Business Highlights

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Gasoline prices have familiar look as summer nears

NEW YORK (AP) — The price of gasoline looks familiar this Memorial Day. For the third year in a row, the national average will be within a penny or two of $3.64 per gallon.

Stability wasn’t always the norm. Between 2003 and 2008 average retail gasoline prices more than doubled, reaching an all-time high of $4.11 per gallon in 2008. Prices then collapsed as the U.S. plunged into recession. But after a two-year run-up between 2009 and 2011, the price of gasoline has remained in a range of roughly $3.25 to $3.75 per gallon.

Drivers can handle that, according to AAA, and are ready to head out for Memorial Day driving trips in the highest numbers since 2005.

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Weak electronics sales pressure Best Buy, Sears

NEW YORK (AP) — Is America’s love affair with gadgets fading?

Best Buy and Sears on Thursday both blamed their weak quarterly results on the fact that shoppers aren’t shelling out for consumer electronics.

Already squeezed by tough competition from online retailers like Amazon.com and discount stores like Wal-Mart and Target, retailers like Best Buy and Sears have been cutting costs and revamping merchandise and store formats to attract customers.

But the consumer electronics remains stagnant. Sales haven’t budged from about $145 billion in three of the last four years, according to research firm NPD Group.

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Hess stations to be renamed, but trucks roll on

FINDLAY, Ohio (AP) — The Hess name will disappear from gas station signs after a $2.87 billion deal to sell the chain to Marathon Petroleum’s Speedway, but the holidays will still see the popular Hess toy truck.

The deal gives Marathon Petroleum the retail operations of Hess, the largest chain of company-operated gas stations and convenience stores on the East Coast. The Hess stations will all be rebranded as Speedway over three years, the company said.

It also keeps the Hess toy truck on holiday wish lists — as they will still be sold at Hess retail stores and online this year. Starting in 2015, Hess plans to sell the toy trucks online.

Hess said this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the toy trucks, an institution on the East Coast, where TV commercials promoting each year’s entry are commonly seen.

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Review: Apple’s CarPlay headed in right direction

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Apple is getting ready to hitch the iPhone to cars in a mobile marriage of convenience.

The ambitious project, called CarPlay, implants some of the iPhone’s main applications in automobiles so drivers can control them with voice commands, a touch on the steering wheel or a swipe on a display screen in the dashboard.

It’s expected to be available this summer when Pioneer Electronics plans to release a software update for five car radios designed to work with the iPhone. Alpine Electronics also is working on CarPlay-compatible radios for cars already on the road. Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Ferrari are among those expected to start selling car models with built-in CarPlay services this year.

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China treads carefully as it pursues influence

SHANGHAI (AP) — China is carrying on a high-stakes balancing act aimed at building influence and access to resources abroad without damaging ties with its most important economic partner — the United States.

In rapid-fire moves Wednesday, President Xi Jinping called at a conference of Asian governments for a new regional security structure that implicitly excludes Washington. Hours later, China agreed to buy Russian gas worth about $400 billion, binding the diplomatically isolated government of President Vladimir Putin more closely to Beijing and the huge Chinese economy.

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Economic data on US, China boost stocks

Stocks got off to a good start Thursday and held onto their gains, carving out a modest increase for the second day in a row.

Amid a relatively slow week of trading, thin on major economic news and leading into the Memorial Day weekend, investors drew encouragement from a mixed bag of economic and housing data. Improving earnings from Dollar Tree, Best Buy and other retailers also helped lift the market.

Major indexes were already pointing to a slight uptick ahead of the start of regular trading after a survey from HSBC suggested the slowdown in China’s economy is flattening. May’s reading on China’s manufacturing sector was the best in five months.

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US home sales rose 1.3 per cent in April

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of existing U.S. homes rebounded slightly in April, but the pace of buying remained below last year’s level.

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that sales rose 1.3 per cent from March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.65 million. Purchases of homes over the past 12 months have dropped 6.8 per cent.

Much of the gains were concentrated in the volatile condominium market, which experienced growth of 7.3 per cent. Sales of single-family homes were up just 0.5 per cent last month.

Nearly five years into the recovery from the Great Recession, real estate sales have yet to return to their historic averages. The solid gains made through the middle of 2013 have evaporated, while demand continues to be strong for the most expensive properties and faltering for starter homes and those priced for middle class buyers.

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Gauge of US economy posts 0.4 per cent April gain

WASHINGTON (AP) — A gauge designed to predict the economy’s future health posted a solid gain in April, further evidence of stronger growth after a severe winter dampened activity.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading indicators increased 0.4 per cent in April following an upwardly revised 1 per cent gain in March. The strength in April was led by improving housing and financial market conditions.

The overall economy grew at a barely discernible 0.1 per cent rate in the January-March quarter but many analysts expect growth will bounce back to an annual rate over 3.5 per cent in the current April-June quarter and will remain above 3 per cent in the second half of this year.

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Average US 30-year mortgage rate falls to 4.14 pct

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell this week for a fourth straight week. The low rates could give a boost to the spring home-buying season, which has started slowly.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for a 30-year loan declined to 4.14 per cent from 4.20 per cent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage eased to 3.25 per cent from 3.29 per cent.

Warmer weather has yet to boost home-buying as it normally does. Rising prices and higher rates have made affordability a problem for would-be buyers.

U.S home construction surged in April to its highest pace in five months, the government reported last Friday, but nearly all the increase came from the volatile apartment sector — a sign that Americans are still struggling to buy single-family homes.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average added 10 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 16,543. The Nasdaq composite gained 22 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 4,154. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose four points, or 0.2 per cent, to close at 1,892.

Benchmark U.S. crude for July delivery fell 33 cents to close at $103.74 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, slipped 19 cents to $110.36 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline gained 1 cent to $3.01 a gallon.

Natural gas dropped 11 cents to $4.44 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Heating oil was flat at $2.95 a gallon.

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