Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Dec 31, 2014 5:18 PM

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Bull market for stocks keeps on going in 2014

Stocks delivered again in 2014.

Even after a poor start in January and some later wobbles, the U.S. market has climbed 11.4 percent and is ending the year close to record levels. The gain has pushed the bull run for stocks into its sixth year, the longest streak since the 1990s.

Investors have been encouraged by rising corporate earnings and a strengthening U.S. economy, which helped overcome concerns about Russia and the end of the Federal Reserve's stimulus program. Those who stuck it out were rewarded with double-digit returns for the fifth year out of the last six.

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Big winners in China's stock market boom

BEIJING (AP) — 2014 was the Year of the Bull in China's stock market as the main index surged 54 percent, buoyed by hopes Beijing will do more to reverse a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy.

A rally that began in June has been supported by easier credit to finance trading and cheerleading from the state press, which says China needs active stock markets to make the economy more productive. More recently, it was bolstered by an interest rate cut and official moves to permit banks to lend more.

Analysts warn the latest rally might be unsustainable.

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New year may bring more small business help from Washington

NEW YORK (AP) — Small business owners may get more help from Washington in 2015.

Gridlock in Washington in recent years has stalled tax bills and other legislation aimed at helping small companies, but such proposals are expected to be on the agenda in the Republican-led Congress. Democrats have opposed some proposals because of concerns about the impact of those tax breaks on the federal budget.

Parts of the health care law are likely to be debated. And lawmakers and the Small Business Administration hope to make it easier for companies to borrow.

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Applications for US jobless aid rise, but growth looks solid

WASHINGTON (AP) — More Americans sought unemployment benefits last week, but the number of applications continues to be at historically low levels that suggest solid economic growth will continue.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that applications for unemployment benefits climbed 17,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 298,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 250 to 290,750. That average has plummeted 17.5 percent in the past 12 months.

Steadily accelerating job growth has helped fuel the economy.

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US pending home climb slightly in November

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans signing contracts to buy homes rose modestly in November as a strengthening economy helped nudge some would-be homebuyers.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index climbed 0.8 percent the past month to 104.8 from a revised 104 in October. The index remains slightly below its 2013 average but is 4.1 percent higher than last November.

Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a contract and a completed sale.

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P-GfK Poll: Americans support menu labeling

WASHINGTON (AP) — Most Americans favor labeling calories on menus in fast food and sit-down restaurants. That's according to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in December that found most favor labels for prepared foods in the grocery store, too.

The poll was conducted just after the Food and Drug Administration announced new rules that will require establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post calorie information on menus.

Less than half approved of requiring the calorie postings in other dining locations, such as coffee shops, vending machines, movie theaters or amusement parks.

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Volkswagen recalls 38,000 cars due to fire risk

NEW YORK (AP) — The Volkswagen Group of America is recalling about 38,000 cars because a fuel leak in the engine may cause a fire.

The automaker said no injuries or accidents have been reported.

The recall covers 2014 to 2015 model years of the Volkswagen Beetle, Jetta, Passat and 2015 models of the Golf and GTI.

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With digital forces at the gate, a down year for Hollywood

NEW YORK (AP) — The final take for Hollywood in 2014 is expected to be about $10.4 billion, a 5.2 percent drop from 2013.

The dip isn't much for Hollywood to fret about, but there are signs that pointed to long-term trouble.

Research shows that fewer people went to the movies in 2014 than they have in the last two decades.

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France drops its super tax on millionaires

PARIS (AP) — France is dropping its plan for a "super tax" on millionaires.

The tax of 75 percent on income earned above one million euros ($1.22 million) was promoted in 2012 by the newly elected Socialist President Francois Hollande as a symbol of a fairer policy for the middle class, a financial contribution of the wealthiest at a time of economic crisis.

But the government was never able to fully implement the measure and it was overturned by France's highest court and rewritten as a 50 percent tax paid by employers.

While the tax affected only a small number of taxpayers, it triggered huge protests in many circles.

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Hasbro to replace penis-shaped Play-Doh toy

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Hasbro, the Pawtucket-based toy company, is now doing damage control over the "extruder tool" in its Play-Doh Cake Mountain toy.

The two-piece syringe-like tool — which includes a tube with corkscrew-type ridges around the outside and a dome-shaped top with a hole at the tip — can be used to squeeze Play-Doh to look like decorative cake frosting. But many people have complained that it is shaped like a penis.

Pawtucket-based Hasbro Inc. has received thousands of comments on the Play-Doh Facebook page about the toy. It said it is updating future products with a different tool and has offered to replace it for anyone who has complaints.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 160 points, or 0.9 percent, to close at 17,823.07. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 21.45 points, or 1 percent, to 2,058.90.The Nasdaq composite fell 41.39 points, or 0.9 percent, to 4,736.05.

The price of U.S. crude oil fell 85 cents to settle at $53.27 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 57 cents to close at $57.33 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 1.8 cents to $1.435 a gallon. Heating oil fell 2.2 cents to close at $1.847 a gallon. Natural gas fell 20.5 cents to close at $2.889 per 1,000 cubic feet.