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Economic gains boost US confidence to 5-year high

WASHINGTON (AP) — Home prices are surging, job growth is strengthening and stocks are setting record highs. All of which explains why Americans are more hopeful about the economy than at any other point in five years.

Investors on Tuesday celebrated the latest buoyant reports on consumer confidence and housing prices, which together suggest that growth could accelerate in the second half of 2013.

Greater confidence could spur people to spend more and help offset tax increases and federal spending cuts. And the fastest rise in home prices in seven years might lead more Americans to put houses on the market, easing supply shortages that have kept the housing recovery from taking off.

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Tax overhaul: Looking to IRS scandal for momentum

WASHINGTON (AP) — The storm engulfing the Internal Revenue Service could provide a boost for lawmakers who want to simplify U.S. tax laws — a code that is so complicated most Americans buy commercial software to help them or simply hire someone else to do it all.

Members of Congress from both political parties say the current uproar — over the targeting of conservative political groups — underscores that overly complex tax provisions have given the IRS too much discretion in interpreting and enforcing the law.

There are still formidable obstacles to completing a major tax overhaul this year or next. Democrats and Republicans start off with opposite views on whether the government should levy more taxes and on who should pay what share. The two sides also don’t trust one another, making it difficult to envision agreement on which popular tax breaks to keep and which to scrap.

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Nike cutting ties to Livestrong

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Nike, which helped build Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong cancer charity into a global brand and introduced its familiar yellow wristband, is cutting ties with the foundation in the latest fallout from the former cyclist’s doping scandal.

The move by the sports shoe and clothing company ends a relationship that began in 2004 and helped the foundation raise more than $100 million, making the charity’s bracelet an international symbol for cancer survivors.

But the relationship soured with revelations of performance-enhancing drug use by Armstrong and members of his U.S. Postal Service team.

Nike said Tuesday it will stop making its Livestrong line of apparel after the 2013 holiday season. Foundation and company officials said Nike will honour the financial terms of its contract until it expires in 2014.

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7 charged in $6 billion online money-laundering case

NEW YORK (AP) — Calling it perhaps the biggest money-laundering scheme in U.S. history, federal prosecutors charged seven people Tuesday with running what amounted to an online, underworld bank that handled $6 billion for drug dealers, child pornographers, identity thieves and other criminals around the globe.

The case was aimed at Liberty Reserve, a currency-transfer and payment-processing company based in Costa Rica that authorities say allowed customers to move money anonymously from one account to another via the Internet with almost no questions asked.

U.S. officials said the enterprise was staggering in scope: Over roughly seven years, Liberty Reserve processed 55 million illicit transactions worldwide for 1 million users, including 200,000 in the U.S.

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NY high court eyes who can tap Starbucks’ tip jars

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Baristas, managers and Starbucks itself put in their two cents Tuesday before New York’s highest court in a tip-jar dispute that could have broad consequences for the state’s hospitality workers and, ultimately, employees at the coffee chain’s thousands of U.S. retail stores.

The arguments pitted low-level workers against assistant managers and the company over who is entitled to the cash tips coffee customers leave when picking up their daily pick-me-up.

A federal appeals court has asked the state Court of Appeals to interpret New York labour law and its definition of an employer’s “agent,” who is prohibited from tip sharing, in connection with two lawsuits against Starbucks, which allows baristas and shift supervisors — but not assistant managers — to dip into the tip jar.

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Tiffany 1Q results rise, tops expectations

NEW YORK (AP) — Tiffany & Co. reported a 3 per cent increase in first-quarter net income, fueled by solid sales improvement across the regions, particularly in Asia.

The results, announced Tuesday, beat Wall Street expectations, and its shares briefly rose to their highest level in almost two years in morning trading.

Tiffany is a barometer of luxury spending so the latest results show the resilience among affluent shoppers despite economic challenges around the globe. Still, the company stuck to its profit outlook for the year, citing a weaker yen as well as ongoing weak sales in the North America region.

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Report: Plans for Australia spy HQ hacked by China

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian officials on Tuesday refused to confirm or deny whether Chinese hackers had stolen the blueprints of a new spy agency headquarters as a news report claims. A tiny party essential to the ruling coalition’s government demanded an inquiry into how much damage may have been done.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. television reported on Monday night that the plans for the 630 million Australian dollar ($608 million) Australian Security Intelligence Organization building had been stolen through a cyberattack on a building contractor. Blueprints that included details such as communications cabling, server locations and security systems had been traced to a Chinese server, the network reported.

Des Ball, an Australian National University cybersecurity expert, said China could use the blueprints to bug the building, which is nearing completion in Canberra, the capital, after lengthy construction delays.

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Derailment, blast crumple buildings near Baltimore

WHITE MARSH, Md. (AP) — A CSX cargo train crashed into a trash truck and derailed Tuesday in a Baltimore suburb and the explosion that followed rattled homes at least a half-mile away and collapsed nearby buildings, setting them on fire, officials and witnesses said.

The train went off the tracks at about 2 p.m. in White Marsh, about 10 miles northeast of Baltimore. Hazmat teams were on the scene, but fire officials did not have immediate information on what might be still be burning.

Baltimore County Public Safety tweeted that if residents and others can see the smoke plume, they should evacuate the area, at least within 20 blocks. At least 15 cars derailed, said Baltimore County Fire Chief John J. Hohman.

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Wal-Mart pleads guilty for Calif. hazardous waste

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will pay $81 million after pleading guilty to criminal charges the company dumped hazardous waste across California, a company spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Wal-Mart entered the plea in San Francisco federal court to misdemeanour counts of negligently dumping pollutants from its stores into sanitation drains across the state, spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said.

As part of the plea, the company will pay the substantial fine that also will cover charges in Missouri.

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Fidelity National buying Lender Processing

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Fidelity National Financial Inc. has agreed to buy Lender Processing Services Inc. for about $2.82 billion in order to broaden and diversify its business.

Lender Processing is a Jacksonville, Fla.-based technology company that services the mortgage and real estate industries. Fidelity National, also based in Jacksonville, Fla., provides title insurance, mortgage and other services.

Fidelity National will pay $33.25 per share, a 1 per cent premium to Lender Processing’s Friday closing price of $32.89. The companies put the cash-and-stock deal’s total equity value at approximately $2.9 billion.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 106.29 points, or 0.7 per cent, to close at 15,409.39. The S&P 500 index rose 10.46 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 1,660.06. The Nasdaq composite index climbed 29.74 points, or 0.9 per cent, to 3,488.89.

Benchmark oil for July delivery rose 86 cents to close at $95.01 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for many international oil varieties, was up $1.61 to $104.23 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $2.85 a gallon. Heating oil climbed 5 cents to $2.91 per gallon. Natural gas shed 6 cents to $4.17 per 1,000 cubic feet.