AP News

Business Highlights


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Wal-Mart, Disney clothes found in Bangladesh fire

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A hooded Mickey Mouse sweatshirt from Disney. Children's shorts with Wal-Mart's Faded Glory label. Clothes with hip-hop star Sean Combs' ENYCE tag.

The garment factory in Bangladesh where 112 people were killed in a fire over the weekend was used by a host of major U.S. and European retailers, an Associated Press reporter discovered Wednesday from clothes and account books left amid the blackened tables and melted sewing machines at Tazreen Fashions Ltd.

Wal-Mart had been aware of safety problems at the factory and said it had decided well before the blaze to stop doing business with it. But it said a supplier had continued to use Tazreen without authorization.

Sears, likewise, said its merchandise was being produced there without its approval through a vendor, which has since been fired. The Walt Disney Co. said its records indicate that none of its licensees have been permitted to make Disney-brand products at the factory for at least a year. Combs' Sean Jean Enterprises did not return calls for comment.

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Powerball jackpot climbs to $550 million on ticket sales

CHICAGO (AP) — As Americans went on a ticket-buying spree, the Powerball jackpot rose to $550 million Wednesday, enticing many people who rarely, if ever, play the lottery to purchase a shot at the second-largest payout in U.S. history.

Among them was Lamar Fallie, a jobless Chicago man who said his six tickets conjured a pleasant daydream: If he wins, he plans to take care of his church, make big donations to schools and then "retire from being unemployed."

Tickets were selling at a rate of 130,000 a minute nationwide — about six times the volume from a week ago. That meant the jackpot could climb even higher before the Wednesday night drawing, said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association.

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Obama says he'll do what it takes to avoid cliff

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House and a key congressional Democrat hinted at fresh concessions on taxes and cuts to Medicare and other government benefit programs Wednesday as bargaining with Republicans lurched ahead to avoid the year-end "fiscal cliff" that threatens to send the economy into a tailspin.

Increasing numbers of rank-and-file Republicans also said they were ready to give ground, a boost for House Speaker John Boehner and other party leaders who say they will agree to higher tax revenues as part of a deal if it also curbs benefit programs as a way to rein in federal deficits.

For all the talk, there was no sign of tangible progress on an issue that marks a first test for divided government since elections that assured Obama a second term in the White House while renewing Republican control in the House.

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US sales of new homes dip 0.3 percent in October

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. sales of new homes fell slightly in October and September sales were slower than initially thought. The October sales pace was dragged lower by steep declines on the East Coast, partly related to Superstorm Sandy.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that new-home sales dipped 0.3 percent in October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 368,000. That's down marginally from the 369,000 pace in September, which was revised lower from an initially reported 389,000.

Sales fell a sharp 32.3 percent in the Northeast and nearly 12 percent in the South. The government said Sandy had a minimal effect on the housing data because it made landfall in the final days of the month. Still, the storm disrupted business activity from North Carolina to Maine.

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Fed survey: US economy growing at steady pace

WASHINGTON (AP) — A pickup in consumer spending and steady home sales helped lift economic growth from October through early November in most parts of the United States, according to a Federal Reserve survey released Wednesday. The one exception was the Northeast, which was slowed by Superstorm Sandy.

Growth improved in nine of the Fed's 12 regional banking districts, the survey said. Growth was weaker in New York, Philadelphia and Boston — areas where Sandy caused widespread disruptions.

The survey noted that growth was better despite nervousness about the "fiscal cliff." That's the name for automatic tax increases and spending cuts that could kick in next year if Congress and the Obama administration can't reach a budget deal before then.

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Unemployment rates fall in half of large US cities

WASHINGTON (AP) — Unemployment rates declined last month in more than half of the 372 largest U.S. cities, further evidence of steady improvement in the job market.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that rates fell in 201 metro areas. They rose in 116 and were unchanged in 55. And the number of cities with unemployment below 7 percent rose to 180 last month, up from 107 a year ago.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in September. That was mostly because more Americans began searching for work but not all found jobs. Employers added 171,000 jobs in October and the previous two months were revised higher.

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BP barred from new US government contracts, land leases

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration put a stop to new federal contracts with BP on Wednesday, admonishing the British oil company for a "lack of business integrity" and also disqualifying it indefinitely from winning new leases to drill on taxpayer-owned lands.

A lengthy list of criminal counts against BP stemming from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily suspend new contracts with BP and its affiliates, the agency said. Existing contracts won't be affected.

Eleven oil workers were killed when a rig explosion sent oil gushing unabated into the Gulf in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. More than two years later, BP faces criminal proceedings and massive civil claims related to environmental damage. Wednesday's decision creates yet another obstacle in BP's uphill battle to revive its tarnished image in the U.S. and abroad.

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Knight Capital jumps on Getco buyout offer

Four months after a major software malfunction at Knight Capital Group roiled markets and threatened the company's survival, a rival trading firm stepped in with an offer to buy Knight at a steep premium.

Getco put up a cash-and-stock offer that values Knight shares at $3.50 — a 41 percent premium over the closing price on Nov. 23, before the first published reports about a possible buyout. But it's a fraction of the company's worth before the meltdown.

Knight shares soared 15 percent Wednesday and the company postponed an investor conference scheduled for Monday.

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Costco to spend $3 billion on special dividend

NEW YORK (AP) — Costco will spend $3 billion to pay a special dividend of $7 per share next month ahead of higher tax rates that may kick in come January.

Many companies are making special end-of-year dividend payments or moving up their quarterly payouts because investors will have to pay higher taxes on dividend income starting in 2013, unless Congress and President Barack Obama reach a compromise on taxes and government spending.

The Issaquah, Wash., company said Wednesday that the special dividend will be payable Dec. 18 to shareholders of record Dec. 10. In addition, Costco Wholesale Corp. will pay its regular quarterly dividend of 27.5 cents per share on Nov. 30 to shareholders of record as of Nov. 16.

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Walt Disney increases dividend by 25 percent

BURBANK, Calif. (AP) — The Walt Disney Co. is raising its annual dividend by 25 percent and making the payout in December in an apparent move to help shareholders avoid possible higher taxes next year.

Disney's board said Wednesday that the company will pay a dividend of 75 cents per share on Dec. 28 to shareholders as of Dec. 10. That is up from its prior dividend of 60 cents.

Disney, based in Burbank, Calif., had been paying its annual dividend in January in recent years. The company did not say why it was moving up the payout.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 106.98 points at 12,985.11. The Standard and Poor's 500 was up 10.99 points at 1,409.93. The Nasdaq composite rose 23.99 points to at 2,991.78.

Benchmark oil dropped 69 cents to finish at $86.49 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price many international varieties of oil, fell 36 cents to $109.51 per barrel on London's ICE Futures exchange.

Heating oil fell less than a penny to end at $3.01 per gallon. Wholesale gasoline rose less than a penny to end at $2.73 per gallon. Natural gas fell 7.3 cents to end at $3.70 per 1,000 cubic feet.


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