Nation’s trade deficit reaches record high four years straight

WASHINGTON – American appetites for all things foreign, from oil to cars to clothing, pushed the trade deficit to yet another record in 2005.

And the year’s $201.6 billion deficit with China, the largest ever recorded with a single country, brought demands for a crackdown on what the U.S. sees as unfair trade practices.

The Commerce Department reported Friday that the overall trade gap climbed to an all-time high of $725.8 billion last year. The deficit was up 17.5 percent from 2004, marking the fourth straight record.

The chief culprit in pushing the deficit up last year was record oil prices and increased demand because of a loss of Gulf Coast production following Hurricane Katrina.

Pfizer puts up poor performance

NEW YORK – Pfizer Inc. disappointed Wall Street on Friday with a 2006 earnings prediction that fell below analysts’ forecasts while announcing revenue growth would be flat as it continues to struggle with patent losses.

Shares of the world’s largest drug company fell 66 cents, or 2.5 percent, to close at $25.68 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Friday’s projection comes just months after Pfizer rescinded its earlier forecast of double-digit growth in 2006, and an even stronger performance the following year. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were expecting Pfizer’s income to grow around 2 percent but now the company projects it will fall 1 percent.

The company projects 2006 earnings of about $2 per share, excluding special items. Analysts, on average, had projected a profit of $2.04 per share. Pfizer reported adjusted profit of $2.02 per share in 2005 on sales of $51.3 billion. The company said 2006 sales would be “comparable” to 2005.

Univision considers putting company up for sale

LOS ANGELES – Conquering the U.S. Spanish-language television, radio and recorded music market has left Univision Communications Inc. with a quandary: Where to look for growth?

The answer will likely drive a decision by the Los Angeles-based media conglomerate which this week announced it is exploring a possible sale of all or parts of the company or future acquisitions, analysts said.

“They already have 80 percent market share, where are they going to go from here but down?” said Philip Remek, a senior equity analyst with Guzman & Company in Miami.

The company did not spell out the reasons behind its move in its announcement this week. Several Wall Street analysts said a sale is the most likely outcome. Univision shares closed Friday at $34.70, up 11 percent for the week.

Netflix treats some renters better than others

SAN FRANCISCO -Manuel Villanueva realized he has been getting a pretty good deal since he signed up for Netflix Inc.’s online DVD rental service 2 1/2 years ago, but he still feels shortchanged.

That’s because the $17.99 monthly fee that he pays to rent up to three DVDs at a time would amount to an even bigger bargain if the company didn’t penalize him for returning his movies so quickly.

Netflix typically sends about 13 movies per month to Villanueva’s home in Warren, Mich. — down from the 18 to 22 DVDs he once received before the company’s automated system identified him as a heavy renter and began delaying his shipments to protect its profits.

The same Netflix formula also shoves Villanueva to the back of the line for the most-wanted DVDs, so the service can send those popular flicks to new subscribers and infrequent renters.

The little-known practice, called “throttling” by critics, means Netflix customers who pay the same price for the same service are often treated differently, depending on their rental patterns.

Compiled by Alaythia Burkins Source: The Associated Press