Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Apr 02, 2015 5:53 PM

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Exxon CEO talks Arctic oil drilling, risks, lessons

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Arctic is the next great frontier for oil and gas — and one of the most environmentally fragile places on earth.

An Energy Department advisory council study adopted last week said the U.S. should start exploring for oil and gas in the Arctic soon in order to feed future demand, and that the industry is ready to safely exploit the Arctic's huge reserves, despite recent mishaps.

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Airbnb offers Cuba lodgings in major US business expansion

HAVANA (AP) — The popular online home-rental service Airbnb is allowing American travelers to book lodging in Cuba starting Thursday in the most significant U.S. business expansion on the island since the declaration of detente between the two countries late last year.

For a half-century, the U.S. trade embargo had blocked such businesses from entering the Cuban market. In January, however, the Obama administration loosened a series of restrictions on U.S. business in an attempt to encourage the growth of the island's small private sector.

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Stock split could cost Google over $500 million

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — An unorthodox stock split designed to ensure Google CEO Larry Page and fellow co-founder Sergey Brin retain control of the Internet's most profitable company could cost Google more than half a billion dollars.

Page, 42, and Brin, 41, have maintained control over Google since they started the company in a rented Silicon Valley garage in 1998. Their ideas and leadership have spawned one of the world's best known and most powerful companies with a market value of $368 billion and a payroll of about 54,000 employees.

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New scoring system aims to help people with poor credit

NEW YORK (AP) — People struggling with a bad credit score, or lack of one, could benefit from a program rolling out in the next few months aimed at making it easier to get a Visa or MasterCard.

The company behind the widely-used FICO credit score announced Thursday a pilot program to help millions of Americans get easier access to credit, based on their record of paying utility bills, instead of their history of loan repayments.

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Medical expenses: Finding your way with a patient navigator

A medical emergency leaves you with tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid hospital bills. Your health insurance company rejects coverage for an important medical test. An unexpected diagnosis requires you to find three new medical specialists.

In today's health care system, consumers are increasingly on their own when these complex -- and often costly -- medical problems arise. Primary care doctors once helped patients manage such situations, but many physicians now have 15 minutes or less for each appointment. It's in this high-pressure environment that a new industry of patient advocates -- sometimes called patient navigators -- has emerged, offering to help guide patients through knotty health situations.

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US applications for unemployment benefits fall to 268,000 in sign of strong job market

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits dropped significantly last week, a sign of a strong job market despite evidence of tepid economic growth in the opening months of 2015.

Weekly applications for jobless aid fell 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 268,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That put jobless claims near a 15-year low of 267,000 filings in late January. The decrease shows that a slowdown in manufacturing and construction has failed to spook employers, who may be anticipating a strong spring rebound after a bleak winter.

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US factory orders rose in February for first time since July

WASHINGTON (AP) — Orders to U.S. factories rose in February, breaking a six-month losing streak.

Factory orders rose 0.2 percent in February, which was the first increase since July, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The climb was a welcome development for manufacturers struggling with disappointing economic growth in major trading partners like China, Europe and Japan. A stronger U.S. dollar also makes U.S. goods more expensive overseas.

However, the news for February was tempered by a revision in the January figure: orders fell 0.7 percent, worse than the 0.2 percent drop the government originally reported.

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US trade gap narrows as exports fall but imports drop more

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. trade deficit plunged in February as exports fell but imports dropped even more. The narrower gap could give a slight if temporary boost to U.S. economic growth, which has flagged in recent months.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that the deficit — the amount by which the value of U.S. imports exceeds the value of exports — plummeted 16.9 percent to $35.4 billion from $42.7 billion in January.

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Average US rate on 30-year mortgage barely moves at 3.7 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates barely moved this week, remaining close to historically low levels as the spring home-buying season gets underway.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday the national average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage ticked up to 3.70 percent from 3.69 percent last week.

The average rate for a 15-year mortgage, popular with homeowners who refinance, edged up to 2.98 percent from 2.97 percent last week.

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Buffett says US economy continues steady improvement

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Investor Warren Buffett says the economy continues to grow steadily, but too many people continue to miss out on the American dream.

Buffett told CNN Thursday that he doesn't see any real sign of weakness in the economy. Buffett looks at reports from the more than 80 businesses his Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate owns for insight.

But Buffett reiterated his concerns about income inequality in this country while the super-rich continue to thrive. He said that America should be able to do more to help people who are struggling do better.

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Labor issues to pressure McDonald's despite pay bump

NEW YORK (AP) — A pay bump for workers at some McDonald's restaurants isn't likely to ease the pressures the chain is facing over labor issues.

McDonald's said Wednesday it would raise wages for workers at its company-owned U.S. restaurants, which represent only about 10 percent of more than 14,300 locations. It also said it would offer paid time off for some workers.

The move marks the first time McDonald's has set a national policy on wages, according to the company, and comes after it has been a primary target for ongoing demonstrations for pay of $15 and a union. Other companies, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., have also announced pay hikes in an improving economy and at a time when worker issues are getting widespread attention.

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3 countries investigate fishing slavery exposed by AP

BENJINA, Indonesia (AP) — Officials from three countries are traveling to remote islands in eastern Indonesia to investigate how thousands of foreign fishermen wound up there as slaves and were forced to catch seafood that could eventually end up being exported to the United States and elsewhere.

A week after The Associated Press published a yearlong investigation into the problem — including showing men locked in a company cage — delegations from Thailand and Indonesia visited the island village of Benjina. Officials from Myanmar are scheduled to visit the area next week to try to determine how many of their citizens are stuck there and what can be done to bring them home.

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German crash co-pilot researched suicide, cockpit doors

BERLIN (AP) — Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz spent time online researching suicide methods and cockpit door security in the week before crashing Flight 9525, prosecutors said Thursday — the first evidence that the fatal descent may have been a premeditated act.

As the browsing history on a tablet computer found at Lubitz's apartment added a disturbing new piece to the puzzle of the March 24 crash, French investigators said they had recovered the Airbus A320's flight data recorder — another step toward completing the picture.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 65.06 points, or 0.4 percent, to 17,763.24. The S&P 500 index rose 7.27 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,066.96. The Nasdaq composite added 6.71 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,886.94.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 95 cents to close at $49.14 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $2.15 to close at $54.95 in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 7 cents to close at $1.761 a gallon. Heating oil fell 6.4 cents to close at $1.683 a gallon. Natural gas rose 10.8 cents to close at $2.713 per 1,000 cubic feet.