Business news in brief

Posted: February 15, 2017 at 1:59 a.m.

LR's Zips adds 5 Tennessee carwashes

Little Rock-based Zips Car Wash has acquired five carwash operations in Tennessee, bringing its total to 66 locations.

"We're excited to increase our network of stores in the Knoxville, Crossville and Chattanooga communities," Harrison Hemphill, chief operations officer of Zips, said in a statement.

The new carwashes are former Time to Shine locations. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Zips operates drive-thru carwashes, commonly called conveyor or tunnel carwashes. The company has locations in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee.

According to industry publications, the Zips chain ranks third in the number of locations in the tunnel carwash segment. Brett Overman, Zips' founder and chairman, said recently the company will continue to expand through acquisition, with plans to rank second in the nation by midyear.

-- John Magsam

USDA unit seeks conservation partners

Incentives are available to farmers and landowners in Benton and Washington counties who want to put in place conservation practices.

Interested participants have until March 1 to submit applications at their local U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service field service center to receive financial help though the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The program is part of a project by the Illinois River Watershed Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

Some of the conservation measures include stream bank protection, prescribed grazing, nutrient management, and tree and shrub management, according to a release.

"The Illinois River [regional] project is being implemented without conservation partners to accelerate conservation treatment to improve water quality, plant and soil health and enhance wildlife habitat," Mike Sullivan, Arkansas Natural Resources Conservation Service state conservationist, said in a statement.

-- John Magsam

GM in talks to sell its European division

FRANKFURT, Germany -- France's PSA Group, maker of Peugeot and Citroen cars, said it's exploring a takeover of Opel, General Motors' money-losing European business.

Cutting Opel loose could mean a solution to GM's long-running drama over losses in Europe -- but the Detroit-based automaker cautioned that a deal isn't a sure thing.

PSA Group said in a statement Tuesday that it is considering "numerous strategic initiatives" that would expand the existing cooperation between the two companies, and that a takeover of Opel is one of them. PSA Group and GM are already involved in several joint projects in Europe. GM acknowledged the talks and cautioned that "there can be no assurance that an agreement will be reached."

Combining PSA Group with Opel and its British brand Vauxhall would create the second-largest carmaker by market share in Europe, with 16.6 percent of sales according to 2016 figures. The combination would be second only to Volkswagen, with 23.9 percent, and would vault ahead of the Renault-Nissan alliance, which had 13.9 percent.

GM last made a full-year pretax profit in Europe in 1999.

-- The Associated Press

Toshiba writes off nuclear hopes, $6B

TOKYO -- Toshiba, the embattled technology conglomerate, said it planned to write off more than $6 billion and withdraw from the business of building nuclear power plants as the impact of a disastrous bet on U.S. nuclear energy continued to rock a mainstay of corporate Japan.

The company also said on Tuesday that its chairman, Shigenori Shiga, would resign, ending weeks of speculation.

The company said it was examining whether managers had acted inappropriately when they struck a deal to buy a company at the center of the problems.

The trouble stems from Toshiba's management of Westinghouse Electric Co., the U.S. nuclear power business it acquired a decade ago. Westinghouse faces spiraling cost overruns at nuclear plant projects in the United States, and Toshiba said on Tuesday that it would like to sell all, or part, of its controlling stake in the company.

"If we can find the right partner, we want to move in that direction," said Satoshi Tsunakawa, Toshiba's president.

-- Bloomberg News

Gas costs send wholesale prices higher

WASHINGTON -- U.S. wholesale prices jumped in January by the most since September 2012, led by higher costs of gasoline.

The 0.6 percent gain in the producer-price index followed a 0.2 percent advance the prior month, a Labor Department report showed Tuesday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for a 0.3 percent rise. The measure was up 1.6 percent from a year earlier, also more than forecast.

The pickup in prices, which also reflected higher retailer and wholesaler margins, is the latest signal that broader inflation continues to move toward the goal of Federal Reserve policy makers.

Wholesale prices of goods increased 1 percent in January, the most since May 2015. Half of that pickup was attributed to a 12.9 percent surge in the price of gasoline. Costs of pharmaceuticals, scrap steel, heating oil, natural gas and pork also moved higher.

-- Bloomberg News

Microsoft: Cybersecurity a global issue

REDMOND, Wash. -- Microsoft Corp. is urging countries to step up protection for civilians from state-sponsored cyberhacking through the formation of international agreements similar to the Geneva Conventions and an independent group to investigate and share evidence on the attacks.

The company also is advocating bilateral accords, such as the possibility that "the United States and Russia can hammer out a future agreement to ban the nation-state hacking of all the civilian aspects of our economic and political infrastructures," Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith wrote Tuesday in a blog post outlining the proposals.

Smith wants nations to back recommendations made in 2015 by experts from 20 countries, which included suggestions such as barring governments from damaging others' critical infrastructure or using information and communications technology for malicious activity. He likened this sort of agreement to the 1949 Geneva Conventions that established international standards for the treatment of civilians in wartime.

--Bloomberg News

Business on 02/15/2017