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Beer prices heading higher

First coffee, now beer.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Starbucks has started charging more for some coffee drinks in a few markets, including the Raleigh area, before increasing prices everywhere.

This morning, the newspaper notes that Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors plan to raise prices in most markets. The two companies account for about 80 percent of U.S. beer sales.

The companies also raised prices about the same time last year. The latest move could create an opportunity for smaller rivals and local brewers to win customers.

Despite declining beer sales, prices continue to rise faster than other consumer goods. In July, the price of beer and other malt beverages for consumption at home rose 4.6 percent from a year earlier, according to Labor Department data.

Starbucks raising some drink prices

It's not your imagination: Your Starbucks caffeine habit might cost a bit more this morning. Or maybe just a little less.

The coffee chain has began adjusting some drink prices in several cities, including the Raleigh area, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Customers buying larger and more complex drinks will pay up to 25 cents more. But small and more basic drinks will cost a dime or nickel less, the newspaper reported.

Piedmont asks customers to 'round up' bills: It's for a good cause

The state's largest natural gas utility is asking its customers to pay a little extra each month, in a novel effort to help cover heating bills for low-income residents.

Piedmont Natural Gas, with 725,000 customers in the state, expects a surge of delinquent bills this winter in the midst of a grinding recession and is hoping to avert a corresponding increase in disconnected accounts.

The company this morning introduced a program to let its customers sign up to "round up" their bills, with the difference going to a fund to help residents who can't afford to pay their utility bills. The program rounds up Piedmont customer bills to the nearest dollar and will result in an average monthly donation of 50 cents, or about $6 a year.

Auto insurers to reduce rates

Finally, some good news amid the recessionary gloom for North Carolina drivers.

About one million auto insurance policyholders in North Carolina are due more than $50 million in refunds next year under the settlement of a rate dispute between the Insurance Commissioner and auto insurers.

The settlement announced this morning eliminates a 9.4 percent rate hike sought last year by the N.C. Rate Bureau, which represents 144 auto insurers, and instead reduces rates by one-half percent.

The agreement also cancels an additional 1.4 percent rate increase insurers sought earlier this year and prevents them from seeking a rate hike until 2011.

“This settlement is a great deal and is terrific news for North Carolina consumers,” said Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, who noted that the settlement makes premiums slightly lower than they were in 2006.

The new premiums go into effect Nov. 1 but are retroactive to Jan. 1.

Read our full report here

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