Richard Schulze will bid for the company.

Best Buy “wants to allow for the expiration of the period of time that Schulze has to respond to the company,” Jeffrey Shelman, a company spokesman, told Bloomberg.

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Wal-Mart Stores sued by five women in Wisconsin for gender bias

BY Marianne Wilson

New York — Five women in Wisconsin have filed suit against Wal-Mart Stores, claiming the retailer denied them and other female employees equal pay and equal opportunities, the Journal Sentinel reported. The suit, which also seeks class-action status, claims Wal-Mart discriminated against female employees in the chain’s Region 14, which includes stores in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.

“Women at Wal-Mart were told by management that women deserved less pay and fewer promotions than men because men had families to support,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Jim Kaster of Minneapolis-based Nichols Kaster PLLP, said in a press statement.

The complaint was filed at the U.S. courthouse in Madison, Wisconsin on Feb. 20, which is the same day a similar case was dismissed as untimely by a federal judge in Nashville, Tenn.

It is the fifth regional class-action against Wal-Mart since the Supreme Court struck down the attempted national class action (Dukes v. Wal-Mart case) in 2011.

"We’ve said all along that if someone believes they have been treated unfairly, they deserve to have their timely, individual claims heard in court," Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove said in the report. "These individual claims being made by the plaintiffs just don’t match the positive experiences that hundreds of thousands of women have had working at Walmart. We continue to be a great place for women to work and advance."

The case is Ladik v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 13-cv-123, U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin (Madison).

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