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Business Highlights

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Fed leaves key interest rate unchanged, citing low inflation

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve ended weeks of speculation Thursday by keeping U.S. interest rates at record lows in the face of threats from a weak global economy, persistently low inflation and unstable financial markets.

But at a news conference after a Fed policy meeting, Chair Janet Yellen said a rate hike was still likely this year. A majority of Fed officials on the committee that sets the federal funds rate — which controls the interest that banks charge each other — foresee higher rates before next year. The Fed will next meet in October and then in December.

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GM will pay $900 million over ignition switch scandal

NEW YORK (AP) — General Motors agreed to pay $900 million to fend off criminal prosecution over the deadly ignition-switch scandal, striking a deal that brought criticism down on the Justice Department for not bringing charges against individual employees.

The switches, which can slip out of the “run” position and cut off the engine, have been linked to at least 169 deaths.

Despite evidence that GM’s legal and engineering staffs concealed the problem for nearly a decade, no employees were charged Thursday, though U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the investigation is still going on.

Also Thursday, GM announced it will spend $575 million to settle the majority of the civil lawsuits filed over the scandal.

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Amazon dangles $50 tablet computer to hook more consumers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Amazon is dangling a $50 tablet computer in its latest attempt to lure consumers who can’t afford or don’t want the more expensive Internet-connected devices made by Apple and other rivals.

The 7-inch Fire tablet unveiled Thursday marks Amazon’s most aggressive attempt yet to undercut Apple, which has been the market leader since its first iPad went on sale five years ago. The least expensive iPad Mini, which has an 8-inch screen, currently sells for $270.

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How companies are targeting Hispanics to boost sales

NEW YORK (AP) — When NxStage Medical Inc. realized Spanish-speaking people made up 15 per cent of the market for its home kidney dialysis equipment, the company created a website and brochures printed in Spanish.

NxStage, which started its marketing campaign to Hispanics a year ago, has also increased its staff of Spanish-speaking customer service agents.

There are about 55 million Hispanics in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau, which reported Hispanics accounted for more than half the U.S. population growth from 2000-10. By 2060, it’s expected there will be 119 million Hispanics, making up nearly 29 per cent of the population.

Hispanics also have enormous buying power — $1.4 trillion, according to an estimate by market research company Nielsen. Large companies such as NxStage have taken notice — and so have smaller firms.

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More than 2,000 enslaved fishermen rescued in 6 months

AMBON, Indonesia (AP) — More than 2,000 fishermen have been rescued this year from brutal conditions at sea, liberated as a result of an Associated Press investigation into seafood brought to the U.S. from a slave island in eastern Indonesia.

Dozens of Burmese men in the bustling port town of Ambon were the latest to go home, some more than a decade after being trafficked onto Thai trawlers. Grabbing one another’s hands, the men walked together toward buses last week. As they pulled away for the airport, some of those still waiting their turn to go home cheered, throwing their arms in the air.

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US homebuilding slows in August after hot streak

WASHINGTON (AP) — Builders broke ground on fewer houses and apartment complexes in August, a possible sign that the housing market may be levelling off after accelerating for much of the year.

Housing starts last month fell 3 per cent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.13 million homes, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Construction activity slowed sharply in the Northeast and Midwest last month, edged downward in the West and climbed in the South.

Still, homebuilding appears much stronger than a year ago, despite figures that can be highly volatile on a monthly basis. Construction slowed in part due to the expiration of tax incentives for developers in New York.

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Applications for US jobless aid fall to very low 264,000

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in two months, suggesting employers remain confident enough in the economy to hold onto their workers.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for unemployment aid dropped 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 264,000. That’s the lowest level since July, when applications plunged to a 41-year low.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the decline indicates that employers are cutting fewer jobs. Americans are enjoying strong job security: Applications have been below 300,000 for the past six months, which hasn’t happened since 1973.

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Cheaper oil lowers US current account deficit in 2nd quarter

WASHINGTON (AP) — Cheaper oil imports and greater U.S. exports lowered the deficit in the broadest measure of U.S. trade in the April-June quarter.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that the current account deficit shrank to $109.7 billion, down from $118.3 billion in the first quarter. The current account tracks not only trade in goods and services but also investment flows.

Falling oil prices helped reduce the value of oil imports, lowering the trade deficit to $130 billion from $134.3 billion in the first quarter. Exports of goods and services increased to $564.7 billion from $561.7 billion.

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Average US rate on 30-year mortgage rises to 3.91 per cent

WASHINGTON (AP) — For the second straight week, average long-term U.S. mortgage rates inched up this week as financial markets awaited the Federal Reserve’s crucial decision on interest rates.

Capping months of feverish speculation, Fed policymakers announced Thursday they’ve decided to keep interest rates at record lows in the face of threats from a weak global economy, persistently low inflation and unstable financial markets. But at a news conference, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said a rate hike was still likely this year. A majority of Fed officials on the committee that sets the federal funds rate — which controls the interest that banks charge each other — still foresee higher rates before next year. The Fed will meet next in October and then December.

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American stops flights at 3 airports, problems soon resolved

DALLAS (AP) — American Airlines flights to and from Dallas, Chicago and Miami were briefly stopped on Thursday by a computer problem that prevented passengers from checking in.

Airline officials said they fixed their computer systems after less than two hours but were still trying to determine the exact cause of the interruption.

American spokesman Casey Norton said there was no indication that the airline’s computers had been hacked.

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Study: Type 2 diabetes pill Jardiance cuts risk of death

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Jardiance sharply reduced chances of dying in diabetic patients at high risk of heart complications, a study shows, making the Type 2 diabetes medication the first shown to lengthen diabetics’ lives.

The study found Jardiance reduced deaths from heart complications by 38 per cent, deaths from any cause by 32 per cent and hospitalizations due to chronic heart failure by 35 per cent.

Heart complications prematurely kill many of the estimated 387 million diabetics worldwide, so doctors in recent years have moved from trying to reduce patients’ blood sugar to trying to prevent cardiovascular complications.

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Europe’s Altice buying Cablevision as it expands in US

NEW YORK (AP) — European telecommunications and cable company Altice has agreed to buy New York cable operator Cablevision for $17.7 billion, including debt, as it pursues its aggressive expansion in the U.S.

Altice announced the deal Thursday and Cablevision said the family-controlled company considered that “the time is right for new ownership of Cablevision.”

The move is part of Netherlands-based Altice’s plan to broaden its business in the U.S. It bought Suddenlink, a smaller cable company based in St. Louis, for $9.1 billion in May after trying to take over the much larger Time Warner Cable.

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Obama, Democratic leaders huddle as shutdown threat looms

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate plan to huddle with President Barack Obama on Thursday to discuss strategy as Congress prepares for some momentous decisions on how best to keep the federal government operating.

A partial shutdown will occur Oct. 1 unless lawmakers provide money to keep the federal government functioning. A few weeks later, Congress likely will need to vote to raise the debt ceiling so that the government can borrow money to meet its existing financial commitments.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 65.21 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 16,674.74. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 5.11 points, or 0.3 per cent, to close at 1,990.20. The Nasdaq composite rose 4.71 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 4,893.95.

U.S. crude fell 25 cents to $46.90 a barrel. Brent crude, a benchmark for many international oils imported by U.S. refineries, decreased 67 cents to $49.08 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline fell less than a penny to $1.376 a gallon. Heating oil slipped 1.17 cents to $1.53 a gallon. Natural gas fell 1 cent to $2.652 per 1,000 cubic feet.