Business News at a Glance

Posted January 3, 2018 9:44 p.m. EST

Deep Freeze Raises Fear of Fuel Shortages as U.S. Tries to Stay Warm

Homeowners, businesses and utilities across much of the United States were keeping a close watch on fuel supplies Wednesday as a record-setting cold snap caused demand for heating oil and natural gas to soar. With heating units in homes and commercial buildings running furiously, power companies warned of possible fuel shortages to come. Many utilities turned to coal and oil to generate electricity as the price of natural gas surged. The cost of residential heating oil at the end of December rose 13 percent, to $2.92 a gallon, compared with the same period in 2016.

Unmatched 7-Year Rise in Auto Sales Comes to End

After seven straight years of growth in domestic new-vehicle sales, U.S. auto manufacturers Wednesday reported a decline of about 1.8 percent in 2017, to 17.2 million cars and light trucks. Further dampening the mood is the consensus that 2018 will bring an even larger drop., an auto-information website, predicts that just 16.8 million light vehicles will be sold this year. Some factors that propelled the upward swing are now fading or changing course: Exceptionally low interest rates are turning higher. And quality has improved, customer-satisfaction surveys have shown, so many Americans are keeping their cars longer.

Pondering Digital Currency to Evade Sting of Sanctions

Russian and Venezuelan officials are hoping virtual currencies can help their countries make an end run around American sanctions. Both governments, with ambitions to create state-sponsored cryptocurrencies, are looking to take advantage of the promise that bitcoin introduced to the world financial system: a new kind of money and financial infrastructure, outside the control of any central authority, particularly the United States. The Russian and Venezuelan plans underscore how the rise of virtual currencies is pushing governments around the world to rethink the most basic elements of their own currencies and financial infrastructure.

2 Big Flaws Discovered in Nearly All Computers

Computer security experts have discovered two major security flaws in the microprocessors inside nearly all of the world’s computers. The two problems, called Meltdown and Spectre, could allow hackers to steal the entire memory contents of computers, including mobile devices, personal computers, servers running in so-called cloud computer networks. There is no easy fix for Spectre, which could require redesigning the processors, according to researchers. As for Meltdown, the software patch needed to fix the issue could slow down computers by as much as 30 percent. By Wednesday evening, Google and Microsoft said they had updated their systems to deal with the flaw.

Promising Drugs Await U.S. Approval as China Broadens Role in Industry

Three new cancer drugs created in China show encouraging results, and need just one more step to be approved for use in the United States. If they clear American regulatory hurdles, they can stand as proof of China’s growing ability to produce cutting-edge treatments, part of a broader transformation of the country’s economy as it moves into higher-value and increasingly complex sectors. For years, China’s drug industry concentrated on replicating Western medicines. The country is now pushing to play a bigger role in the global drug industry, and the government has made pharmaceutical innovation a national priority.

Equal Pay Law Taking Effect in Iceland

Iceland this week began putting in place a new law that requires companies and government agencies to prove they are paying men and women equally. The Equal Pay Standard, which was part of broader legislation that was proposed last March and passed in June, took effect Monday. It says that companies with 25 full-time employees or more must analyze their salary structures every three years to ensure that men and women are being paid the same amount for doing the same jobs. Then they must report back to the government for certification or face penalties that include fines.

Chinese Company Agrees to Buy Uber Rival in Brazil

Didi Chuxing, the Chinese ride-sharing company, agreed to acquire full control of 99 — the main Brazilian rival to Uber and a company in which Didi already holds a stake — for around $600 million, according to three people with knowledge of the transaction. The all-cash deal changes the global competitive landscape for ride-hailing companies, particularly Uber and Didi, the industry’s two biggest players. Uber and Didi have teamed up in some countries, including China, but Didi’s decision to buy a major Uber competitor in Brazil puts the companies at loggerheads in Latin America.

Spotify Said to Be Going Public Early This Year

Spotify is finally ready to go public. The streaming music giant filed a confidential registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission in late December, with the intention of listing its shares on the New York Stock Exchange in the first quarter of this year, according to two people briefed on the company’s plans. As expected, Spotify will pursue a direct listing of its shares, an unusual process in which no new stock is issued — and therefore no money is raised — but existing investors and insiders can trade their shares on the open market.

Tesla Says Production of New Mass-Market Car Is Lagging

Tesla’s first mass-market offering keeps encountering roadblocks. The electric-car maker said Wednesday that production of the new vehicle, the Model 3, in the final quarter of 2017 was far behind what its chief executive, Elon Musk, forecast when it went into production six months ago. Priced at $35,000, the Model 3 has been touted by Musk as an affordable, high-volume compact sedan that would enable Tesla to sell more than 500,000 cars a year starting in 2018. In July, Musk predicted that Tesla would be able to make 20,000 Model 3s a month by December. But in the past three months, it has built only 2,425.