Business Highlights

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US home market: Few buyers and not enough sellers

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the 2014 spring buying season begins, the U.S. housing market faces an unusual dilemma: Too few people are selling homes but too few buyers can afford the homes that are for sale.

A 13.4 per cent jump in the average price of homes sold last year hasn’t managed to coax more homeowners to sell. And higher prices, combined with higher mortgage rates, have made homes costlier for many buyers.

Real estate, much like the rest of the economy, is still trudging back to health nearly a half-decade after the recession ended. After last year’s growth spurt, the housing recovery may have begun an awkward adolescence, one prone to fits and starts that can defy predictions.

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Growing demand for US apartments pushing up rents

These are good times for U.S. landlords. For many tenants, not so much.

With demand for apartments surging, rents are projected to rise for a fifth straight year. Even a pickup in apartment construction is unlikely to provide much relief anytime soon.

That bodes well for building owners and their investors. Yet the landlord-friendly trends will likely further strain the finances of many renters. That’s especially true for the 50 per cent of them who already spend more than one-third of their pay on rent.

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Mozilla CEO resigns after furor over gay rights

Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich is stepping down as CEO following protests over his support of a gay marriage ban in California.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based non-profit maker of the Firefox browser infuriated many employees and users last week by promoting Eich. At issue was his $1,000 donation in 2008 to the campaign to pass California’s Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that outlawed same-sex marriages. The ban was overturned when the U.S. Supreme Court last year left in place a lower-court ruling striking down the ballot measure.

Eich’s contribution had drawn negative attention in the past but took on more weight when he was named CEO. Mozilla employees and users criticized the move online.

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Review: Fire TV device great, but not fully ready

NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon’s new Fire TV streaming device shows a lot of potential in bringing together the best features from competing devices and adding voice search on top of that.

But for now, it’s largely promise: Many of the best features work with only a handful of video services, which makes Fire TV primarily a showcase for Amazon’s video offerings.

Fire TV marks the online retailer’s latest push into streaming video. Amazon has aggressively expanded its video library in recent months, and is now offering its own device to view that content. At $99, Fire TV costs about the same as other full-service streaming devices, namely Roku 3 and Apple TV.

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FireChat ignites new way to communicate on phones

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A new mobile messaging application called FireChat is empowering nearby smartphone users to stay in touch even when there’s no cellular service or Internet connection.

In just two weeks since its release on the iPhone, FireChat already has provided a flicker of hope for people pining for more effective, secure and affordable ways to communicate.

That’s because the free messaging app harnesses a technology called wireless mesh networking, which might someday allow myriad devices to connect like links in a chain.

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US reaches $5.15 billion environmental settlement

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government on Thursday reached a $5.15 billion settlement with Anadarko Petroleum Corp., the largest ever for environmental contamination, to settle claims related to the cleanup of thousands of sites tainted with hazardous chemicals for decades.

The bulk of the money — $4.4 billion — will pay for environmental cleanup and be used to settle claims stemming from the legacy contamination.

The settlement resolves a legal battle over Tronox Inc., a spinoff of Kerr-McGee Corp., a company Anadarko acquired in 2006.

Kerr-McGee, founded in 1929, left behind a long legacy of environmental contamination: polluting Lake Mead in Nevada with rocket fuel, leaving behind radioactive waste piles throughout the territory of the Navajo Nation and dumping carcinogenic creosote in communities throughout the East, Midwest and South at its wood-treating facilities.

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ECB dismisses deflation fears, says ready to act

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Central Bank has dismissed fears that consumer prices might fall in the eurozone, which would drag down the economy. But it stressed that it is ready to counter that threat in new ways if needed.

The ECB decided to leave its main interest rate at a record-low 0.25 per cent Thursday, which is certain to prompt questions about whether it might soon resort to less conventional measures to boost the economy, such as a new round of cheap loans to banks or large-scale purchases of financial assets, as the U.S. Federal Reserve has done.

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Applications for US jobless aid up 16K to 326,000

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 16,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 326,000. Despite the increase, the number remains close to pre-recession levels and points to stable hiring.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, inched up 250 to 319,500.

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FDA approves easy-to-use heroin overdose antidote

WASHINGTON (AP) — Friends and family will be able to take the first step to save a loved one from an overdose of heroin or powerful painkillers called opioids.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved an easy-to-use device that automatically injects the right dose of an overdose antidote named naloxone before an ambulance arrives. Doctors could prescribe it for family members or caregivers to keep on hand, in a pocket or a medicine cabinet.

Opioids include legal prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, as well as illegal street drugs like heroin.

Called Evzio, the device contains naloxone, a long-used antidote for overdoses that is usually administered by syringe in ambulances or emergency rooms. But with the rise in drug overdose deaths, there has been a growing push to equip more people with the protection.

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Fed board member Stein announces resignation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jeremy Stein, a member of the Federal Reserve Board, announced Thursday that he plans to resign next month to return to Harvard University, creating more turnover on the seven-member board.

In a letter to President Barack Obama, Stein said that he will resign effective May 28 and return to Harvard, where he had been an economics professor beginning in 2000. Stein had been on the Fed board since 2012. There had been speculation that he might leave given that he was facing a May deadline to decide whether to return to his tenured Harvard teaching post.

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US secretly created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to stir unrest

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. government masterminded the creation of a “Cuban Twitter” — a communications network designed to undermine the communist government in Cuba, built with secret shell companies and financed through foreign banks, The Associated Press has learned.

The project, which lasted more than two years and drew tens of thousands of subscribers, sought to evade Cuba’s stranglehold on the Internet with a primitive social media platform. First, the network would build a Cuban audience, mostly young people; then, the plan was to push them toward dissent.

Yet its users were neither aware it was created by a U.S. agency with ties to the State Department, nor that American contractors were gathering personal data about them, in the hope that the information might be used someday for political purposes.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average fell 0.45 point, or less than 0.1 per cent, to close at 16,572.55. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 2.13 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 1,888.77. The Nasdaq composite fell 38.72 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 4,237.74.

Benchmark U.S. crude for May delivery gained 67 cents Thursday to close at $100.29 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to set prices for international varieties of oil, rose $1.36 to $106.15 a barrel on the ICE exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline added 5 cents to $2.91 a gallon. Natural gas jumped 11 cents to $4.47 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil gained 4 cents to $2.91 a gallon.

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