Business Highlights

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American economy bounces back from brutal winter

WASHINGTON (AP) — The American economy shrugged off the end of a brutal winter last month, rebounding with the biggest hiring surge in two years and suggesting that the job market’s gains could endure.

Employers added 288,000 jobs across industries from manufacturing to construction to accounting. Even local governments hired. The unemployment rate sank to 6.3 per cent, its lowest point since 2008, from 6.7 per cent.

But the rate fell that far because many fewer people began looking for work in April, thereby reducing the number of unemployed. The proportion of Americans who either have a job or are looking for one dropped to a three-decade low.

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AstraZeneca rejects sweetened Pfizer takeover bid

LONDON (AP) — Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca on Friday flatly rejected drugmaker Pfizer’s sweetened takeover bid — worth $106 billion — just hours after it was levelled.

After being rebuffed twice, Pfizer Inc., the maker of Viagra, made a third attempt for the London-based rival on Friday, offering 50 pounds ($84) a share in cash and stock, a 7.3 increase on its last bid. The deal would be the biggest-ever foreign takeover of a British business.

But AstraZeneca’s board said the terms were not right and the price substantially undervalued the company. The firm said the potentially lucrative “pipeline” of new drugs it is developing would be disrupted by a takeover and its possible consequences.

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Egypt in energy crisis as elections approach

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s crippling energy crisis is threatening to mount, creating an immediate political liability for the new president to be elected this month.

Rolling blackouts have already been hitting neighbourhoods of Cairo throughout the winter and now summer’s heat is coming. The government is scrambling to reduce the impact.

Once an exporter of natural gas, Egypt has increased imports of substitute fuels, to make up for shortages of natural gas and keep power stations running. Last week, the Cabinet took the unpopular step of raising prices for home use of natural gas, used in cooking, in some cases quadrupling the price, to chip away at the giant subsidies the government pays for energy and to cut down on consumption. It also approved the import of coal for the first time to help power the struggling concrete industry, raising protests from the environment minister.

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US factory orders increase 1.1 per cent in March

WASHINGTON (AP) — Orders to U.S. factories advanced strongly for a second month in March while demand in a key category that signals business investment plans increased by the largest amount in more than a year.

The strength was further evidence that the economy was rebounding after a harsh winter.

The Commerce Department says orders increased 1.1 per cent in March after increasing 1.5 per cent in February. Those gains followed two months of declines in December and January.

Orders for core capital goods, considered a good proxy for business investment, jumped 3.5 per cent in March, rebounding from a 0.9 per cent drop in February. It was the biggest increase since January 2013.

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GM begins talks to settle ignition switch lawsuits

DETROIT (AP) — The mediator hired by General Motors to settle claims from a deadly ignition switch problem has started talks about compensating victims’ families.

Kenneth Feinberg confirmed with the Associated Press that he met Friday with lawyer Robert Hilliard, who represents families of 53 people who died in crashes of defective GM vehicles, and another 273 who were injured.

Feinberg says he is evaluating GM’s options regarding compensation. Hilliard said no dollar figures were mentioned but he believes Feinberg wants to reach fair settlements.

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Papa Murphy’s rises in its Nasdaq debut

NEW YORK (AP) — Papa Murphy’s Holdings Inc.’s shares rose in the pizza maker’s first day of trading.

The Vancouver, Washington-based company franchises and operates the largest “Take ‘N’ Bake” pizza chain in the U.S.; its stores sell uncooked pizzas for baking at home.

The company offered 5.8 million shares priced at $11 per share and raised approximately $63.8 million in the offering. Certain selling stockholders are giving the underwriters a 30-day option to buy up to an additional 874,999 shares to cover any excess demand.

The stock added 5 cents to close at $11.05 Friday after hitting as high as $12.10 earlier in the day. It is trading under the “FRSH” ticker symbol.

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News Corp. to buy Harlequin for $415M

NEW YORK (AP) — News Corp. sees profit potential in the tales of princes, sexy soldiers and mysterious millionaires.

The publishing company controlled by media mogul Rupert Murdoch said Friday that it has agreed to buy romance novel publisher Harlequin Enterprises from Torstar Corp. for 455 million Canadian dollars ($415 million) in cash.

Harlequin will become a division of News Corp.’s HarperCollins Publishers subsidiary and remain based in Toronto.

Founded in 1949, Harlequin publishes its steamy tales in 34 languages and sells them in over 100 international markets. Its titles include the works of more than 1,300 authors and it releases more than 110 titles each month.

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Chevron profit plunges on lower production, prices

NEW YORK (AP) — Chevron Corp. reported a steep decline in first-quarter profit because of lower global oil prices and bad weather that slowed oil production.

The company earned $4.52 billion, o4 $2.36 per share, for the quarter versus $6.18 billion, or $3.18 per share, last year. Revenue fell to $50.98 billion from $54.3 billion.

Chevron and other major oil companies are struggling to maintain production as they drain oil and gas from their fields around the world. At the same time, the cost of exploring new fields is rising as they have to venture into more extreme and remote conditions to access hydrocarbons. This is squeezing its profits as because average oil prices have been roughly flat for about three years.

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Berkshire Hathaway unit buying AltaLink for $2.92B

Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s energy unit is buying the rest of Canadian power transmission provider AltaLink for 3.2 million Canadian dollars (about $2.92 billion).

Berkshire Hathaway Energy is buying SNC-Lavalin’s equity stake in AltaLink. This will give Berkshire Hathaway Energy full equity ownership of AltaLink.

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy owns and operates transmission and distribution lines in the U.S. The Des Moines, Iowa, company also owns or contracts more than 28,000 megawatts of electricity generation.

AltaLink will keep its name and continue to run as a separate company under Berkshire Hathaway Energy. Its headquarters will remain in Calgary.

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Fruit of the Loom puts Naked Cowboy in new undies

NEW YORK (AP) — It’s a natural fit. Fruit of the Loom is launching its new boxer briefs for men with the help of Times Square favourite the Naked Cowboy.

The New York City fixture — real name Robert Burck — who reached fame by strumming his guitar clad in only his underwear, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, will help launch the new line with promotions beginning Tuesday.

While he usually wears traditional white briefs, the marketing campaign will see him switch to Fruit of the Loom’s new underwear, which have tapered legs to prevent them from riding up. Also on Tuesday, samples and coupons will be given out in Times Square.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 45.98 points, or 0.28 per cent, to close at 16,512.89. The S&P 500 fell 2.54 points, or 0.13 per cent, to 1,881.14. The Nasdaq composite dropped 3.55 points, or 0.09 per cent, to 4,123.90.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil for June delivery gained 34 cents to $99.76 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $2.94 a gallon. Heating oil added 1 cent to $2.92 a gallon. Natural gas fell 5 cents to $4.67 per 1,000 cubic feet. Brent crude, an international oil benchmark, rose 83 cents Friday to $108.59 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

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