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Business Highlights

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1 Business Highlights on Fri May 27, 2011 7:48 pm

hatien


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WASHINGTON (AP) — From the U.S. to Europe and even to booming China, the global economic recovery is showing signs of strain.

Most major economies are expected to keep growing, but evidence is mounting that many are struggling to expand as fast as they did last year.

In China interest-rate hikes intended to slow inflation are hampering growth. European governments are struggling with debt and squeezing budgets. Britain's economy scarcely grew at the start of the year.

High unemployment, depressed real estate and high oil prices are slowing the U.S. economy, which grew at a scant 1.8 percent annual rate from January through March. Even Europe's strongest economy, Germany, faces a slowdown. And after its earthquake and nuclear crisis, Japan has sunk back into a recession.

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Energy prices held back growth in first quarter

WASHINGTON (AP) — High gasoline prices, government budget cuts and weaker-than-expected consumer spending caused the U.S. economy to grow only slightly in the first three months of the year.

The Commerce Department estimated Thursday that the economy grew at an annual rate of 1.8 percent in the January-March quarter. That was the same as its first estimate a month ago.

Consumer spending grew at just half the rate of the previous quarter. And a surge in imports widened the U.S. trade deficit.

Most economists think the economy is doing a little better in the current April-June quarter, although consumers remain squeezed by gas prices, scant pay increases and a depressed housing market.

Analysts estimate that growth has accelerated to around 2.5 percent this quarter. For the entire year, they think the economy will grow around 3 percent. That would be about the same as the 2.9 percent growth rate last year.

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Google launches trial of tap-to-pay phone system

NEW YORK (AP) — Google Inc. launched its bid to dominate a world where the smartphone has replaced the wallet as the container for credit cards, coupons and receipts.

It's a vision shared by others. The Internet search and advertising company faces tough competition from cellphone companies and Visa, which all want to play a central role in tying together phones, retailers and banks into a new payment system.

Google said Thursday that it's launching a trial of its payment system in San Francisco and New York in cooperation with MasterCard and Citibank. It is opening it up to consumers in the summer. It then plans to expand across the country.

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More people applied for unemployment benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) — More people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the first increase in three weeks and evidence that the job market is still sluggish.

The number of people seeking benefits rose by 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 424,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. No states cited extreme weather as a factor in the increase, a department spokesman said. Tornadoes and floods have devastated several states in the Midwest and South in the past month.

Applications are above the 375,000 level that is consistent with sustainable job growth. Weekly applications peaked at 659,000 during the recession.

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Fixed mortgage rates fall to 2011 lows

NEW YORK (AP) — Fixed mortgage rates hit the lowest point of the year for the third straight week.

Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on the 30-year loan fell to 4.60 percent from 4.61 percent. That's the lowest point since mid-December. The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage, a popular refinance option, slipped to 3.78 percent from 3.80 percent. That marked the lowest level since late November.

Rates have fallen for six weeks in a row. They tend to track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which crept lower this week on worries over Europe's ongoing debt crisis.

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Clinton: US welcomes women to lead the IMF

DEAUVILLE, France (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a boost to the candidacy of French finance chief Christine Lagarde for the top job at the IMF on Thursday, but stopped short of endorsing anyone yet.

Clinton said at a conference in Paris that "We welcome women who are well qualified and experienced to head major organizations such as the IMF."

She noted that Washington "has not taken a position on any candidacy as yet," but the comment was the clearest indication so far that the U.S. could once again support Europe's traditional claim to name one of their own to the job.

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Heinz 4Q profit climbs, will cut 800 to 1,000 jobs

H.J. Heinz Co.'s global expansion efforts are paying off, driving its fourth-quarter net income up 16 percent. But the world's biggest ketchup maker said it needs to raise prices and cut jobs to continue on its profitable path.

Heinz, based in Pittburgh, announced Thursday that it will shed up to 1,000 jobs globally in fiscal 2012 as it closes five factories. Heinz has 37,000 workers worldwide.

The closings include two factories in the U.S., two in Europe and one in the Pacific region. 800 to 1,000 positions will be cut, and Heinz will be left with 76 factories. Heinz did not say which plants would close.

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Tiffany 1Q earnings up 25 percent, raises outlook

NEW YORK (AP) — In another sign that the luxury retail sector remains strong, Tiffany & Co. said Thursday its first-quarter profit rose 25 percent on higher revenue worldwide.

The results handily beat expectations and the jewelry maker also raised its forecast for the year above current Wall Street estimates.

The New York company, known for its iconic turquoise box, said net income rose to $81.1 million, or 63 cents per share, for the three months ended April 30, up from $64.4 million, or 50 cents per share, a year earlier. Net income includes 4 cents per share of expenses related to Tiffany relocating its headquarters in New York.

Analysts expected earnings of 57 cents per share, according to FactSet.

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Report: Bank-owned homes made up bigger slice of overall US home sales in 1Q

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Sales of homes in some stage of foreclosure declined in the first three months of the year, but they still accounted for 28 percent of all home sales — a share nearly six times higher than what it would be in a healthy housing market.

Foreclosure sales, which include homes purchased after they received a notice of default or were repossessed by lenders, were the biggest part of overall sales in a year during the first quarter, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

The pace at which homes are entering the foreclosure process has slowed in recent months amid bank and court delays. Distressed properties remain a fixture of a housing market still searching for a sustained recovery. The properties, often in need of repair, typically sell at a discount, weakening prices for other homes.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 8.10 points to close at 12,402.76.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.22, or 0.4 percent, to 1,325.69. The Nasdaq composite rose 21.54, or 0.8 percent, to 2,782.92.

Benchmark oil for July delivery fell $1.09 to settle at $100.23 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent crude rose 12 cents to settle at $115.05 on the ICE Futures exchange.

Natural gas for July delivery fell 6.3 cents to settle at $4.300 per 1,000 cubic feet on the Nymex.

In other Nymex trading heating oil picked up 0.11 cent to settle at $2.9934 per gallon and gasoline gained 2.07 cents to settle at $3.0074 per gallon.

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