Business news in brief – mobile gas apple pay

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Lapovations, a medical device company, became the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville startup to accumulate the most competition winnings, after it took home $1,500 for its elevator pitch at the University of Oregon New Venture Championship competition.

Lapovations is developing a noninvasive alternative for lifting the abdominal wall in laparoscopic surgeries. Lapovations’ chief executive officer, Jared Greer, a master’s student with the Department of Biomedical Engineering, along with fellow students and company executives Flavia Araujo and Michael Dunavant, competed on behalf of the company.

Production at Ford’s Mexican factories plunged 31 percent last month to the lowest for any April since at least 2009, according to data compiled by a trade group of automakers. Ford’s exports from Mexico, most of which go to the U.S., sank 36 percent.

The downturn underscores Ford’s strategic shift in the U.S., where the company will refocus around lucrative trucks and sport utility vehicles while abandoning money-losing sedans. Two of the three models that Ford makes in Mexico, the Fiesta subcompact and Fusion family car, are marked for death in the U.S. The third, the Lincoln MKZ, shares the mechanical underpinnings of the Fusion and is built on the same assembly line, which leaves its future in doubt.

"We are constantly adjusting production to the demands of the North American market, with the goal of reducing inventory," Ford said in an emailed statement. The company’s production fell 18 percent in the first four months of the year compared with the same period a year earlier.

In Mexico, Ford’s auto sales grew 5.2 percent last month, according to an association of auto dealers. The Dearborn, Mich.-based carmaker has been consistently losing ground to Kia Motors Corp. and other Asian rivals that have been coaxing Mexican buyers away from U.S. brands.

Though stored gas supplies are 28 percent below normal for the time of year after a frigid April increased consumption of the heating fuel, production from shale basins has surged to a record. Traders and analysts are keeping a close eye on weekly changes in storage as a sign of whether output will overwhelm demand and send prices plunging, even as the U.S. exports more gas to Mexico and overseas buyers.

Output of maple syrup in Quebec, the largest global producer, is poised to fall as much as 27 percent to 110 million pounds, according to the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers — a government-sanctioned sales agency that sets bulk prices for about 72 percent of the world’s syrup and limits farmer output through quotas. Production was hurt after below-average daytime temperatures resulted in less sap flowing from the province’s trees.

The reserve, which was the scene of a notorious monthslong heist that ended in 2012, hasn’t been tapped to offset production shortfalls since 2015. Quebec has recently moved to increase quotas and boost output of maple syrup as U.S. producers are increasing their share of the world market.

The 23 largest airlines reported a combined after-tax profit for the fifth consecutive year, representing a strong rebound from nearly a decade of losses following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the recession that followed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The airline industry played down the profit increase in 2017, crediting it partly to the tax overhaul legislation adopted by federal lawmakers last year. Airline representatives noted that fuel and labor costs increased last year by more than $7 billion, compared with 2016.

The London-based company is working with Morgan Stanley to advise on the plans, said the people, asking not to be identified as the matter is private. BP is weighing teaming up with other suitors or swapping conventional assets — where oil and gas typically flow more easily to the surface than shale — with BHP, they said.

BHP is selling 800,000 net acres in the Eagle Ford, Permian, Haynseville and Fayetteville shale basins it has said are worth at least $10 billion. It is preparing to sell those assets in up to seven packages, including three in highly prized Permian, people familiar with the matter said this month. It’s not clear which of those assets BP wants to buy.

Drug companies including Johnson & Johnson and McKesson Corp. are preparing to take their chances in court rather than pay billions of dollars to settle lawsuits blaming them for opioid addictions that claim the lives of more than 100 Americans daily, according to six people familiar with settlement talks.

With the first trial over opioids just 10 months away, the companies are counting on narrowing or defeating lawsuits by 17 states and hundreds of counties and cities, which would lower or eliminate their settlement costs. But if the defenses fail, the cost of a deal could rise.

Settlement talks sponsored by state attorneys general have been going on since last year, and companies seemed willing to consider a quick global deal to put the litigation behind them without risking bankruptcy. But as negotiations pressed forward in law-firm conference rooms in Dallas and Chicago, the companies lately have shown more confidence in their legal defenses, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.

Productivity, the amount of output per hour of work, is a key factor determining how fast the economy can grow and how much living standards can increase. Gains in productivity allow companies to pay their workers more without having to boost the cost of their products, a move that can increase inflation.