Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Aug 22, 2012 5:53 PM
Business Highlights

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Airbus planes with cockpit power failures still await fixes

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — As United Flight 731 climbed out of Newark with 107 people aboard, the pilot and first officer were startled to find screens that display crucial navigational information were blank or unreadable and radios were dead.

They had no way to communicate with air traffic controllers or detect other planes around them in the New York City area's crowded airspace.

Within minutes the pilots had turned around and safely landed the Denver-bound Airbus A320 at Newark Liberty airport. They later told investigators that clear weather might have been the only thing that saved them from a crash.

The January 2008 emergency was far from the first of such multiple electrical failures in the Airbus A320 family of aircraft, and it wasn't the last, according to records reviewed by The Associated Press. More than 50 episodes involving the planes, which first went into service more than two decades ago, have been reported.

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Rise in US home sales reflects steady improvement

WASHINGTON (AP) — The recovery of the U.S. housing market is looking steadier and more sustainable, a trend that will likely add to economic growth in 2012 for the first time in seven years.

Purchases, construction and prices are gradually but consistently increasing, though they remain far below levels seen in a healthy economy.

Sales of previously occupied homes rose 2.3 percent in July from June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.47 million, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday. Over the past 12 months, sales have jumped more than 10 percent.

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T-Mobile brings back unlimited data plan

NEW YORK (AP) — Unlimited wireless data is back. After sliding off the menu of cellphone plans, data plans with no caps are making a comeback at smaller wireless companies trying to compete with AT&T and Verizon.

T-Mobile USA, the nation's fourth-largest cellphone company, said Wednesday that it will start selling an unlimited-data plan again on Sept. 5, after stopping sales of such plans early last year. A day earlier, No. 5 carrier MetroPCS cut the price of its unlimited-data plan as a promotion for a limited time.

The moves by T-Mobile USA and MetroPCS, neither of which sells the iPhone, come as their three larger rivals are thought to be gearing up to begin selling the iPhone 5 in a month or so.

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Chinese solar industry faces weak sales, price war

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese solar panel makers that grew fast over the past decade are suffering big losses due to slumping global sales and a price war that threaten an industry seen by communist leaders as a role model for hopes to transform China into a technology leader.

Another looming challenge: Moves by the U.S. and Europe toward imposing anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels that might further depress sales.

Financial problems could force painful changes in the Chinese industry including mergers, bankruptcies, factory closures or layoffs, industry analysts say.

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Middle class share of America's income shrinking

WASHINGTON (AP) — The middle class is getting less of America's total income, declining to its smallest share in decades as median wages stagnate in the economic doldrums and wealth concentrates at the top.

A study released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center highlights diminished hopes, too, for the roughly 50 percent of adults defined as middle class, with household incomes ranging from $39,000 to $118,000. The report describes this mid-tier group as suffering its "worst decade in modern history," having fallen backward in income for the first time since the end of World War II.

Three years after the recession technically ended, middle-class Americans are still feeling the economic pinch, with most saying they have been forced to reduce spending in the past year. And fewer now believe that hard work will allow them to get ahead in life. Families are now more likely to say their children's economic future will be the same or worse than their own.

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Fed's discussion suggests possible new action soon

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve officials spoke with increased urgency at their last meeting about the need to provide more help for a weak U.S. economy. Many felt further support would be needed "fairly soon" unless the economy improved significantly.

The minutes of the July 31-Aug. 1 meeting don't say what steps would most likely be taken. The boldest move would be to launch a new program of bond buying to try to lower long-term interest rates to encourage more borrowing and spending.

The minutes show many officials favored pushing the timetable for any increase in record-low short-term rates beyond the Fed's current target of late 2014 at the earliest. Some economists think the target will be extended to mid-2015. The minutes said Fed officials agreed to defer any action on extending the timetable until their next meeting in September.

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SEC mandates company disclosures on mineral use

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. regulators mandated Wednesday that public companies disclose information about their use of minerals from Congo, where militias linked to atrocities have profited from mining minerals used in electronics, jewelry and other goods.

The Securities and Exchange Commission voted 3-2 to adopt a rule under the 2010 financial overhaul law. Public companies that use the designated minerals from Congo and neighboring countries will have to disclose annually their efforts to trace the minerals back to their sources.

The SEC also voted 2-1 to require producers of oil, natural gas or minerals to disclose any payments involving commercial development that they make to the U.S. or a foreign government. The payments will include taxes, royalties and licensing fees.

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Congress warned of recession from budget stalemate

WASHINGTON (AP) — A stalemate between Democrats and Republicans that ends up boosting taxes and slashing federal spending in January would likely thrust the nation into a recession next year and cost 2 million jobs by the end of the year, Congress' top nonpartisan budget analyst warned Wednesday.

The cautionary report by the Congressional Budget Office, drearier than a similar alarm it issued in May, immediately raised the political stakes in one of this election year's signature conflicts between the two parties.

Without an agreement between President Barack Obama and Congress by January, tax reductions on virtually all taxpayers are scheduled to expire and spending cuts will be imposed on hundreds of popular domestic and defense programs. That would plunge the nation off a so-called "fiscal cliff," which each side is eager to blame on the other.

Together the scheduled tax increases and spending cuts would total nearly $500 billion next year, the report said — a huge amount of activity to suck out of a $16 trillion economy that is already struggling. That would be the largest annual reduction in the federal deficit compared to the size of the economy in more than four decades, said Douglas Elmendorf, the budget office's director.

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Toll Brothers 3Q profit rises, delivers more homes

NEW YORK (AP) — Active high-end buyers and the inklings of a housing market recovery proved to be a profitable mix for Toll Brothers in its third quarter, as it delivered more homes at higher prices. Its net income climbed 46 percent and the company raised the low end of its 2012 home deliveries forecast.

The results sent Toll Brothers' stock to its highest level in more than five years on Wednesday.

There is a broader perception of a bounce-back in the housing industry, at least compared to the wasteland of the past several years. Toll Brothers was already doing a little better because it caters to the luxury sector, which withstood the economic downturn better than others. Its target market includes households that typically make more than $100,000 a year, can afford to make a down payment of as much as 30 percent, have great credit records and an unemployment rate about half that of the general population.

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PayPal to offer in-store payments thru Discover

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — PayPal is expanding its brick-and-mortar payment services to more than 7 million stores across the U.S. in a partnership with Discover Financial Services.

EBay Inc.'s payments unit said Wednesday that retailers that take Discover cards will be able to process PayPal payments beginning next year. People will be able to pay using PayPal cards and later, mobile devices.

The move marks the latest step in PayPal's push into traditional retailers as it expands from offering online payments.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 30.82 at 13,172.76. The Nasdaq composite index added 6.41 points to 3,073.67. The Standard & Poor's 500 index eked out a gain of 0.32 point to 1,413.49.

Benchmark oil rose 42 cents to finish at $97.26 per barrel. Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties of oil, rose 27 cents to end at $114.91 per barrel in London.

Heating oil rose 0.44 cent to end at $3.1287 per gallon. Wholesale gasoline increased 3.9 cents to end at $3.1042 per gallon. Natural gas rose 5.1 cents to end at $2.826 per 1,000 cubic feet.