Business Highlights

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US retail sales up strong 1.1 per cent in March

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. retail sales in March rose by the largest amount in 18 months, led by strong gains in sales of autos, furniture and a number of other products.

The 1.1 per cent jump reported by the Commerce Department on Monday was the best showing since September 2012. The government also revised February to a 0.7 per cent gain, more than double its previous estimate.

Sales had fallen in January and December.

Sales of autos climbed 3.1 per cent while sales at general merchandise stores, a category that covers retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target and department stores, increased 1.9 per cent, the strongest one-month gain since March 2007, before the country fell into recession.

The strong March gain provides more evidence that the economy is emerging from a harsh winter with some momentum.

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April 15 not much of a deadline for most taxpayers

WASHINGTON (AP) — The calendar shows April 15, and you haven’t even started on your federal tax return? Chances are, you don’t need to fret.

If you’re due a refund — and about three-fourths of filers get refunds — April 15 isn’t much of a deadline at all.

The Internal Revenue Service doesn’t like to talk about it, but penalties for filing late federal tax returns apply only to people who owe money. The penalty is a percentage of what you owe. If you owe nothing, 5 per cent of nothing is … nothing!

But it doesn’t make much sense to file late. If you are owed a refund, why wouldn’t you want it as soon as possible? And if you have unpaid taxes, the late fees add up quickly.

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Is hot market for IPOs cooling?

NEW YORK (AP) — A hot market for initial public offerings may soon face a cooler reception from investors.

IPOs are having their best start to a year since 2000. Eighty-nine companies have raised $19 billion through sales of new stock so far in 2014, according to Dealogic. But demand for more offerings depends largely on the health of the broader market, and after last week’s sell-off, the clamour from buyers may quiet down.

Auto financing company Ally Financial and hotel operator La Quinta Holdings had lukewarm receptions for their IPOs last week.

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Congressional report presses for e-cigarette rules

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Concerns about electronic cigarettes, including flavours and marketing that could appeal to young people, underscore the need to regulate the fast-growing industry, according to a Congressional report released Monday.

The report written by the staff of Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, California Rep. Henry Waxman and others highlights several issues including the lack of age restrictions and no uniform warning labels for the battery-powered devices that heat a liquid nicotine solution and create vapour that’s inhaled.

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Uber meets local lookalikes in Asia taxi-app wars

MUMBAI, India (AP) — Riding on its startup success and flush with fresh capital, taxi-hailing smartphone app Uber is making a big push into Asia. There’s a twist, though: Instead of being the game-changing phenomena it was in the U.S., Uber faces a slew of competitors using similar technology.

The concept Uber helped pioneer just four years ago has transformed some markets before it even had a chance to enter them. Homegrown taxi apps are already slogging it out for dominance in numerous Asian countries.

China has a taxi-hailing app called Kuadi that says it logs more than 6 million transactions per day. Malaysia-based GrabTaxi operates in five Southeast Asian countries and recently announced more than $10 million in new investment. India has two competing taxi-app companies, Meru Cabs and Ola Cabs.

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Review: Siri-like Cortana fills Windows phone gap

NEW YORK (AP) — “Yay, it’s Nick! How can I help?”

Thanks for asking, Cortana. And thanks for making the Windows phone software better, Microsoft.

With the new Cortana virtual assistant, Windows catches up with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android in a major way. Microsoft takes some of the best parts of Apple’s and Google’s virtual assistants and adds a few useful tools of its own. The result is Cortana, named after an artificial-intelligence character in Microsoft’s “Halo” video games.

The new Windows system, Windows Phone 8.1, has several other new features, which I’ll review separately Tuesday.

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US stocks recover some ground on retail sales gain

U.S. stocks mounted a modest rally on Monday, helping investors recover some of the ground lost after a rough finish last week.

Investors were bracing for another round of discouraging earnings and a third consecutive loss for the stock market. But the market pushed higher from the get-go Monday, receiving a boost from solid earnings from Citigroup and a strong pickup in retail sales last month.

Among the stocks that rose sharply were WebMD, Edwards Lifesciences and Goodrich Petroleum.

Stocks rose after the Commerce Department reported that retail sales increased 1.1 per cent in March, the best gain since September 2012. The government also revised February’s figure to a 0.7 per cent gain, more than double its previous estimate.

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US businesses increased stockpiles 0.4 per cent

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. businesses boosted their stockpiles in February as sales rebounded by the largest amount in nine months.

Stockpiles increased 0.4 per cent in February following a similar 0.4 per cent increase in January, the Commerce Department reported Monday. Sales rose 0.8 per cent in February, bouncing back after a 1.1 per cent sales decline in January that was blamed on the harsh weather that month. It was the biggest one-month sales gain since last May.

A separate report showed a surge in sales at the retail level in March, providing support to the view that stronger consumer spending in coming months will encourage businesses to restock their shelves and provide a boost to the economy.

While the economy slowed in the January-March quarter, many economists are looking for a strong rebound in the current quarter.

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CBO: Deficits to drift lower on lower health costs

WASHINGTON (AP) — A congressional report released Monday predicts slightly smaller deficits both this year and over the coming decade, with lower spending on federal health care spending being the main reason.

A Congressional Budget Office report Monday said this year’s deficit will now be $492 billion, $23 billion less than previously estimated. Last year’s deficit registered $680 billion, the first year in President Barack Obama’s tenure that the deficit was less than $1 trillion.

The CBO estimated that over the coming 10 years the deficit will total $7.6 trillion, $286 billion less than projected in February. CBO predicts next year’s deficit will be slightly lower at $469 billion before commencing a steady upward march to the $1 trillion range by 2022.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average rose 146.49 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 16,173.24. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 14.92 points, or 0.8 per cent, to close at 1,830.61. The Nasdaq rose 22.96 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 4,022.69.

Benchmark U.S. crude for May delivery rose 31 cents to close at $104.05 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international varieties of oil, was up $1.74 cents to close at $109.07 in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 2.4 cents to close at $3.038 a gallon. Natural gas fell 6 cents to close at $4.560 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil rose 4.6 cents to close at $2.979 a gallon.

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