AP News

Business Highlights


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In fall Apple season, slim pickings for rival phone makers

NEW YORK (AP) — It's shaping up to be a cold fall for smartphone makers other than Apple, as the trendsetter of the phone industry gears up to release the next iPhone.

Nokia and Motorola, which a few years ago were the No. 1 and No. 2 phone makers, revealed new phones at back-to-back press events in New York on Wednesday. They appeared hurrying to show them off before Apple makes its iPhone announcement next week.

The phones are impressive in their own right and sport improvements from previous models, but analysts didn't see anything about them that would change the prospect of an iPhone-dominated holiday season.

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Can 'FarmVille 2' save struggling Zynga?

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Not long ago, online games company Zynga looked on pace to unseat much bigger, well-established rivals as it rode the popularity of "FarmVille," the clicking game of virtual cows and real money.

But the iPad came along, and more people bought smartphones. People weren't playing Zynga's games on Facebook and computers as much as they used to. Zynga's revenue growth slowed down, and its stock price fell sharply, even as it released dozens of new games.

Now, the out-of-luck game maker is turning to a "FarmVille" sequel for a revival.

A lot is riding on "FarmVille 2," which Zynga Inc. released on Wednesday.

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All eyes on Draghi's bond rescue plan for Europe

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — European Central Bank President Mario Draghi gets another chance Thursday to spell out how the bank intends to rescue the 17 countries that use the euro from financial disaster.

Expectations have been high since late July when the ECB head vowed to do "whatever it takes" to hold the eurozone together. The following week Draghi announced the broad outlines of a plan to buy short-term government bonds to help out eurozone countries struggling to manage their debt.

Countries such as Spain and Italy had seen their borrowing costs — reflected in the interest rates on bonds they sell — rise to unmanageable levels. Investors were worried the two countries could soon get to a point where they couldn't afford to handle their finances and be pushed into asking for a bailout.

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Survey finds US competitive ranking down again

LONDON (AP) — The United States' ability to compete on the global stage has fallen for the fourth year running as confidence in the country's politicians continues to decline, an annual survey from the World Economic Forum found Wednesday.

Even though the world's largest economy saw its overall competitiveness rise on the back of its status as a global innovation powerhouse, the Forum says the U.S.'s ranking has dropped two places to seventh this year. The Netherlands and Germany have moved ahead of the U.S. on the top 10 leaderboard.

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US productivity grew at 2.2 pct. rate in spring

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. companies got more output from their workers this spring than initially thought. Productivity rose at a modest 2.2 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, largely because employers cut back sharply on hiring.

Most economists expect productivity will slow later this year, a trend that could boost hiring.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that productivity in the second quarter was better than its initial estimate of a 1.6 percent gain.

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Realtors: US homes selling at faster pace

LOS ANGELES (AP) — U.S. homes are taking less time to sell than a year ago, reflecting more homebuyer demand and fewer bank-owned homes and other properties available for sale in some markets.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that the median time a previously occupied home was listed for sale shrank in July to 69 days. That's down from 98 days in the same month last year.

One-third of the homes purchased in July were on the market for less than a month, while one in five was on the market for at least six months. A home's median time on the market has been declining steadily since January, the trade group said.

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Ford issues another recall of the new Escape

DETROIT (AP) — Ford is recalling 7,600 new Escapes to fix coolant leaks that can cause engines to overheat or catch fire.

The recall affects 2013 models with 1.6-liter four-cylinder engines. Plugs in the engine may not have been installed properly and can fall out while the motor is running. Coolant can leak and cause engines to overheat.

Dealers have repair parts available and owners should make service appointments as soon as possible, said Ford spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel. Ford will fix the problem for free.

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Consumer group sues FDA over Aricept safety

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A consumer group pressing the Food and Drug Administration to remove the highest dose of an Alzheimer's disease drug from the market is suing the agency for what it calls "foot-dragging."

Public Citizen said Wednesday that the FDA's own medical and statistical reviewers found that high-dose Aricept doesn't work better at controlling symptoms of moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's than two low doses.

However, the group said the high dose has more dangerous, potentially deadly side effects that include vomiting. In Alzheimer's patients that "can lead to pneumonia, massive gastrointestinal bleeding, esophageal rupture or death." Other side effects more common at the high dose are nausea, diarrhea, anorexia and confusion.

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Safeway plans IPO of Blackhawk gift-card business

PLEASANTON, Calif. (AP) — Safeway Inc. said Wednesday that it plans to take its gift card business, Blackhawk Network Holdings Inc., public by the first half of 2013.

The supermarket chain said that it plans to file a registration statement for the public offering of a minority stake in its Blackhawk business. The exact timing of the IPO depends on market conditions. Safeway gave no details on pricing.

Blackhawk sells gift cards at grocery stores, drugstores and other retailers. It also operates the website GiftCardMall.com.

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H&R Block posts smaller 1Q loss as costs decline

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — H&R Block on Wednesday said its fiscal first-quarter loss narrowed by 39 percent, as the nation's largest tax preparer cut its spending.

Block stemmed its loss with cost cutting. Its year-ago results also included big charges related to the sale of its former business consulting unit, RSM McGladrey, and a litigation charge.

H&R Block usually reports a loss in its first quarter, when revenue drops after tax season.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 11.54 points at 13,047.48 on Wednesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 1.50 points to 1,403.44. The Nasdaq composite index lost 5.79 points to 3,069.27.

Benchmark oil rose 6 cents to end at $95.36 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties of oil, fell $1.09 to $113.09 per barrel in London.

Heating oil fell 2.92 cents to end at $3.1176 per gallon. Wholesale gasoline fell 0.24 cent to end at $2.9498 per gallon. Natural gas fell 5.9 cents to end at $2.7950 per 1,000 cubic feet.


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