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US-Cuba thaw could benefit farmers, energy and travel firms

WASHINGTON (AP) — Freighters once carried Cuban nickel and limestone to the port of New Orleans and North Dakota beans to Havana. Cuban families ate bowls of American rice, while U.S. tourists flocked to casinos and nightclubs in Havana.

The United States’ commercial ties with Cuba were broken 54 years ago after Fidel Castro took power on the Caribbean island. Now U.S.-Cuba trade is poised to resume at last: President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced plans to re-establish diplomat relations with Havana, and economic ties are expected to follow.

Among those eager for access to a Cuban market cut off by an economic embargo are U.S. farmers, travel companies, energy producers and importers of rum and cigars.

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Sony cancels ‘The Interview’ Dec. 25 release

NEW YORK (AP) — Sony Pictures has cancelled the Dec. 25 release of “The Interview” after hackers threatened terrorist attacks and the largest multiplex chains in North America pulled the film from its screens.

In a statement Wednesday, Sony said it was cancelling “The Interview” release “in light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film.” The studio, which has been shaken by hacker leaks over the past several weeks, said it respected and shared in the exhibitors’ concerns.

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Fed to be ‘patient’ about a rate hike; stocks soar

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve is edging closer to raising interest rates from record lows given a strengthening U.S. economy. But it will be “patient” in deciding when to do so.

That was the message sent Wednesday as the Fed ended a meeting amid heightened expectation about a forthcoming rate increase. At a news conference afterward, Chair Janet Yellen said she foresaw no rate hike in the first quarter of 2015.

Yellen said the strength of U.S. economic data and the level of inflation, not a calendar date, will dictate when it raises rates. At a time of global economic turmoil and collapsing oil prices, she stressed that the Fed was making no policy changes.

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Russians flock to stores to pre-empt price rises

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian consumers flocked to the stores Wednesday, frantically buying a range of big-ticket items to pre-empt the price rises kicked off by the staggering fall in the value of the ruble in recent days.

As the Russian authorities announced a series of measures to ease the pressure on the ruble, which slid 15 per cent in the previous two days and raised fears of a bank run, many Russians were buying cars and home appliances — in some cases in record numbers — before prices for these imported goods shoot higher.

The Swedish furniture giant IKEA already warned Russian consumers that its prices will rise Thursday, which resulted in weekend-like crowds at a Moscow store on a Wednesday afternoon.

Shops selling a broad range of items were reporting record sales — some have even suspended operations, unsure of how far the ruble will sink. Apple, for one, has halted all online sales in Russia.

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US consumer prices fell 0.3 per cent in November

WASHINGTON (AP) — Plunging gasoline costs pulled U.S. consumer prices lower in November, muting inflation across the entire economy.

The Labor Department said Wednesday the inflation reading fell a seasonally-adjusted 0.3 per cent last month, after prices were flat in October. Gas costs plummeted 10.5 per cent in November, the steepest decline in nearly six years.

Core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, rose 0.1 per cent in November. For the past 12 months, overall inflation has risen 1.3 per cent while core inflation has increased 1.7 per cent.

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14 charged in deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak

BOSTON (AP) — Mold and bacteria were in the air and on workers’ gloved fingertips. Pharmacists used expired ingredients, didn’t properly sterilize them and failed to test drugs for purity before sending them to hospitals and pain clinics. Employees falsified logs to make it look as if the so-called clean rooms had been disinfected.

Federal prosecutors levelled those allegations in bringing charges Wednesday against 14 former owners or employees of a Massachusetts pharmacy in connection with a nationwide meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz called it the biggest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine.

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Study: Wealth gap largest on record

NEW YORK (AP) — There’s even more proof that the rich are getting richer while everyone else gets poorer.

In a new report, Pew Research Center said Wednesday that the gap between the nation’s wealthiest households and middle- and low-income earners is the widest it has been since the government began collecting data 30 years ago.

Pew, which analyzed Federal Reserve data, said the median wealth of upper-income families was $639,400 in 2013. Middle-income households were worth $96,500, while low-income families were worth $9,300. Pew calculated wealth by adding a family’s assets, including homes, cars and businesses, and subtracted it from debts.

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McDonald’s in Japan limits orders of fries

TOKYO (AP) — Only small fries with that? McDonald’s in Japan is limiting the serving size of fries as stocks run short due to labour disruptions on the U.S. West Coast.

McDonald’s began rationing its fries Wednesday morning. It said prolonged labour negotiations with port workers on the West Coast have made it difficult to meet demand despite an emergency airlift of 1,000 tons of processed spuds and an extra shipment from the U.S. East Coast by sea.

Japanese consume more than 300,000 tons of french fries a year, mostly at fast-food restaurants, and largely sourced from imports of frozen, processed potatoes from America, according to U.S. figures.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 288 points, or 1.7 per cent, to close at 17,356.87. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 40.15 points, or 2 per cent, to 2,012.89. The Nasdaq composite climbed 96.48 points, or 2.1 per cent, to 4,644.31.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 54 cents to close at $56.47 a barrel. Brent crude for February delivery, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose $1.17 to close at $61.18 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline rose 2.5 cents to close at $1.566 a gallon. Heating oil rose 4.9 cents to close at $2.009 a gallon. Natural gas rose 8.3 cents to close at $3.702 per 1,000 cubic feet.