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Business Highlights

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Some hospitals charge vastly more for same care

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hospitals within the same city sometimes charge tens of thousands of dollars more for the same treatment, according to figures the government released publicly for the first time Wednesday. The federal list sheds new light on the mystery of just how high a hospital bill might go — and whether it’s cheaper for uninsured patients to get the care somewhere else.

But it doesn’t answer the big question: Why do some hospitals charge 20 or even 40 times more than others?

“It doesn’t make sense,” said Jonathan Blum, director of the government’s Center for Medicare. The higher costs don’t reflect better care, he said, and can’t be explained by regional economic differences alone.

Blum said he hopes making the information available without charge to the public will help generate answers to the riddles of hospital pricing, and put pressure on the more expensive hospitals.

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Delta will pay dividend, buy back shares

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Delta Air Lines will start paying a quarterly dividend and buy back some of its shares — investor-friendly moves common in other industries but rare for airlines.

For years, the industry repelled long-term investors with high debt, losses, labour strife, bankruptcies, and roller-coaster stock prices. Now, airline bosses are eager to show that those days are over and their companies are good investments.

Delta said Wednesday that the dividend and stock buyback will return $1 billion to shareholders. The airline has posted a profit for three straight years, while trimming its debt by $5 billion.

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Reality TV’s new stars: Small businesses

NEW YORK (AP) — There’s no business like small business.

Mix the high stakes of running a small business with a dash of family drama and throw in a camera crew and you get hit reality television shows such as “Pawn Stars,” ”Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” and “Duck Dynasty.”

Turning small business owners into stars has become a winning formula for television producers, but some businesses featured in them are cashing in, too. Sales explode after just a few episodes air, transforming these nearly unknown small businesses into household names. In addition to earning a salary from starring in the shows, some small business owners are benefiting financially from opening gift shops that sell souvenirs or getting involved in other ventures that spawn from their new-found fame.

Sales at Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas are five times higher than they were before “Pawn Stars” first aired in 2009. More people are pouring into the St. Louis restaurant featured in “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” to eat its jumbo-sized fried chicken wings and six-cheese macaroni and cheese. And Duck Commander, seen in “Duck Dynasty,” is having trouble controlling the crowds in front of its headquarters in the small city of West Monroe, La.

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Ferguson key in Man U’s financial transformation

LONDON (AP) — Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. Apple and Steve Jobs. Will one of the world’s most recognized soccer clubs face the same challenges the world’s technology darling did after the departure of its iconic leader?

The announcement Wednesday that the Manchester United manager universally known as Fergie will retire has raised concerns not only over the club’s dominance of English soccer but also about its financial future.

Almost 27 years after Ferguson took the helm of an underperforming club, Manchester United is back at the top of the English Premier League and among the highest echelons of Europe’s elite soccer teams, alongside Real Madrid and Barcelona.

With annual revenues of around half a billion dollars and a market capitalization of over $3 billion, the club rooted in the blustery weather of northern England has secured its status as one of the world’s top sporting franchises.

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Treasury secretary working on penmanship

WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew’s loopy signature is showing signs of improvement as he gets ready to affix his “Jacob Lew” to the nation’s currency.

President Barack Obama joked in January when he nominated Lew for the Treasury post that he had never noticed before how illegible Lew’s signature was. Lew served as Obama’s chief of staff and also as director of the Office of Management and Budget before taking the Treasury job.

Lew’s scrawl consisted of a series of loops that bore no resemblance to his name.

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Freddie Mac posts $4.6 billion net income for Q1

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mortgage giant Freddie Mac earned $4.6 billion from January through March, helped by a stronger housing market. The government-controlled company has turned a profit in the past six quarters.

Freddie said Wednesday that it will pay a dividend of $7 billion to the U.S. Treasury next month and requested no additional federal aid for the fourth consecutive quarter.

The earnings compared with net income of $577 million in the first quarter of 2012.

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Wendy’s loses share in value menu category

NEW YORK (AP) — Wendy’s is trying to reinvent itself as a purveyor of relatively higher-quality fast food. The problem is that its competitors are aggressively promoting cheap eats and stealing away price-conscious customers.

The Dublin, Ohio, company, which is known for its square hamburger patties and Frosty shakes, on Wednesday reported a first-quarter profit that met Wall Street expectations. But sales fell short of Wall Street’s hopes. The company noted that it lost market share in the value category, which accounts for about 20 per cent of the fast-food industry.

In a conference call with analysts, CEO Emil Brolick said Wendy’s plans to adjust its marketing to emphasize the 99-cent portion of its revamped “Right Price, Right Size” value menu, which offers options ranging from 99 cents to around $2. The company had replaced its 99-cent menu in January to boost profit margins and give its franchisees more flexibility in pricing.

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Toyota profit more than doubles on yen, cost cuts

TOKYO (AP) — Toyota’s quarterly profit more than doubled to 313.9 billion yen ($3.2 billion) as cost cuts and better sales worked with a weakening yen to add momentum to the automaker’s comeback.

Toyota Motor Corp., which last year reclaimed the title of world’s top-selling automaker, said Wednesday it expects the strong results to continue in its new business year that ends March 2014. It projected a 1.37 trillion yen ($13.8 billion) profit, up from 962 billion yen for the year ended March 2013.

The annual earnings result was better than the average forecast of 912 billion yen ($9.2 billion) in a FactSet survey of analysts and also outdid the company’s own forecast for 860 billion yen ($8.7 billion) profit. Toyota reported a 121 billion yen profit for the January-March quarter of the previous year.

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McDonald’s sales hit by weakness in Asia, Europe

NEW YORK (AP) — McDonald’s says a key sales figure slipped again in April, with the world’s biggest hamburger chain citing fears over a new strain of avian flu for weakness in China.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based chain, which had warned of a decline last month, says the figure fell 0.6 per cent globally. That reflected an increase of 0.7 per cent in the U.S., where it recently introduced its chicken McWraps to attract more customers in their 20s and 30s.

But it fell 2.4 per cent in Europe, its biggest market by sales. The company said it’s working to improve results in the region by emphasizing “everyday affordability” and keeping stores open longer.

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APNewsBreak: Wrigley halts caffeinated gum

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wrigley says it is taking a new caffeinated gum off the market temporarily as the Food and Drug Administration investigates the safety of added caffeine.

The company said Wednesday that it has stopped new sales and marketing of Alert Energy Caffeine Gum “out of respect” for the agency, which said it would investigate the health effects of added caffeine in foods just as Wrigley rolled out Alert late last month. A stick of the gum is equivalent to half a cup of coffee.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 48.92 points, or 0.3 per cent, at 15,105.12. The Nasdaq composite gained 16.64 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 3,413.27. The S&P 500 index was 6.73 points higher, or 0.4 per cent, at 1,632.69.

In New York, benchmark crude for June delivery rose $1 to finish at $96.62 a barrel. It hasn’t settled that high since April 2. Brent crude, which is the benchmark for international oil varieties, was down 6 cents to end at $104.34 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline rose 2 cents to finish at $2.85 a gallon. Heating oil fell 1 cent to end at $2.91 a gallon. Natural gas added 6 cents to finish at $3.98 per 1,000 cubic feet.