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Business Highlights

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High nursing home bills squeeze insurers, driving rates up

NEW YORK (AP) — Thirty years ago, insurance companies had the answer to the soaring cost of caring for the elderly. Plan ahead and buy a policy that will cover your expenses.

Now, there’s a new problem: Even insurers think it’s unaffordable.

Life insurance firms pitched long-term care policies as the prudent way for Americans to shoulder the cost of staying in nursing homes. But those same companies have found that long-term-care policies are squeezing their profits. Earnings for life insurers slid 11 per cent in the most recent quarter, according to Moody’s Investors Service, and long-term care was the chief culprit.

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AmEx Troubles: Some cardholders can leave home without it

NEW YORK (AP) — For decades, American Express was the undisputed credit card of choice among corporate road warriors, the wealthy and the well-travelled, who lived by the company’s slogan, “Don’t leave home without it.”

But changing consumer habits, extremely aggressive competition and increased pushback from its merchants are putting heavy pressure on AmEx.

Rivals are trying to steal away business and are succeeding in some cases. Costco, for example, is ending its 15-year relationship with AmEx and defecting to Citigroup and Visa starting next March. And airlines that used to give VIP lounge access to AmEx cardholders have been switching in recent years to other credit card companies.

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Google imports new CFO Ruth Porat from Wall Street

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google has lured away Morgan Stanley’s chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, to be its CFO at a time when the Internet search leader and its Silicon Valley peers are under fire for hiring and promoting too few women.

The appointment announced Tuesday fills a void that opened earlier this month after Google’s CFO of the past seven years, Patrick Pichette, announced his plans to retire.

Porat, 58, will become Google’s highest-ranking female executive when she starts her new job on May 26. Her last day at Morgan Stanley will be April 30, ending a 28-year career at the New York investment bank.

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Are you willing to pay to watch video clips online?

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Would you pay to see some of the Internet’s best video clips first? Vessel, a new service trying to change the way that short video pieces make money on the Internet and mobile devices, is betting on it.

Instead of free-for-all distribution supported solely by advertising, Vessel will charge $3 per month for exclusive early access to clips of musicians, sporting events, comedians and many other forms of entertainment not available on YouTube or any other digital video service for at least three days. CEO Jason Kilar, formerly head of Hulu Plus, believes Vessel’s model will be able to pay video producers about $50 per 1,000 views of their clips on the site. That compares with just $2.20 per 1,000 views of ad-supported video at sites such as YouTube, Kilar says.

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Taco Bell’s waffle taco is dead; biscuit taco to replace

NEW YORK (AP) — The newest weapon in the breakfast wars is a biscuit shaped like a taco.

Taco Bell is launching a “biscuit taco” this week and ditching its “waffle taco,” which got widespread attention last year when it was included in the rollout of the chain’s breakfast menu.

The swap comes as the chain tries to build on its year-old breakfast business by once again going after the dominant player in the mornings: McDonald’s.

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Higher gas costs lift US consumer prices after 3 declines

WASHINGTON (AP) — A slight rise in gas costs and broad increases in other categories lifted consumer prices in February, a welcome sign after three straight months of declines that had pointed to excessively low inflation.

The consumer price index rose 0.2 per cent, the Labor Department said Tuesday, after having sunk 0.7 per cent in January — the biggest drop in six years.

Gas prices have plummeted since June, dramatically lowering inflation. They fell for seven straight months before rising 2.4 per cent in February, the government said. Prices at the pump are still nearly 33 per cent lower than a year ago.

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US new-home sales surge in February

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sales of new U.S. homes in February climbed to their fastest pace in seven years, as an otherwise dormant housing market showed fresh signs of life.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that new-home sales shot up 7.8 per cent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 539,000, the strongest performance since February 2008. January sales were revised up nearly 4 per cent to a rate of 500,000.

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Looking for a job near home? Good luck, it’s getting harder

WASHINGTON (AP) — Remember the Detroit man who walked 21 miles to work?

James Robertson’s arduous daily journey back and forth to a low-wage factory job, widely reported last month, is just an extreme version of an increasingly common problem: Finding a job near home is getting harder for millions of American workers. And long commutes are especially tough on the poor and on blacks and Hispanics.

A Brookings Institution report out Tuesday finds the number of jobs within typical commuting range dropped 7 per cent between 2000 and 2012 in major U.S. metropolitan areas.

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British pound’s swings cause uncertainty for business

LONDON (AP) — The British pound is getting caught between the dollar’s surge and the euro’s slump, and its swings are shaking things up for business just as uncertainty grows over a potentially tight general election.

Caught in the crossfire of developments in the United States and the 19-country eurozone, the pound has dropped to a 5-year low against the dollar but pushed to a seven-year high against the euro.

Against the dollar, it is trading below $1.50, its lowest since 2010, largely due to expectations that the Federal Reserve will start raising interest rates this year. Higher rates tend to bolster a currency’s value.

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Male nurses scarce but make more money than women RNs: Study

CHICAGO (AP) — Even in an occupation that women overwhelmingly dominate, they still earn less than men, a study of nurses found.

The gender gap for registered nurses’ salaries amounts to a little over $5,000 yearly on average and it hasn’t budged in more than 20 years. That pay gap may not sound big — it’s smaller than in many other professions — but over a long career, it adds up to more than $150,000, said study author Ulrike Muench, a professor and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.

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Reports: 11M fewer uninsured since passage of Obama’s law

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of uninsured U.S. residents fell by more than 11 million since President Barack Obama signed the health care overhaul five years ago, according to a pair of reports Tuesday from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although that still would leave about 37 million people uninsured, it’s the lowest level measured in more than 15 years.

The most dramatic change took place in comparing 2013 with the first nine months of 2014. As the health care law’s major coverage expansion was taking effect, the number of uninsured people fell by 7.6 million over that time.

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Mexico’s Baja farmworkers strike for better conditions

SAN QUINTIN, Mexico (AP) — Workers at large, export-oriented farms in the Mexican border state of Baja California have led a week of violent protests over low pay, abuses and poor conditions, threatening a harvest that supplies millions of dollars’ worth of tomatoes, strawberries and other crops to the United States.

Burning tires and tossing rocks at vehicles, hundreds of farmworkers have blocked Baja’s main north-south highway on and off, and as many as 50,000 are believed to be on strike statewide as of Tuesday.

Their demands — health care, overtime pay, days off, an end to abuse by field bosses and more pay than the $8 many earn for a full day of stoop-labour — echo those of farmworkers 40 years ago in the United States.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow slipped 104.90 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 18,011.14. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 12.92 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 2,091.50 Tuesday. The Nasdaq composite fell 16.25 points, or 0.3 per cent, to 4,994.73.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 6 cents to close at $47.51 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 81 cents to close at $55.11 in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 0.4 cent to close at $1.800 a gallon. Heating oil fell 2.4 cents to close at $1.707 a gallon. Natural gas rose 5.3 cents to close at $2.786 per 1,000 cubic feet.