Business Highlights

Business Highlights

Associated Press

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US unemployment falls to 7-year low, but wages are flat

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. unemployment fell to a seven-year low of 5.3 percent and employers hired at a solid pace in June, but other gauges of the job market drew a bleaker picture: A wave of people stopped looking for work, and paychecks failed to budge.

The figures released Thursday capture the persistently uneven nature of the recovery from the Great Recession.

The job market "remains consistent with a two-steps-forward, one-step-back expansion the U.S. economy finds itself in," said Scott Andersen, chief economist at Bank of the West.

The economy gained 223,000 jobs last month, and unemployment edged down from 5.5 percent in May, the Labor Department reported.

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What crisis? Stronger banks, economies ease fear over Greece

The prospect of a Greek crackup isn't so terrifying anymore.

In 2012, financial markets were rattled by the possibility that Greeks would elect a left-wing government, default on their debts and drop the euro currency. The fears pushed the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index down nearly 10 percent that spring.

Here's how things look now: The left-wing party, Syriza, holds power in Athens. Greece actually did miss a loan payment to the International Monetary Fund late Tuesday. And the nation's future in the eurozone hinges precariously on a referendum Sunday.

Yet investors seem to be taking events in stride. Stocks around the world mostly rose Wednesday.

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Top US auto safety regulator says Chrysler to face sanctions

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fiat Chrysler will be punished soon for failing to follow the law in 23 recalls involving more than 11 million vehicles, the nation's top auto safety regulator said Thursday.

But Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, wouldn't say what action the agency will take until after a public comment period closes on July 17.

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Rainbow Facebook photos: Armchair activism or shifting tide?

NEW YORK (AP) -- You may have noticed your Facebook friends getting considerably more colorful.

More than 26 million Facebook profile photos have taken on a rainbow hue in the days since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that marriage is a right guaranteed under the Constitution regardless of a person's sexual orientation.

People have been covering their profile photos with the Facebook-supplied overlay that uses the best-known symbol of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights movement: the rainbow.

Call it armchair activism. Call it a mark of a shifting tide in public opinion. The rainbows are the latest sign of the important place social media has taken in our lives, when it comes to self-expression, politics and privacy.

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$18.7B deal clears path for BP to close books on Gulf spill

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Trying to close the books on the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, BP agreed Thursday to provide billions of dollars in new money to five Gulf Coast states in a deal the company said would bring its full obligations to an estimated $53.8 billion.

Federal and state government officials touted the record-breaking $18.7 billion agreement as a historic milestone in the Gulf Coast's recovery. The Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 rig workers and spewed millions of gallons of crude that stained beaches, coated wildlife and polluted marshes.

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Whole Foods apologizes for pricing problems

NEW YORK (AP) -- Whole Foods Market is apologizing to its shoppers for incorrect pricing, a week after a New York investigation found that the natural food grocer routinely overcharged for prepackaged fruits, vegetables and deli meats.

Robb and Mackey said that the pricing mistakes were unintentional and that the company will increase its training at stores around the county. Going forward, Whole Foods will give items away for free if customers discover they were overcharged. "We apologize to our customers for any discrepancies that may have occurred," the company said in blog post.

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US factory orders fell 1 percent in May

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Orders to U.S. factories fell in May by the largest amount in three months, while a key category that signals business investment plans dropped for a second month.

Factory orders declined 1 percent in May from April, when orders retreated 0.7 percent, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Orders in a category that serves as a proxy for business investment were down 0.4 percent.

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Average US rate on 30-year mortgage rises to 4.08 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates rose this week, reaching high levels for the year.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 4.08 percent this week from 4.02 percent a week earlier. The rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages increased to 3.24 percent from 3.21 percent.

Mortgage rates have increased in recent weeks, in the midst of the spring home buying season, as the economy has shown signs of improvement.

A year ago, the average 30-year rate was 4.12 percent; the 15-year average was 3.22 percent.

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Centene makes $6.3B bid for fellow insurer Health Net

Centene has jumped into the mix of managed-care companies scrambling to bulk up as the health care overhaul changes their business with a $6.3-billion bid for fellow insurer Health Net.

The deal announced Thursday gives St. Louis-based Centene a chance to expand in two hot growth areas for health insurers, the state- and federally-funded Medicaid program for the poor and people with disabilities; and the federally-supported Medicare Advantage program, which has seen its overall enrollment triple over the past decade.

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FDA clears drug for leading form of cystic fibrosis

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal health officials have approved a new combination drug for the most common form of cystic fibrosis, the debilitating inherited disease that causes internal mucus buildup, lung infections and early death. But it will come at a steep price — more than $250,000 for a year's treatment.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared the twice-a-day pill from Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. for a variation of cystic fibrosis that affects about 8,500 people in the U.S. who are 12 years and older. The approval notice was posted to the agency's website Thursday.

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Google's new app blunders by calling black people 'gorillas'

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Google's new image-recognition program misfired badly this week by identifying two black people as gorillas, delivering a mortifying reminder that even the most intelligent machines still have lot to learn about human sensitivity.

The blunder surfaced in a smartphone screen shot posted online Sunday by a New York man on his Twitter account, @jackyalcine. The images showed the recently released Google Photos app had sorted a picture of two black people into a category labeled as "gorillas."

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3 Supreme Court justices maintain substantial stock holdings

WASHINGTON (AP) -- New personal financial disclosures from the Supreme Court show that Chief Justice John Roberts and two other justices are maintaining significant investments in individual companies' stock.

The details of investments held by Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Stephen Breyer are in annual financial reports released Thursday by the federal judiciary.

Roberts holds stock worth $250,000 to $500,000 each in Time Warner Inc. and Microsoft Corp., and smaller investments in other technology and communications companies.

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Tesla tops 11,000 vehicles delivered in second quarter

PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) -- Electric car maker Tesla's second-quarter deliveries surged 52 percent to set a company record exceeding 11,000 vehicles.

The Palo Alto, California, company had surpassed 10,000 vehicles for the first time in the first three months of the year and on Thursday said it had broken that record, delivering 11,507 vehicles.

Tesla makes only one car, the Model S sedan, but CEO Elon Musk said last month he expects to begin deliveries of an SUV, the Model X, in three or four months. Tesla began 2015 with 20,000 reservations for the Model X. The company has said it plans to deliver 55,000 Model S sedans and Model X SUVs this year.

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Cuba launches 1st public Wi-Fi hotspots on Havana avenue

HAVANA (AP) -- Cuban authorities have launched public Wi-Fi hotspots along a main avenue that is the heart of Havana's cultural and social life, the first step in government promises to gradually roll out such connectivity options on an island that the Internet revolution has largely passed by.

Authorities have been installing the boxy white routers on buildings along 23rd Street in the Vedado theater, nightclub and business district in recent weeks, and they apparently went live Wednesday night.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average shed 27.80 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,730.11. The S&P 500 slipped 0.64 of a point, less than 0.1 percent, to 2,076.78. The Nasdaq composite fell 3.91 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 5,009.21.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 3 cents Thursday to close at $56.93 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose 6 cents to close at $62.07 in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 2.7 cents to close at $2.034 a gallon. Heating oil rose 0.1 cent to close at $1.840 a gallon. Natural gas rose 3.9 cents to close at $2.822 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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