The Associated Press March 27, 2012, 6:20PM ET

Business Highlights

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Justices signal deep trouble for health care law

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The fate of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul was cast into peril Tuesday as the Supreme Court's conservative justices sharply and repeatedly questioned its core requirement that virtually every American carry insurance. The court will now take up whether any remnant of the historic law can survive if that linchpin fails.

The justices' questions in Tuesday's hearing carried deeply serious implications but were sometimes flavored with fanciful suggestions. If the government can force people to buy health insurance, justices wanted to know, can it require people to by burial insurance? Cellphones? Broccoli?

The law, pushed to passage by Obama and congressional Democrats two years ago, would affect nearly all Americans and extend insurance coverage to 30 million people who now lack it. Republicans are strongly opposed, including the presidential contenders now campaigning for the chance to challenge Obama in November.

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FTC seeks law to shed more light on data brokers

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Federal Trade Commission is calling for a new law that would allow people to review the vast amounts of information being collected about them as the Internet, smartphones and other technology make it easier to create digital dossiers of just about anyone's life.

It's an unusually tough proposal from a consumer protection agency that prefers to coax companies into adopting voluntary principles. Part of an online privacy report the FTC released this week, the suggestion comes a month after the Obama administration proposed a "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights" and urged technology companies, consumer groups and others to work together on developing more safeguards.

The FTC's 57-page report also touched on other topics: The agency said Congress needs to impose more limits on so-called "data brokers," who profit from collecting and selling files information that can affect people's ability to get a job or find housing. Data brokers range from publicly traded companies such as Acxiom Corp. to a hodgepodge of small, regional service companies that with just a few employees.

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US consumer confidence is roughly flat in March

NEW YORK (AP) -- Americans' rosy outlook about the U.S. economy remains resilient as they focus on the good in the barrage of conflicting economic news.

A widely watched barometer of consumer confidence barely budged in March from February's reading, which was its highest in a year. That was despite mixed economic signs. The stock market is up, but gas prices are, too. Unemployment is falling, but home prices also are too.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index slipped to 70.2 for March from a revised 71.6 for February.

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Home prices fell in January in most US cities

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Home prices fell in January for a fifth straight month in most major U.S. cities, as modest sales increases have yet to boost prices.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home-price index released Tuesday showed that prices dropped in January from December in 16 of 19 cities tracked.

The steepest declines were in San Francisco, Atlanta and Portland. Prices increased in Miami, Phoenix and Washington. Price information for Charlotte was delayed and therefore not included in the report.

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Enbridge to spend $3.8 billion on pipeline work

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) -- Pipeline builder Enbridge Inc. is investing nearly $4 billion in a new round of construction that will increase the flow of Canadian oil sands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Enbridge, Canada's largest transporter of crude, said Tuesday it will expand its Flanagan South Pipeline from Flanagan, Ill., to Cushing, Okla., to a 36-inch (.9-meter) diameter line with a capacity of 585,000 barrels per day.

The Flanagan pipeline, expected to be in service by mid-2014, will be built along the route of Enbridge's existing pipeline from southeast of Chicago to Oklahoma.

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FBI: Pennsylvania man stole Microsoft co-founder's identity

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- An AWOL soldier's simple scheme to defraud one of the richest men in the world has landed him in federal custody, according to a criminal complaint.

In the complaint unsealed Monday, federal investigators allege Brandon Lee Price changed the address on a bank account held by billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, then had a debit card sent to his Pittsburgh home so he could use it for payments on a delinquent Armed Forces Bank account and personal expenses.

Price called Citibank in January and changed the address on an account held by Allen from Seattle to Pittsburgh, then called back three days later to say he had lost his debit card and asked for a new one to be sent to him, an FBI investigator wrote in a criminal complaint filed in February.

The complaint doesn't specify how Price allegedly changed the address on the account.

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Government finds airwaves for possible wireless data

NEW YORK (AP) -- The federal government wants to alleviate data congestion on smartphones and other mobile devices by asking the Defense Department, NASA and other agencies to switch to new locations on the airwaves or share their existing frequencies with commercial networks.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that it has identified a band 95 megahertz wide that could be auctioned to wireless companies. That's enough to support at least two new national wireless data networks. The block is particularly desirable because it is near frequencies already available to cellphone companies.

Freeing up the airwaves won't be easy, however. The military uses parts of that block for training and missile-guidance systems. Law enforcement agencies need it for video surveillance, and NASA and the Pentagon use it to operate unmanned aircraft.

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United Airlines still leaving passengers on hold

United Airlines passengers are having difficulty getting a reservations agent on the phone and experiencing other glitches, more than three weeks after a computer switchover was supposed to make things better.

There were widespread reports of passengers waiting on hold to fix ticketing problems. Many reported that they couldn't get through at all. Odd balances were showing up in frequent flier accounts.

United's website says it has "extraordinarily high call volumes" at its call centers, and that some hold times are more than an hour.

The airline says it has solved most of the frequent flier problems, and that it is working to reduce hold times.

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Walgreen fiscal 2Q profit slides nearly 8 percent

Walgreen Co.'s fiscal second-quarter earnings fell almost 8 percent, knocked down largely by its exit from the Express Scripts pharmacy network, but the drugstore operator's results still topped analyst expectations, and its shares outperformed broader market indexes Tuesday.

The nation's largest drugstore chain said its split with Express Scripts, a St. Louis-based pharmacy benefits manager, lowered its earnings by about 7 cents per share for the quarter that ended Feb. 29. A mild cold and flu season also affected earnings by about 3 cents per share.

Express Scripts paid Walgreen to fill prescriptions, and the companies let their contract expire at the end of last year when they couldn't after months of talks failed to produce a new deal. Pharmacy benefits managers, or PBMs, run prescription drug plans and use large purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices.

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Harry Potter breaks e-book lockdown

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Harry Potter books are finally on sale in electronic form, and they have a special magical touch to them: In a break with industry practices, the books aren't locked down by encryption, which means consumers can move them between devices and read them anywhere they like.

If "Pottermore," J.K. Rowling's new Web store, proves a success, it could provide a model for other authors and publishers and undermine the clout of Amazon.com Inc., which dominates e-book sales.

E-books from major publishers are sold in encrypted form today, tying them to specific devices or software programs. Publishers insist on encryption because they believe it stops piracy. It also helps e-book retailers like Amazon defend their business models, keeping non-Amazon books off Kindle e-readers.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 43.90 points to close at 13,197.73, a loss of 0.3 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 3.99 points to 1,412.52. The Nasdaq composite fell 2.22 points to 3,120.35.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil gained 30 cents to $107.33 per barrel. In London, Brent crude for May delivery fell 45 cents to $125.20 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Natural gas futures fell 1.8 cents to $2.21 per 1,000 cubic feet after dropping 5 cents on Monday. That's a 10-year low and half of what natural gas was fetching back in July.

In other energy trading, heating oil fell 1 cent to $3.22 per gallon and gasoline futures dropped 1.1 cents to $3.41 per gallon.


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