Business Highlights

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Lawmakers press GM on report’s findings

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers expressed disbelief Wednesday at General Motors’ explanation for why it took 11 years to recall millions of small cars with defective ignition switches, and also confronted its chief executive with evidence that the company dragged its feet on a similar safety issue in different vehicles.

CEO Mary Barra and attorney Anton Valukas, who recently released a 315-page investigative report into the recall, endured skepticism and some lecturing at a House subcommittee hearing. One member referred to the actions of some employees described in the report as “insane.”

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Amazon ties new 4.7-inch phone to its services

SEATTLE (AP) — Amazon has introduced a new smartphone with audio and object recognition technology that seeks to make it easier for consumers to locate and purchase products and services from the nation’s largest e-commerce company.

The new Fire phone also adds such features as the ability to render images in 3-D.

The Fire phone doesn’t differ much from other smartphones on the market and shares many characteristics found in other Amazon devices. For instance, the phone will have X-Ray for supplemental content about movies and TV shows and Mayday for live tech support.

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Yellen: US economy still needs help from Fed

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy still isn’t healthy enough to grow at a consistently strong pace without the Federal Reserve’s help.

That was the message Fed Chair Janet Yellen sent Wednesday at a news conference after the central bank ended a two-day policy meeting.

Yellen made clear that despite a steadily improving job market and signs of creeping inflation, the Fed sees no need to raise short-term interest rates from record lows anytime soon.

Her remarks followed a statement from the Fed that it would further slow the pace of its long-term bond purchases. The bond purchases have been intended to keep long-term loan rates low. But the Fed offered no clear signal about when it will start raising its benchmark short-term rate.

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Cheese! Small businesses get sales off Instagram

NEW YORK (AP) — A picture is worth thousands of dollars for Limelight Extensions.

Phones start ringing at the Farmington Hills, Michigan, salon each time co-owner Miranda Jade Plater posts pictures on photo-sharing app Instagram. Would-be customers call to book appointments or ask questions about hair extensions she posts.

Colorful styles get the most attention. Palmer still gets calls about a photo of herself that she uploaded two months ago. In it, she’s wearing long, black curly hair extensions with the ends dyed bright orange. That photo alone has generated about $10,000 in sales.

Instagram is an increasingly important part of small businesses’ social media strategies. It’s helping them drive sales, gain customers and develop their brand. The app is especially helpful to restaurants, bakeries, clothing stores, hair salons and other businesses that sell items that photograph well.

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Midday work ban puts focus on Gulf labour rights

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An annual midday work ban goes into effect this month across much of the Arabian Peninsula to protect construction workers and outdoor labourers from the risks of direct sunlight and extremely high temperatures during the hottest summer months.

The ban, which stands out as one of the most strictly enforced laws aimed at protecting migrant workers in Gulf Arab countries, sheds light on the often difficult working conditions for millions of expatriate labourers who make up the bulk of the workforce here. They provide the manpower to build high-rises, shopping malls, highways and other mega-construction projects sweeping through the region.

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World Cup highlights Asia’s illegal betting boom

HONG KONG (AP) — As teams battle for football glory at the World Cup in Brazil, the biggest winners from the tournament may be illegal bookmakers in Asia.

Since kickoff, Chinese officer worker Chen has already wagered 2,000-3,000 yuan ($320-$480) through black market online bookies and plans to gamble more on big upcoming games.

Chen, who started betting on sports that also include NBA games four years ago, said that during the previous World Cup in South Africa he bet 115,000 yuan ($18,500) in a single day on three different games — a huge sum for the average Chinese — and lost about half of it.

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Stocks close higher for 4th straight day

NEW YORK (AP) — The Federal Reserve’s latest economic update reversed a listless slide for stocks Wednesday, propelling the Standard & Poor’s 500 index to another record-high close.

The central bank’s statement reassure investors on two fronts: The Fed sees improvement in the U.S. job market and signs of just modest inflation, but it also intends to continue keeping short-term interest rates low, a policy that’s helped make stocks more attractive.

The market had been in a wait-and-see mode in advance of the Fed statement, drifting lower for much of the day. The afternoon rebound gave the stock market its fourth consecutive gain.

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Fed sharply cuts forecast for US economic growth

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve has sharply cut its forecast for U.S. growth this year, reflecting a shrinking economy last quarter caused mostly by harsh weather.

At the same time, the Fed has barely increased its estimate of inflation despite signs that consumer price increases are picking up. Its benign inflation outlook suggests that the Fed doesn’t feel rising pressure to raise short-term interest rates.

The Fed updated its economic forecasts Wednesday after a two-day policy meeting.

It expects growth to be just 2.1 per cent to 2.3 per cent this year, down from 2.8 per cent to 3 per cent in its last projections in March.

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US current account deficit jumps from 14-year low

WASHINGTON (AP) — A drop in U.S. exports and lower income from overseas investments drove the U.S. current account deficit to its highest level in 18 months.

The Commerce Department says the deficit jumped to a seasonally adjusted $111.2 billion in the January-March quarter, up from a revised total of $87.3 billion in the October-December quarter. The fourth quarter’s total was the smallest in 14 years.

The current account is the country’s broadest measure of trade, covering not only goods and services but also investment flows. A wider deficit can act as a drag on growth because it means U.S. companies are earning less from their overseas markets.

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Trial begins for former hedge fund owner’s brother

NEW YORK (AP) — A prosecutor tried to portray a stock trader and his brother, an imprisoned hedge fund owner, as close as twins Wednesday during opening statements in an insider trading trial, but a defence lawyer said they could not have been more different in how they plied their craft.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Frey pointed at the defendant, Rengan Rajaratnam, 43, as he accused him of teaming up with his brother, Raj, to cheat in the stock market in 2008 on the securities of two technology companies.

He promised jurors they would hear taped phone conversations between the brothers, “calls that provide a very revealing window into their corrupt relationship.”

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IRS to waive penalties for some overseas accounts

WASHINGTON (AP) —The Internal Revenue Service is offering to waive steep penalties for Americans living abroad who haven’t been paying their U.S. taxes.

But there is a catch: You have to be able to show that you didn’t evade U.S. taxes on purpose.

American citizens living abroad are required to file U.S. tax returns, even if they keep all their money overseas. Similarly, U.S. citizens living in the United States are required to tell the IRS about any accounts they have in foreign banks.

The penalties for not reporting these accounts are stiff. If there is more than $10,000 in an unreported account, the IRS can impose penalties of $100,000 — more if the accounts are really big.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average added 98.13 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 16,906.62. The S&P 500 rose 14.99 points, or 0.8 per cent, to close at 1,956.98. The Nasdaq composite gained 25.60 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 4,362.84.

Benchmark U.S. crude for July delivery fell 39 cents to close at $105.97 in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark used to price international oil used by many U.S. refiners, rose 81 cents to close at $114.26 a barrel in London, its highest level since September. Wholesale gasoline rose 0.7 cent to close at $3.098 a gallon. Natural gas fell 5 cents to close at $4.659 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil rose 2.2 cents to close at $3.040 a gallon.

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