Business Briefing

Food stamp rolls break record again

About 39.4 million Americans, the most ever, received food stamps in January, the government said.

The number of recipients was up 22% from a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The total of Americans getting the subsidy has hit records for 14 consecutive months.

The national unemployment rate has hovered at 9.7% since January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Beginning Oct. 1, an average of 40.5 million people are expected to get food stamps each month this year, rising to 43.3 million in 2011, according to White House estimates.


State’s economy growing swiftly

California’s economy expanded 8% in the first two months of 2010 from the same period a year earlier, the biggest gain in almost 10 years, according to an index compiled by Comerica Inc.

The nation’s largest state by population saw gains in exports and high-tech manufacturing, according to Dana Johnson, chief economist for the Dallas-based bank.

The increase in the January-February average was the largest since October 2000, Comerica’s Meaghan Derrick said.

The continuing effects of the worst recession since the 1930s cost California 20,400 nonfarm jobs in February, after a job increase of 25,400 in January, according to Johnson.

Comerica’s California Economic Activity Index tracks nine indicators such as employment, vehicle miles traveled and hotel occupancy rates, Johnson said.


Leibovitz still owes, suit says

Photographer Annie Leibovitz is facing new accusations of not paying her bills less than a month after she struck a deal that was supposed to have resolved her financial problems.

Investment firm Brunswick Capital Partners sued the celebrity photographer Friday in a Manhattan court for failing to pay at least $315,000 in fees it claims are due as part of her financing deal with the private-equity firm Colony Capital.

Brunswick entered into an agreement with the two parties in February 2009 to seek “strategic financing” for the photographer, it said Friday in a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

In exchange for a $50,000 initial retainer and weekly $10,000 payments, Brunswick worked “exhaustively” to obtain a list of lenders for Leibovitz that included Colony, Brunswick said in the suit.

Leibovitz, 60, was sued in July by a creditor, Art Capital Group Inc., which accused her of reneging on a sales agreement connected with a $24-million loan. She settled that case in September.

Colony settled Leibovitz’s debt with Art Capital Group on March 8 and announced “a new partnership” with the photographer.

Matthew Hiltzik, a spokesman for Leibovitz, said he didn’t have an immediate comment on the lawsuit.


Basic grocery prices up 6.2%

Rising demand and reduced supply drove supermarket prices for 16 basic foods up 6.2% in the first quarter, led by gains in staples such as cheese, vegetable oil and eggs, the American Farm Bureau Federation said.

The average cost of the items for a typical consumer each week rose to $45.54 from $42.90 in the fourth quarter of 2009, the group said Monday, citing an informal survey. Costs fell 4.3% from a year earlier.

Rising the most were sliced ham, apples, bacon and boneless chicken breasts.

Hog and cattle futures jump

Hogs rose to the highest price in almost 13 years and cattle gained on speculation that U.S. meat demand will improve as warmer weather encourages consumers to grill outdoors.

Meatpackers slaughtered about 2.18 million hogs last week, up 0.7% from a year earlier, while 637,000 cattle were killed, up 4.6%, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. Wholesale-pork prices are up 33% from a year ago, and beef prices have gained 20%, according to the USDA.

On Monday, hog futures for June settlement rose 2% to 85.05 cents a pound on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, after touching 85.65 cents, the highest level for a most-active contract since May 1997.

Cattle futures for June delivery rose 0.7% to 94.2 cents a pound on the mercantile exchange. The price climbed 2.1% last week.

-- times wire reports