The Associated Press November 18, 2011, 6:23PM ET

Business Highlights

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Deficit gridlock looms, supercommittee deadlocked

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Deadline nearing, the deficit-reduction talks in Congress sank toward gridlock Friday after supercommittee Democrats rejected a late Republican offer that included next-to-nothing in new tax revenue. Each side maneuvered to blame the other for a looming stalemate.

The panel faces a deadline of next Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and lawmakers on both sides stressed they were ready to meet through the weekend in a last-ditch search for compromise.

But there was little indication a breakthrough was likely in a day of closed-door meetings.

Elsewhere at the Capitol on Friday, the House rejected a Republican proposal to amend the Constitution to require a balanced budget, a proposal that would have conceded Congress was unable to fight mounting federal red ink unless its hand was forced.

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Rise in economic gauge suggests brighter outlook

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The latest evidence that the economy is making steady gains emerged Friday from a gauge of future economic activity, which rose in October at the fastest pace in eight months.

A string of better-than-expected economic reports this month has led some analysts to revise up their forecasts for growth. Still, they caution that their brighter outlook remains under threat from Europe's financial crisis.

The most recent sign was Friday's report by the Conference Board that its index of leading economic indicators surged 0.9 percent last month. It was the index's best showing since February. And it was far faster than the increases of 0.1 percent September and 0.3 percent in August.

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FDA revokes approval of Avastin for breast cancer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government delivered a blow to some desperate patients Friday as it ruled the blockbuster drug Avastin should no longer be used to treat advanced breast cancer.

Avastin is hailed for treating colon cancer and certain other malignancies. But the Food and Drug Administration said it appeared to be a false hope for breast cancer: Studies haven't found that it helps those patients live longer or brings enough other benefit to outweigh its dangerous side effects.

Avastin remains on the market to treat certain colon, lung, kidney and brain cancers. Doctors are free to prescribe any marketed drug as they see fit. So even though the FDA formally revoked Avastin's approval as a breast cancer treatment, women could still receive it -- but their insurers may not pay for it. Some insurers already have quit in anticipation of FDA's long-expected ruling.

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Heinz adapting to new economic realities

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- H.J. Heinz Co knows that every penny counts in this economy.

The world's biggest ketchup maker's second-quarter profit fell yet narrowly beat expectations on an adjusted basis Friday as it focused on fast-growing emerging markets. But in struggling developed markets such as the U.S. and Europe, the company is shrinking product sizes and selling lower-priced products such as ketchup for 99 cents and beans for around a dollar to appeal to budget-stretched shoppers.

Heinz also announced plans to close three more plants -- not identified yet -- as it tries to keep its own costs under tighter control.

Consumers are struggling with continued pressure from high unemployment and food costs. As a result, many people are living paycheck to paycheck buying only what they can afford rather than bigger bottles or cans of food that might be more cost-effective.

Heinz said to meet consumers' needs, it is selling pouches instead of bottles of some of its condiments, reintroducing bean products to the U.S. and selling a bag of french fries for family dinners at $1.99.

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Deutsche Boerse, NYSE tackle merger objections

BERLIN (AP) -- Deutsche Boerse AG and NYSE Euronext are offering concessions on their derivatives businesses in a bid to overcome objections to their planned merger from the European Union's competition watchdog.

The two companies said Friday that they have sent a proposal to the EU agency that aims at "eliminating the existing overlap in European single equity derivatives and ensures continued competition in European interest rate and equity index derivatives."

Deutsche Boerse, which operates the Frankfurt stock exchange, said in February that it would buy NYSE Euronext for $10 billion, creating the world's largest exchange operator. NYSE Euronext owns bourses in Paris, Lisbon, Brussels and Amsterdam, in addition to New York.

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Research firm: Amazon sells $199 tablet at a loss

NEW YORK (AP) -- Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle Fire tablet, which started shipping this week, costs $201.70 to make, a research firm said Friday. That's $2.70 more than Amazon charges for it.

The analysis by IHS indicates that Amazon is, at least initially, selling the tablet at a loss that it hopes to cover through sales of books and movies for the device. The manufacturing cost of a new gadget usually comes down over time as chips become cheaper.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told The Associated Press in September that the company's goal was to make a small profit from the hardware, but as a retail company, Amazon was willing to live with a smaller margin than most electronics companies would.

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McDonald's drops egg supplier over cruelty charges

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- McDonald's Corp. said Friday it has dropped a Minnesota-based egg supplier after an animal rights group released an undercover video of operations at the egg producer's farms in three states.

The video by Mercy for Animals shows what the group calls animal cruelty at five Sparboe Farms facilities in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado. Its images include a worker swinging a bird around by its feet, hens packed into cramped cages, male chicks being tossed into plastic bags to suffocate and workers cutting off the tips of chick's beaks.

The move also followed a warning letter to Sparboe Farms dated Wednesday from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that said inspectors found "serious violations" at five Sparboe facilities of federal regulations meant to prevent salmonella. The warning said eggs from those facilities "have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health."

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Amgen in Epogen supply deal with DaVita

NEW YORK (AP) -- Biotechnology company Amgen Inc. says it reached an agreement to supply its anemia drug Epogen to dialysis center operator DaVita Inc. for the next seven years.

Amgen says it will supply enough Epogen to cover at least 90 percent of DaVita's requirements for the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The agreement starts Jan. 1 and will end Dec. 31, 2018. The new deal replaces a one-year supply contract for 2011.

DaVita runs almost 1,800 outpatient dialysis centers around the U.S.

Epogen boosts oxygen-carrying red blood cells, reducing the need for painful blood transfusions. However sales were hurt in 2009 when a study suggested Epogen and drugs like it can double the risk of stroke. Doctors had previously assumed that higher doses would help prevent heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular problems

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Deadline looms in $750 million rice settlement

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Rice growers who lost sales after genetically modified rice seed mistakenly entered the U.S. market five years ago have until Monday to sign on to a $750 million settlement proposed by the company blamed for the problem.

More than 10,000 farmers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas sued the German conglomerate Bayer CropScience after the modified strain of long-grain rice got loose in 2006. The mistake led to lost sales in major markets, such as the European Union, and left many growers with huge losses.

Matthew Davis, a rice grower from Almyra, Ark., is among farmers hoping to settle. He recalled hearing the news that the crop was contaminated and then watching prices plunge.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 25.43 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 11,796.16. The Standard and Poor's 500 lost 0.48 point, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,215.65. The Nasdaq composite slid 15.49, or 0.6 percent, to 2,572.50.

Benchmark crude fell $1.41 to finish at $97.41 per barrel in New York.

In other energy trading, heating oil fell 5.07 cents to finish at $3.0325 per gallon, while gasoline futures fell 2.87 cents to end at $2.4784 per gallon. Natural gas dropped 9.4 cents to finish at $3.3160 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Brent crude gave up 69 cents to end the week at $107.40 per barrel in London.


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