Business news in brief

Disney plans all-out 'Star Wars' toys push

For Star Wars fans, Christmas is coming early this year: on Friday, when the toys tied to Walt Disney Co.'s first film in the space-adventure series go on sale.

Three months before Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters, the company is staking its claim on gift lists, with everything from Captain Phasma action figures to Nerf crossbows and blasters. Disney on Wednesday unveiled plans for events leading up to this week's "Force Friday." They include a global unwrapping of Star Wars merchandise on YouTube by the company's Internet video division, Maker Studios, and coverage on ABC's Good Morning America.

If all goes according to plan, fans, many in costumes, will be lining up well before any new Chewbacca masks, lightsabers or red-armed C-3PO action figures go on sale. The products, built around one of the highest-grossing film franchises in history, could help the toy industry score its best growth in more than a decade, according to NPD Group Inc. The researcher predicts the industry's U.S. retail sales will increase 6.2 percent to $19.9 billion this year.

"There's nothing more fun for Star Wars fans than being in a crowd of other Star Wars fans," said Steve Sansweet, the former head of fan relations at Lucasfilm, which created the series.

Amazon offers 1-hour Seattle liquor runs Inc. is offering one-hour delivery of wine, beer and spirits in a U.S. city for the first time through its Prime Now program, adding a twist to on-demand delivery starting in the Seattle area.

Seattle also is the only U.S. location where Amazon customers can order liquor and beer. In the rest of the country, Amazon's alcohol sales are limited to wine. The company already provides quick alcohol delivery in London.

The Seattle-based e-commerce giant is testing the online alcohol delivery market, which is estimated to increase to $1.4 billion in sales by 2020, according to IBISWorld.

Amazon made the announcement Tuesday as it added Seattle to the list of U.S. cities -- New York, Miami and Atlanta are among others -- where same-day delivery of everyday items is available for subscribers of Amazon Prime, a $99 annual membership program that includes delivery discounts.

Two-hour delivery is free through Prime Now and one-hour service is $7.99.

Irish famine blight-resistant potato OK'd

BOISE, Idaho -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved a potato genetically engineered by Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co. to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine and that still damages crops around the world.

"For historical reasons and current agriculture reasons, this is an important milestone," said Haven Baker, vice president of plant sciences at Simplot. "The Irish potato famine did change a lot of Western history. Even today -- a 160 years later -- late blight is a $5 billion problem for the global potato industry."

The USDA made the announcement Friday on its website.

The Russet Burbank variety the USDA approved is the second generation of Simplot's Innate potatoes and also includes the first generation's reduced bruising and a greater reduction in a chemical produced at high temperatures some studies have shown can cause cancer.

The second-generation potato also includes a trait the company said will allow potatoes to be stored at colder temperatures longer to reduce food waste.

Baker notes that the modifications were made by silencing existing genes or adding genes from other types of potatoes.

The late blight resistance, he said, came from an Argentinian variety of potato that naturally produced a defense to late blight.

"It's potato genes in the potato," he said. "There are clear benefits for everybody, and it's just a potato."

-- The Associated Press

Rare Japanese whiskey fetches $118,500

A bottle of 1960 Karuizawa sold for $118,500 at Bonhams in Hong Kong on Friday, setting an auction record for a Japanese whiskey.

One of only 41 bottles ever made, after being aged 52 years in casks, the Karuizawa is considered the holy grail of Japanese whiskies by collectors. A southeast Asian buyer made the winning bid by telephone, according to Bonhams.

The same bidder also paid $490,000 for a 54-bottle, Hanyu Ichiro "Playing Card" series, the most ever paid for a lot at a whiskey auction, indicating the recent stock market turmoil hasn't dented demand.

"I was surprised by the competition," Aaron Chan, a Hong Kong-based collector who was outbid for the Hanyu lot, said by telephone. "The Shanghai stock market doesn't seem to have had any effect at all."

A surge in demand for rare whiskies has lead to triple-digit returns in recent years. According to the Investment Grade Scotch Index, published by Whisky Highland in Tain, Scotland, the top 100 single malts delivered an average return of 440 percent from the start of 2008 to July 2014.

Japan law fosters hiring of female execs

TOKYO -- Japanese lawmakers approved a law Friday requiring large employers to set and publicize targets for hiring or promoting women as managers.

The law approved by a vote of 230-1 in the House of Councillors is intended to promote greater gender equality and counter labor shortages that are arising as Japan's population ages and declines.

The decision coincided with an international conference showcasing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's commitment to increasing the share of women in leadership positions to 30 percent.

Japan lags most other industrial countries in this respect, and Abe has spearheaded various empowerment initiatives, vowing to make it a society where "women shine."

The law is effective for the coming 10 years and applies to companies with 300 employees or more. Small and medium companies account for more than 99 percent of all companies and more than 70 percent of all employment in Japan, according to government data.

-- The Associated Press

FCC to revisit Pandora radio-station OK

Federal regulators are reconsidering their approval of Pandora Media Inc.'s purchase of a South Dakota radio station in order to pay lower music royalties.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has asked fellow commissioners to vote on a request to reconsider the agency's May 1 approval of the station purchase, according to the FCC's website.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers -- ASCAP -- on June 3 asked the FCC to reconsider its order letting Pandora buy KXMZ-FM in Rapid City, S.D. The FCC departed without explanation from previous policy, according to ASCAP, which represents rights holders such as songwriters and composers.

Pandora said the FCC should reject ASCAP's request because the agency properly focused on the narrow question of the extent of foreign ownership for Pandora.

Neil Grace, a spokesman for the FCC, declined to comment on Friday.

-- The Associated Press

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