Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Mar 29, 2011 5:45 PM
Business Highlights

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Inflation worries push consumer confidence lower

Rising prices at the gas pump and in grocery aisles are starting to crimp shoppers' outlook.

The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index fell sharply from a three-year high in February, reversing five straight months of improvement.

The decline raises questions about Americans' ability and willingness to spend in coming months.

The index fell more than expected to 63.4 from a revised 72.0 in February. Economists expected 65.4, according to FactSet.

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Home prices hit pre-boom levels in 14 US cities

Damage from the housing bust is spreading to areas once thought to be immune.

In at least 14 major U.S. metro areas, prices are now at 2003 levels _ when the housing bubble was just starting to inflate. Prices will likely fall further this year, making many people reluctant to buy or sell. That would push down sales and prices more.

The depressed housing industry is slowing an economy that has shown strength elsewhere. And it's starting to hurt those who bought years before the housing boom began. In some cities, people who have paid their mortgages for a decade have little or no home equity.

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Toyota restricts parts orders; Honda cuts output

DETROIT (AP) _ Shortages of auto parts from Japan are hitting Honda and Toyota's North American operations.

Toyota Motor Corp. on Tuesday said it wants its U.S. car dealers to stop ordering more than 200 replacement parts made in Japan because it's worried about running out of them. Honda Motor Co. said it will temporarily cut production at its North American auto factories starting Wednesday due to shortages.

Industry analysts expect many automakers to run into shortages because supply factories in Japan were damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Several automakers already have been forced to cut production. Chrysler Group LLC, Ford Motor Co. and others have stopped taking orders for certain paint colors because a specialized pigment factory hasn't been able to come back on line.

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Rating cut deepens Portugal's financial woes

LISBON, Portugal (AP) _ Rating agency Standard & Poor's has lowered debt-stressed Portugal's credit worthiness, deepening the country's financial plight as it fights to avoid a bailout.

The agency said Tuesday it lowered its sovereign credit ratings on Portugal to BBB-/A-3 from BBB/A-2 and said the country's outlook is "negative."

It said Portugal's high debt load and poor growth prospects make it likely the ailing country will need a financial rescue package.

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S&P downgrades Greece, says more loans likely

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Standard & Poor's lowered Greece's credit rating again Tuesday, saying it was "highly likely" the country would need to take further bailout loans beyond the ones it already has.

S&P's downgrade to BB- from BB+ puts Greece's rating deeper into junk status. The agency said the country's borrowing needs are such that it will likely need more help on top of the 110 billion euros ($155 billion) in loans it is receiving from the International Monetary Fund and fellow eurozone countries.

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Lennar reports surprise 1st-quarter profit

MIAMI (AP) _ Lennar Corp. posted a surprise fiscal first-quarter profit as the homebuilder controlled costs and hedged against housing woes by purchasing troubled loans and properties from banks.

But the Miami company delivered fewer homes and reported a decline in new home orders.

Homebuilders are a bellwether for the housing market and the economy. Each new home built creates, on average, the equivalent of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes paid to local and federal authorities, by some estimates.

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Nokia sues Apple again over patents

HELSINKI (AP) _ Nokia is suing Apple in the United States for allegedly infringing patents in its mobile phones, portable music players, tablets and computers, the Finnish company said Tuesday.

The complaint, filed with United States International Trade Commission, ITC, is the latest in a string of lawsuits by Nokia and comes as the world's largest handset maker struggles to keep up with smartphone rivals such as Apple Inc.

Apple and Nokia Corp. have been locked in a long-running legal battle over patent claims, with each side accusing the other of infringing on patents that cover features such as swiping gestures on touch screens and the built-in "app store" for downloading updated programs.

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GE to buy most of Converteam in $3.2B deal

General Electric Co. said Tuesday it will spend $3.2 billion for a controlling stake in French equipment developer Converteam as it continues to position itself as a major player in what's expected to be a 20-year boom in oil and natural gas demand.

Converteam, which serves a variety of industries including oil and gas companies, is the latest of $11 billion in acquisitions by GE's energy business. GE also has acquired Dresser Inc., Wellstream Holdings, Lineage Power Holdings and Well Support in the past six months.

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Levi Strauss cited for wage violations

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Clothing maker Levi Strauss & Co. will pay about $1 million in back wages to 596 employees after the government found overtime and record keeping violations, the Labor Department said Tuesday.

A government investigation found that the San Francisco-based company misclassified several groups of workers as exempt from overtime, including assistant store managers at some newly acquired stores.

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J&J recalls more Tylenol bottles due to musty odor

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Health care products maker Johnson & Johnson recalled another lot of Tylenol on Tuesday due to a musty odor that has already triggered five other recalls of the company's over-the-counter medicines.

The latest recall involves more than 34,000 bottles of Tylenol 8 Hour Extended Release, which were distributed throughout the U.S. All of the products come from lot number ADM074, which appears on the bottom of the bottles.

It's the sixth time that the New Brunswick, N.J.-based company has recalled nonprescription medicines because of complaints about an unpleasant odor.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 81.13 points, or 0.7 percent, to 12,279.01. The S&P 500 rose 9.25 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,319.44. The Nasdaq composite rose 26.21, or 1 percent, to 2,756.89.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for May delivery gained 81 cents to settle at $104.79 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent crude added 38 cents to settle at $114.96 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil for April delivery increased 1.61 cents to settle at $3.0573 per gallon and gasoline futures rose 1.60 cents to settle at $3.0436 per gallon. Natural gas for May delivery lost 18.5 cents to settle at $4.263 per 1,000 cubic feet.