Business & Tech

Company that helps distribute gift cards acquired for $175M


PowerOptions chooses new supplier

PowerOptions has a new option for its power. The Boston-based consortium, which buys electricity in bulk on behalf of nonprofits and municipalities, has picked Exelon’s Constellation business to be its new power supplier in a $300 million, four-year contract. Current supplier Direct Energy’s contract with PowerOptions will end in June 2019, although Constellation says it can begin providing additional services immediately to PowerOptions’ 500-plus members – who range from Tufts Medical Center to the YMCA of Greater Boston. Among the twists that make this new contract unusual: It will allow PowerOptions members to use their electric bills to help pay for things like energy efficiency measures and electric vehicle charging stations. — JON CHESTO


Maine company that distributes gift cards sold for $175 million

PORTLAND, Maine — A Maine company that helps distribute gift cards has been acquired by a California financial technology company for $175 million. CashStar Inc., based in Portland, was acquired by Blackhawk Network. The companies made the announcement Wednesday. CashStar, an early leader in digital gifting, provides solutions for more than 300 brands to manage their consumer and business-to-business gift card programs, including Sephora, Starbucks, Gap, The Home Depot, Uber, and Walmart. CashStar will remain in its offices in Maine and Massachusetts as it becomes part of Blackhawk’s digital and incentives businesses. CashStar CEO Ben Kaplan will continue to lead the business. — AP


Uber could go public in 18 months, new CEO says

Uber could go public as soon as 18 months from now. That was the news delivered to Uber’s 16,000-person workforce today by the embattled transportation company’s new chief executive, outgoing Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, according to an employee who attended the meeting. Khosrowshahi wasn’t definitive, the person said. In a meeting that was broadcast from San Francisco across the world, Khosrowshahi said that the 8-year-old company could go public in a timeline of 18 to 36 months, but that he would have to see. In addressing the issue at his first all-hands meeting, Khosrowshahi appeared to be trying to allay one of the biggest concerns not only for investors but also for employees. With a $68 billion valuation by private investors, Uber is the most valuable startup Silicon Valley has produced over the last decade, but funders have grown frustrated by the lack of a timeline for getting their payouts. Employees have also felt pent up, as many are compensated with options in the company. — WASHINGTON POST


Customer who sued CVS over prescription prices drops lawsuit


A CVS customer wants to end a short-lived federal lawsuit that hit the drugstore chain in a sensitive area: The prices it charges for prescriptions. The customer accused CVS Health Corp. of conspiring with pharmacy benefits managers to charge insured patients more for some generic medicines than people who pay cash. The lawsuit filed earlier this month also said the chain wasn’t telling customers about the potential savings they could gain by paying cash. A CVS spokesman had called the accusations baseless and said his company doesn’t overcharge patients. The customer’s attorney filed a short notice last week asking that the case be dismissed. It offered no explanation. A similar lawsuit filed against CVS rival Walgreens is still pending. Walgreens also has denied the allegations and promises to fight them. — AP


Businesses added 237,000 jobs in August

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US businesses added a healthy 237,000 jobs in August with broad gains across several industries including construction, manufacturing, and leisure and hospitality, according to a private survey. Payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that the hiring was spread among large companies with more than 1,000 employees and medium and small firms with fewer than 500 workers. Manufacturers added 16,000 jobs and builders hired 18,000. The leisure and hospitality sector — which includes restaurants — added 51,000 workers. Health care and social assistance accounted for a gain of 42,000 jobs. Analysts predict the government’s jobs report, to be released Friday, will show a decent 180,000 jobs were added, according to data provider FactSet. The unemployment rate is expected to hold at 4.3 percent. — AP


PayPal goes old school with new credit card

PayPal Holdings is turning to its old nemesis, plastic, to help it expand beyond the digital realm. The online payments venture is introducing a credit card that offers customers 2 percent cash back on purchases — one of the industry’s highest rebate rates — with no annual fee. The rewards will appear in users’ online wallets and can be spent immediately on additional PayPal purchases or transferred to a bank. The move is part of chief executive Dan Schulman’s effort to transform PayPal from a payments button on websites into a versatile financial tool for everyday use, even in brick-and-mortar stores. — BLOOMBERG


Home Depot agrees to pay $5.7 million to governement for selling recalled items

Home Depot has agreed to pay the US government $5.7 million to settle charges that it sold recalled washing machines, fire extinguishers, and other faulty products. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission says the recalled products were sold by the home-improvement retailer between 2012 and 2016. In agreeing to the settlement, Home Depot did not admit guilt. Home Depot also agreed to continue a compliance program designed to make sure recalled products are not sold in its stores. Atlanta-based Home Depot Inc. did not immediately respond to a request for comment. — AP


Fox News off the air in Britain because of low viewership

For the few viewers in Britain who tuned into Fox News, Tuesday was a dark day. Starting at 4 p.m., the channel was pulled from British airwaves. The reason? Too few viewers. On Tuesday, Fox News’s parent company announced that it has pulled the channel off the air in Britain, thanks to low ratings. ‘‘It averages only a few thousand viewers across the day,’’ 21st Century Fox said in a statement provided to CNN. Which is not surprising, the company noted, because most of the Fox News shows target a US audience. ‘‘We have concluded that it is not in our commercial interest to continue providing Fox News in the UK,’’ the statement said. Dwindling viewership was not the station’s only problem. The channel was regularly criticized for breaching Britain’s strict television code. In 2015, a Fox News pundit’s observations about the threat of terrorism in Europe prompted several complaints. Steve Emerson, described by Fox News as a terrorism expert, said Birmingham, Britain’s second-largest city, was ‘‘totally Muslim,’’ a place ‘‘where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.’’ Those comments, demonstrably untrue, prompted social media ridicule. — AP


Microsoft and Amazon team up their voice assistants


Alexa, meet Cortana. Microsoft and Amazon are pairing their voice assistants together in a collaboration announced Wednesday. Both companies say that later this fall, users will be able to access Alexa using Cortana on Windows 10 computers and on Android and Apple devices. They’ll also be able to access Cortana on Alexa-enabled devices such as the Amazon Echo. Microsoft says the tie-up will allow Alexa customers to get access to Cortana features such as booking meetings or accessing work calendars. Cortana users, in turn, can ask Alexa to switch on smart home devices or shop on Amazon’s website. The use of voice assistants is growing. Google and Amazon already have smart speakers on the market. Apple has HomePod coming with its Siri assistant, while Samsung plans one with Microsoft’s Cortana. — AP