It may be early November, but UPS is already preparing to handle millions of holiday gift returns, as online shopping drives increased returns.

The shipping giant said this week it expects to handle more than 1 million return shipments a day in December.

There are two spikes in returns, according to UPS: One is the week before Christmas driven by retailer promotions, and another comes after the holidays, on Jan. 2, which UPS calls "National Returns Day."

On Jan. 2, UPS expects to handle 1.9 million return packages, up 26% from the peak day last holiday season.

"Gone are the days when returns were isolated to January," said UPS chief marketing officer Kevin Warren in a written statement. Consumers are now "sending packages back to retailers all season long."

UPS has added Michaels and CVS stores as "Access Points" where customers can pick up and return UPS packages.


Mueller Water Products boosts sales, profits

Mueller Water Products Inc. (MWA) on Tuesday reported fiscal fourth-quarter profit of $40.2 million, or 25 cents per share, up from from $25 million, or 16 cents per share, a year earlier.

The Atlanta-based company said Wednesday its earnings, adjusted for non-recurring gains, came to 19 cents per share. The results fell short of Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of seven analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 20 cents per share.

The maker of fire hydrants, pipes and water valves posted revenue of $266.9 million in the period, which also did not meet Street forecasts. Four analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $278.7 million.

For the year, the company reported profit of $63.8 million, or 40 cents per share. Revenue was reported as $968 million.


Productivity falls in third quarter

American workers were less efficient in the July-September quarter, pushing down productivity for the first time since late 2015.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that productivity, a measure of economic output for each hour worked, fell 0.3% in the third quarter. The drop comes after two quarters of healthy gains.

Productivity has increased just 1.4% in the past year, about two-thirds of its long-run average.

Economists point to many different reasons for the current sluggish level of productivity growth. Some argue that new technologies, such as smartphones and mobile software, simply aren't that economically useful. Others say that innovations like search engines, which are free to users, aren't properly captured in government data.

The Trump administration promoted its 2017 corporate tax cut as a policy that would raise productivity by encouraging businesses to invest in more computers, machinery and other equipment. Productivity did pick up in the first half of this year after growing modestly in 2018, but it now appears to be dropping back to the slow growth that has occurred since the Great Recession ended.


New York Times adds subscribers

The New York Times added 273,000 new online subscribers in the third quarter, for a total of 4 million digital readers, the company reported Wednesday. The number of total subscribers, including print and digital, hit 4.9 million, a high. Advertising was the weak spot, falling 6.7% overall, with digital ad revenue dropping 5.4%.

In the earnings statement, Mark Thompson, the chief executive, chalked up the decline to the "continued turbulence in the digital advertising space." Last year, the company benefited from a more robust ad business when it drew marketers like Google, which spent heavily to promote its cloud service. The company said it expected a "challenging" fourth quarter for digital advertising as well.

For the third quarter, the company earned $44 million in adjusted profit, or 12 cents a share, on $428.5 million in revenue, beating expectations.

The New York Times Co. kept the focus on its digital subscriber gains in its report, and Thompson called the period from July to September "our best-ever third quarter for new digital news subscriptions."


Shaq boosts sales for Papa John's

Shaquille O'Neal's new ads for Papa John's promise a brighter day at the struggling company. At the very least, it was a brighter third quarter.

The Louisville, Kentucky-based pizza chain said its North American same-store sales grew for the first time in two years in the July-September period. Sales at locations open at least a year — a key metric of a retailer's health — were up 1%.

The pizza chain posted revenue of $403.7 million in the period, topping Wall Street forecasts. Four analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research expected revenue of $387.7 million.

Third-quarter net income was $385,000, compared with a loss of $13.3 million in the same period a year ago.


Walmart, Tesla settle lawsuit over solar panels

Walmart and Tesla have settled a lawsuit filed by the retail giant alleging that Tesla installed rooftop solar panels that caught fire.

In the lawsuit filed in August, Walmart said Tesla installed solar panels that went up in flames on seven of its store rooftops from 2012 to 2018, causing millions of dollars in damage. The companies say in a joint statement that both sides have resolved issues raised by Walmart in the case.

The statement issued Wednesday says safety is a priority for both companies and they look forward to reactivating the systems.