China’s economic growth looks strong — maybe too strong

HONG KONG — The pace of growth in China’s economy accelerated last year for the first time in seven years as exports, construction and consumer spending all climbed strongly.

            At least, that’s what the government says.

            In reality, the pace of growth in China’s economy is anybody’s guess. Various signals suggest China’s growth did speed up last year, which could give the government the room it needs to tackle an accumulation of serious financial, environmental and social problems this year.

            But measuring the size and health of the world’s second-largest economy can be difficult at best. 

Antismoking plan may kill cigarettes, and save Big Tobacco

WASHINGTON — Imagine if cigarettes were no longer addictive and smoking itself became almost obsolete; only a tiny segment of Americans still lit up. That’s the goal of an unprecedented antismoking plan being carefully fashioned by U.S. health officials.

            But the proposal from the Food and Drug Administration could have another unexpected effect: opening the door for companies to sell a new generation of alternative tobacco products, allowing the industry to survive — even thrive — for generations to come. 

Amazon’s bigger Prime number; ‘Game of Thrones’ hotel; Delta pet crackdown

A bigger Prime number

              Amazon is raising the price of its Prime membership monthly plan by nearly 20 percent, but its annual fee will remain at $99. Starting Friday, new monthly members will pay $12.99 a month, up from $10.99. Qualifying college students will pay $6.49 a month, up from $5.49. Existing monthly members will start paying the higher fees next month. Amazon said its $5.99-a-month Prime membership for low-income people who receive government assistance is not affected by the price increase. 

2 Federal Reserve openings provide 1 chance to counter Trump

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve is facing a significant change in leadership that goes beyond the installation of a chairman. It is also awaiting the appointment of two other top officials who will play a crucial role in shaping Fed policy.

            President Trump, who has already nominated Jerome Powell as the Fed’s next chairman, also gets to pick a new vice chairman. But the other open position, the presidency of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, is not Trump’s choice to make.

            The New York Fed chooses its own president, a position that is often described as the second-most powerful at the Fed. 

Workers at Apple supplier Catcher describe harsh conditions

At a Catcher Technology Co. manufacturing complex in the Chinese industrial city of Suqian, about six hours’ drive from Shanghai, workers stand for up to 10 hours a day in hot workshops slicing and blasting iPhone casings for Apple, handling noxious chemicals sometimes without proper gloves or masks.

            These conditions — some described in a recent report by advocacy group China Labor Watch and others in Bloomberg News interviews with Catcher workers — show the downside of a high-tech boom buoying the world’s second-largest economy. 

The marriage failed. The company thrived

It might be hard to imagine a 45,000-square-foot “Star Wars” studio of George Lucas being converted into the production facility for an organic cosmetics company — one that features products like a mint-and-coconut soap and sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners.

            There is something implausible about the optics of it, if nothing else. Then again, there is something implausible about San Rafael’s EO Products, beginning with its homegrown origins and the way that, more than two decades later, the company is run by Brad Black and Susan Griffin-Black, the couple who head it.

            Make that former couple. 

At retail trade show, technology is the star

The floor of the National Retail Federation’s annual trade show in New York this week was crowded with alert systems primed to recognize heavy-spending customers, shelves fitted with real-time inventory trackers and robots for every step of the supply chain.

            It was a conference about shopping that looked more like an expo for tech, as if the electronics trade show CES had decamped from Las Vegas and moved to the Javits Center in Manhattan.

            The retail federation said last week that total sales in November and December made their largest leap since 2008, surging 5.5 percent from a year earlier. This week Adobe Analytics reported that online sales over the same period grew by 14.7 percent to a record $108. 

ICYMI: Gay couple sues Vistaprint; a cashless Starbucks; Krispy Kreme vote

If you missed it …

            In a week when Forbes magazine should have come out with a spanking-new issue, this also happened:

            •Stephen Heasley and Andrew Borg sued Vistaprint after it went the extra mile in screwing up their wedding programs. The Australian couple said that when their shipment arrived, instead of programs they received religious pamphlets with messages about temptation and sin, with phrases such as “fight against Satan’s temptation and pursue what is good.” The Dutch company, which has a regional headquarters in Massachusetts, told media outlets that it would never discriminate against its customers and is investigating the incident.

            •Money talks, but cash is being muted.