Business Highlights

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Associated Press

Posted on October 4, 2012 at 7:01 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 5 at 12:01 AM

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Retailers report slower sales growth in September

NEW YORK (AP) — Americans may have slowed their spending in September after splurging during the start of the busy back-to-school shopping season in the month before. But most importantly, they were still spending.

September sales rose 3.9 percent — a slowdown from the 6-percent rise in August — as 22 retailers, like Macy's and Costco, reported mixed results, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Still, given the economic and political uncertainty that weighs on many Americans right now, analysts say the results are an encouraging sign for stores as they head into what's traditionally the busiest shopping period of the year in November and December.

Retailers' monthly sales figures are based on revenue at stores opened at least a year. That measure is considered to be an indicator of a retailer's health because it excludes results from stores recently opened or closed.

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Defective generic pill revives quality concerns

WASHINGTON (AP) — More Americans than ever are taking generic drugs, as blockbuster medicines like Plavix and Lipitor become available in low-cost versions. But the government's revelation this week that it mistakenly approved a defective generic antidepressant could stoke ongoing concerns about the safety and quality of knockoff drugs.

Generic drugmakers already are under public scrutiny for an unprecedented shortage of generic injectable drugs, driven in part by manufacturing problems. The spate of bad news could undermine years of outreach by the government and drugmakers to assure patients that cheaper generic drugs are just as effective as brand-name drugs.

The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday asked Teva Pharmaceuticals to withdraw its drug Budeprion XL 300 after testing showed the drug did not properly release its key ingredient. The drug is supposed to be equivalent to GlaxoSmithKline's popular antidepressant Wellbutrin XL, which is prescribed to treat depression, anxiety and nicotine withdrawal.

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Fed open to linking rate hike to economic gauge

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve wants to find a clearer way to signal to the public when it might start raising interest rates.

The Fed has told investors that it plans to keep short-term rates low for at least another three years. But it appears to be leaning toward setting a more specific target, according to minutes from the Fed's last policy meeting.

Most members agreed at the Sept. 12-13 meeting that linking a future rate increase to a level of unemployment or some other numeric target could be useful. The minutes show members have yet to agree on what the economic target should be. The discussion signals another option the Fed might pursue if its latest stimulus efforts don't do enough to boost the still-weak economy.

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US unemployment aid applications rise to 367,000

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 367,000, a level consistent with only modest hiring.

Weekly applications increased last week by 4,000 from the previous week's level of 363,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The previous week was revised higher from an initial reading of 359,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, was unchanged at 375,000.

Unemployment benefit applications are a measure of the pace of layoffs. When they consistently fall below 375,000, it typically indicates that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

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US factory orders fall on decline in aircraft

WASHINGTON (AP) — Orders to U.S. factories fell in August from July, mostly because of a sharp drop in volatile aircraft orders. The decline offset an increase in orders that reflect corporate investment plans.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that factory orders dropped 5.2 percent in August, the biggest decline in more than three years. The loss was largely because demand for commercial aircraft plunged 102 percent. That pulled down orders for long-lasting manufactured goods by 13.2 percent.

In one positive sign, orders for business equipment and software, often considered a proxy for investment plans, rose 1.1 percent, after two steep declines. Still, orders for steel, electrical equipment, and industrial machinery all fell.

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Rate on 30-year mortgage hits record 3.36 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average rates on fixed mortgages fell to record lows for the second straight week. The declines have led more homeowners to refinance, a trend that could help boost the economy.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan dropped to 3.36 percent. That's down from last week's rate of 3.40 percent, which was the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage, a popular refinancing option, dipped to 2.69 percent, down from last week's record low of 2.73 percent.

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Facebook now home to 1 billion monthly users

NEW YORK (AP) — More than a billion people now log onto Facebook each month to check up on old friends, tag photos of new ones and post about politics, religion, cats or what their kids are doing.

That's double the 500 million it hit in July 2010 . Facebook had 100 million users in August 2008.

The latest milestone amounts to nearly half of the world's roughly 2.5 billion Internet users, as measured by the International Telecommunications Union.

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Google, publishers shelve book-scanning suit

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google and major book publishers have settled a lengthy legal battle over digital copyrights, but a bigger dispute still looms with thousands of authors who allege that Google is illegally profiting from their works.

The truce announced Thursday ends a federal lawsuit filed in 2005 by several members of the Association of American Publishers after Google Inc. began stockpiling its Internet search index with digital duplicates of books scanned from libraries.

Google has maintained that its scanning is covered by fair-use provisions of copyright law, although it offered to remove specific books from its index upon request. It also showed only snippets of the copyrighted books unless permission was given to show more.

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Draghi nudges Spain to take up bond plan

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — European Central Bank President Mario Draghi nudged Spain and its European partners to take up the bank's offer to help with the country's high debt costs, reassuring Madrid that the conditions for getting the assistance "don't need to be punitive."

The ECB chief said at a news conference in Brdo Pri Kranju, Slovenia, that Spain had made "significant progress" toward getting its finances under control, adding that a number of measures had been "announced, legislated, and implemented" in only a short period of time.

Draghi, however, said it was up to Spain to decide whether to seek help.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 80.75 points to close at 13,575.36. The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 10.41 points to 1,461.40. The Nasdaq composite rose 14.23 points to 3,149.46.

Oil settled at $91.71 per barrel, up $3.57, or 4 percent, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose $4.41, or 4.1 percent, to $112.58.

Wholesale gasoline rose 14.34 cents, or 5.1 percent, to $2.943 per gallon. Natural gas rose a penny to $3.406 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil added 12.2 cents, or 4 percent, to $3.1884 per gallon.

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