Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Mar 07, 2012 5:59 PM
Business Highlights

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Apple unveils `new iPad' with sharper screen

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Apple gave the new iPad a bunch of new features but no new name.

When it goes on sale next week in the U.S. and several other countries, it will be "the iPad" or perhaps "the new iPad" _ not "iPad 3" or "iPad HD," as some had speculated.

The lack of a new name could cause confusion for buyers, particularly since the older model, the "iPad 2," will still be sold.

The new iPad unveiled Wednesday has, as expected, a sharper screen, driven by a faster processing chip that acts as the "brains" of the device. What was more surprising was that the new features mean the tablet computer will be slightly thicker and heavier than the iPad 2, because it needs a larger battery to power the high-resolution screen.

Prices aren't changing from the previous models. They start at $499. Versions capable of accessing cellular networks will cost $629 to $829.

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Hiring grows as companies hit limits with workers

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. companies will have to keep hiring steadily to meet rising demand from customers.

That's the message that emerged from a report Wednesday that employers are finding it harder to squeeze more output from their existing staff. It also helps explain why ADP, a payroll provider, estimated Thursday that companies added 216,000 workers last month.

Those findings reinforced confidence that 2012 will mark a turning point for the long-suffering job market and the economy. Applications for unemployment benefits have tumbled. Consumer confidence is at its highest point in a year. And the stock market has been on a tear since the year began.

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More natural gas vehicles hitting the market

DETROIT (AP) _ More natural gas-powered vehicles will hit the market soon, as rising gasoline prices, booming natural gas production and proposed tax credits make them a more attractive option. But they're a long way from being a common sight in U.S. driveways.

Starting in July, Chrysler will sell a Ram 2500 Heavy Duty pickup that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG). The truck has both gasoline and natural gas storage tanks, and the engine shifts automatically between the two, without the driver needing to push a switch. The truck can run for 255 miles on natural gas and the range is extended to 367 miles using gasoline. Once the CNG tanks are empty, the vehicle shifts to gasoline. The dashboard has fuel gauges for both.

Chrysler will have competition. Late this year, General Motors Co. will sell natural-gas versions of two pickups _ the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 HD. The GM trucks will run on gasoline and natural gas for 650 miles. Ford Motor Co. has offered natural-gas ready pickups and vans since 2009.

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Greek bond swap gains momentum as deadline nears

BRUSSELS (AP) _ Greece saw investors' participation in a massive debt relief deal rise on Wednesday, bringing the country closer to avoiding a default that would plunge it into financial chaos and re-ignite the European debt crisis.

About 24 hours before the deadline for acceptances, investors owning around half of Greece's privately held debt had committed publicly to the bond swap, in which they will accept losses to avoid facing even bigger ones in the event of an outright default by Athens.

For the deal to work _ and for Greece to secure a related $171 billion bailout _ Greece needs 90 percent of investors to sign up. However, a voluntary participation rate of around 70 percent could be enough to force most holdouts to go along.

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Solar storm headed toward Earth may disrupt power

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The largest solar storm in five years is racing toward Earth, threatening to unleash a torrent of charged particles that could disrupt power grids, GPS and airplane navigation.

The sun erupted Tuesday evening, and the effects should start smacking Earth between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. EST Thursday, according to forecasters at the federal government's Space Weather Prediction Center. They say the storm, which started with a massive solar flare, is growing as it speeds outward from the sun.

Scientists say the sun has been relatively quiet for some time. And this storm, while strong, may seem fiercer because Earth has been lulled by several years of weak solar activity.

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Consumers borrowed $17.8 billion more in January

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Americans stepped up borrowing in January to buy more cars and attend school.

Consumer borrowing rose by $17.8 billion in January, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday. That followed similar gains in December and November.

The gains for those three months were the largest in a decade and helped consumer borrowing climb to a seasonally adjusted $2.5 trillion. That nearly matches the pre-recession borrowing level.

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Consumer group sues 8 drug makers over drug coupons

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ Eight major drug makers are being sued by a consumer coalition claiming the companies' popular coupon programs, which cover much of the patient co-payment for hundreds of brand-name prescription medicines, are illegal.

Community Catalyst alleges the increasingly common coupon programs appear to save patients money but increase overall health care costs significantly and violate federal bribery laws because they're meant to conceal information about the payments from health insurance plans.

The coupons will eventually drive up consumers' health premiums and can cause patients to reach benefit caps quicker, according to Community Catalyst's Prescription Access Litigation project, which has sued drug makers over their pricing and promotion strategies.

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AMR's American will freeze pensions, not kill them

DALLAS (AP) _ American Airlines told employees Wednesday that it will freeze pensions for most workers instead of terminating them, as the company reorganizes under bankruptcy protection.

The freeze will apply to flight attendants and ground workers but not to pilots. The pilots' pension plan includes a lump-sum payment upon retirement, and the company fears a surge in retirements would leave it without enough pilots to operate.

The decision to freeze instead of terminate pensions was a surprise. American hopes that the gesture will push labor unions to go along with other cost-cutting steps.

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H&R Block trims loss in 3rd quarter

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ H&R Block Inc. says its loss narrowed in its fiscal third quarter as the company set aside a smaller provision for loan losses.

The nation's largest tax preparer said Wednesday that it lost $3.3 million, or a penny per share, for the three months ended Jan. 31. That compares with a loss of $12.7 million, or 4 cents a share, a year earlier.

Revenue fell 2.5 percent to $663.3 million from $680.3 million.

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Taco Bell introduces Doritos taco shell

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Taco Bell hopes to turn orange Doritos cheese powder into green _ as in cash from its latest invention.

The Mexican-style chain plans to roll out Doritos Locos Tacos at midnight on Wednesday at its nearly 5,600 restaurants nationwide. The fast-food chain, a unit of Yum Brands Inc., calls the tacos that use shells made out of Nacho Cheese Doritos the biggest product launch in its 50-year history. It plans to introduce a Doritos Cool Ranch taco shell this fall.

The company said it plans to spend up to $75 million to advertise the new tacos _ about three times more than it typically spends to promote new menu rollouts.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 78.18 points, or 0.6 percent, at 12,837.33. The S&P 500 index gained 9.27, or 0.7 percent, to close at 1,352.63. The Nasdaq composite index added 25.37, or 0.9 percent, to close at 2,935.69.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate, which is used to price oil produced in the U.S., added $1.46 to end at $106.16 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which prices foreign oils that are imported by U.S. refineries, increased by $2.14 to finish at $124.12 per barrel in London.

Natural gas futures fell by 5.4 cents Wednesday to $2.302 per 1,000 cubic feet in New York. That's the lowest price since Feb. 15, 2002, and down 69 cents from the start of the year.

In other energy trading, heating oil rose 3.12 cents to finish at $3.2194 per gallon and gasoline futures rose by 5.75 cents to finish at $3.2874 per gallon.