Business Highlights

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US employers add 217K jobs; rate stays at 6.3 pct

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers added 217,000 jobs in May, a substantial gain for a fourth straight month, fueling hopes that the economy will accelerate after a grim start to the year.

Monthly job growth has averaged 234,000 for the past three months, up sharply from 150,000 in the previous three. The unemployment rate, which is derived from a separate survey, remained 6.3 per cent in May. That’s the lowest rate in more than five years.

Friday’s report from the Labor Department signalled that the U.S. economy is steadily strengthening and outpacing struggling countries in Europe and Asia. U.S. consumers are showing more confidence. Auto sales have surged. Manufacturers are expanding steadily. Service companies are growing more quickly.

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Cellphone operator reveals scale of gov’t snooping

LONDON (AP) — Government snooping into phone networks is extensive worldwide, one of the world’s largest cellphone companies revealed Friday, saying that several countries demand direct access to its networks without warrant or prior notice.

The detailed report from Vodafone, which covers the 29 countries in which it operates in Europe, Africa and Asia, provides the most comprehensive look to date at how governments monitor mobile phone communications. It amounts to a call for a debate on the issue as businesses increasingly worry about being seen as worthy of trust.

The most explosive revelation was that in six countries, authorities require immediate access to an operator’s network — bypassing legal niceties like warrants. It did not name the countries for legal reasons and to safeguard employees working there.

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ECB’s actions are no panacea for Europe’s economy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Central banks can’t fix everything.

The European Central Bank took bold steps Thursday to protect Europe’s fragile economic recovery, cutting interest rates and offering to pump more money into the financial system.

Economists generally praised the moves, which are designed to raise dangerously low inflation in the 18 countries that use the euro and encourage lending. The ECB’s steps could also make exporters more competitive by reducing the euro’s value and thereby making Europe’s goods less expensive abroad.

But they say Europe’s economy won’t return to health until it receives long-term fixes that the ECB can’t provide on its own.

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Engineer’s ‘switch from hell’ began GM recall woes

DETROIT (AP) — Inside General Motors, they called it “the switch from hell.”

The ignition switch on the steering column of the Chevrolet Cobalt and other small cars was so poorly designed that it easily slipped out of the run position, causing engines to stall. Engineers knew it; as early as 2004, a Cobalt stalled on a GM test track when the driver’s knee grazed the key fob. By GM’s admission, the defective switches caused over 50 crashes and at least 13 deaths.

Yet inside the auto giant, no one saw it as a safety problem. For 11 years.

A 315-page report by an outside attorney found that the severity of the switch problem was downplayed from the start. Even as dozens of drivers were losing control of their vehicles in terrifying crashes, GM engineers, safety investigators and lawyers considered the switches a “customer satisfaction” problem, incorrectly believing that people could still steer the cars even though the power steering went out when the engines stalled. In safety meetings, people gave what was known in the company as the “GM nod,” agreeing on a plan of action but doing nothing.

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A CEO’s mission: luring reluctant cruise takers

NEW YORK (AP) — Getting people onboard a cruise ship can be tough. They fear bland buffets, debilitating stomach bugs and a crowd whose idea of excitement is playing canasta.

Even the CEO of the world’s second-biggest cruise line admits he once avoided cruises.

“I had always thought ‘I’m too sophisticated for this,’” says Richard Fain, CEO of Royal Caribbean.

That initial hesitation — over what Fain calls “old myths” — is a big stumbling block. But at the moment it’s far from his only challenge.

The cruise industry has suffered through a difficult few years. Like airlines and hotels, cruise bookings plunged during the Great Recession. Then, just as the industry was recovering, Carnival Corp.’s Costa Concordia sunk off the coast of Italy, leaving 32 passengers dead. A series of well-publicized mishaps, including fires, electrical failures and outbreaks of vomiting and diarrhea, also left vacationers wary.

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US consumer spending surges in April

WASHINGTON (AP) — Consumers revved up their borrowing in April, with growth in credit card debt accelerating at the fastest pace in more than a dozen years.

Overall credit expanded by $26.8 billion during the month, up from an increase of $19.5 billion in March, the Federal Reserve said Friday. The sizable climb is an encouraging sign for the economy, suggesting that consumers are confident enough to boost purchases by borrowing.

The result was fueled by autos and student loans, which rose by $18 billion, and credit card debt, which was up $8.8 billion. The upswing in credit card debt represented a 12.3 per cent gain, the fastest pace since November 2001 when consumers were being urged to spend to bolster the economy following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

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‘Dark pool’ broker paying $2M to settle SEC case

WASHINGTON (AP) — A brokerage firm that operates a so-called “dark pool” trading system has agreed to pay $2 million to settle federal civil charges of using customers’ confidential trading data to market its services.

The settlement between Liquidnet Inc. and the Securities and Exchange Commission was announced Friday, a day after SEC Chair Mary Jo White proposed new rules that could bring closer oversight of high-speed trading and dark trading pools, which account for as much as 35 per cent of trades.

Unlike public stock exchanges, dark pools are private, off-market platforms that offer limited information about participants or operations.

The SEC said that Liquidnet improperly gave access to confidential trading information to a brokerage unit outside its dark pool from 2009 to late 2011.

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S&P affirms ‘stable’ outlook for US debt, ratings

WASHINGTON (AP) — Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services has affirmed its “stable” outlook for U.S. government debt and its ratings for short- and long-term U.S. debt, citing the American economy’s strength and the government’s flexible economic policies.

The rating agency on Friday said it is keeping its rating for short-term U.S. debt at “A-1+” and for long-term debt at “AA+.”

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Wal-Mart CEO: speed up pace of change

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Wal-Mart’s CEO Doug McMillon said the world’s largest retailer’s task is to more quickly bring e-commerce together with physical stores to better serve shoppers.

At Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s annual shareholders meeting on Friday, McMillon talked about a service that Wal-Mart offers at its Asda.com Web site in the U.K., where customers can order groceries online and then pick them up from trucks at various pickup points. He also showed off miniature figures of executives to illustrate how some Wal-Mart stores have been using 3-D printers to create miniature figurines for customers in the U.K.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average rose 88.17 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 16,924.28. The S&P 500 added 8.98 points, or 0.5 per cent, to close at 1,949.44 Friday. The Nasdaq composite increased 25.17 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 4,321.40.

Benchmark U.S. oil for July delivery rose 18 cents to close at $102.66 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, slid 18 cents to $108.61 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to $2.94 a gallon. Natural gas rose 1 cent to $4.71 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil dipped 1 cent to $2.87 a gallon.

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