The week that was: 3/23/14

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A billion reasons to bracket

The unveiling of the NCAA tournament bracket will no doubt launch the annual debate over whether the obligatory office pools hurt productivity more than they boost staff morale. The outplacement company Challenger, Gray and Christmas estimates 50 million of us will participate in March Madness office pools, collectively costing companies $1.2 billion for every unproductive workday hour during the first week alone. The temptation to dive in the office pool, though, may be too great now with the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge, an idea dreamed up by Warren Buffett that offers some serious cash to anyone who picks a perfect bracket.

At least we can keep “Cheese Whiz”

The European Union is upset that American food producers are branding their cheese products with European geographic names, such as Asiago and Roquefort. Reminiscent of the Champagne region controversy that pushed wineries in the U.S. and other countries to label their products “sparkling wine,” the issue has come up in negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, reports PG reporter Tracie Mauriello.

Costly recalls for Toyota, GM

Last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Toyota will pay a $1.2 billion fine to settle a criminal investigation regarding stuck accelerators that eventually led to the recall of more than 10 million vehicles. The investigation was looking into the car company’s delay in reporting problems such as faulty brakes and sticking gas pedals.

Meanwhile, General Motors, America’s top automaker, said it will take a $300 million charge to cover costs related to the recall and other fallout from faulty ignition switches that may have contributed to at least 12 deaths. The problem has the attention of government criminal investigators looking into the delay in addressing reports that a jostled ignition key could switch off the engine and disable airbags as the vehicle was moving.

Making a case for cooperation

Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers, says its most recent quarterly survey found that 72 percent of responding CEOs expect to see increased sales in the next six months but only 37 percent plan to add to their workforce. Meanwhile, 56 percent said they would both invest and hire more if Congress and the Obama administration cooperated on business tax and immigration reform, and addressed free trade agreements in Europe and the Pacific.

Steve Twedt: or 412-263-1963.

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