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Business Highlights

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Food companies work to make it look natural

NEW YORK (AP) — Here’s the latest goal for food makers: Perfect the art of imperfection.

When stretching out the dough for its premium “Artisan Pizzas,” Domino’s workers are instructed not to worry about making the rectangles too perfect: The pies are supposed to have a more rustic look.

At McDonald’s, the egg whites for the new breakfast sandwich called the Egg White Delight McMuffin have a loose shape rather than the round discs used in the original Egg McMuffin.

And Kraft Foods took more than two years to develop a process to make the thick, uneven slabs of turkey in its Carving Board line look like leftovers from a homemade meal rather than the cookie-cutter ovals typical of most lunchmeat.

Food companies are responding to the adage that people eat with their eyes. Americans still love their fast food and packaged snacks, but they’re increasingly turning their noses up at foods that look overly processed. Home-cooked meals — or ones that at least look like they were homemade — are seen as more wholesome and authentic.

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Netflix cuts original TV deal with DreamWorks

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Netflix’s deal to air original television programming from Dreamworks Animation is a major coup for both companies.

Though financial details were not disclosed, Netflix Inc. says the multi-year agreement announced on Monday is its biggest deal ever for original first-run content. It includes more than 300 hours of new TV episodes in a multi-year deal starting in 2014.

The transaction helps Netflix compete with pay TV channels such as HBO and Showtime, and it gives Dreamworks a potentially lucrative outlet for its shows as it tries to shed its reliance on two or three big-budget movies each year.

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EU, US agree to start free trade talks at G-8

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland (AP) — The European Union and the United States will open negotiations next month on a long-sought deal to create free trade between the world’s two mightiest economic regions, an effort designed to create millions of jobs that could take years to transform from dream to reality.

EU and U.S. leaders announced the plans Monday at the start of the G-8 summit of wealthy nations in Northern Ireland.

At stake is a vision of boosting the value of trans-Atlantic trade in goods and services that Obama said already exceeds $1 trillion annually, as well as $4 trillion annually in investment in each other’s economies.

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US homebuilder confidence soars to 7-year high

For the first time in seven years, most U.S. homebuilders are optimistic about home sales, a sign that construction could help drive stronger economic growth in coming months.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Monday leaped to 52 this month from 44 in May. It was the largest monthly increase since 2002.

A reading above 50 indicates more builders view sales conditions as good, rather than poor. The index hasn’t been that high since April 2006, just before the housing market collapsed.

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Feds: New York, Virginia 7-Eleven stores exploited immigrants

NEW YORK (AP) — Nine owners and managers of 7-Eleven stores across Long Island and in Virginia were charged Monday with making tens of millions of dollars by exploiting immigrants from Pakistan and the Philippines, in part by paying them using the stolen Social Security numbers of a child and three dead people while stealing most of their wages.

Most of the defendants were arrested early Monday as federal authorities raided 14 franchise stores. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were executing search warrants at more than 40 other stores across the country suspected of similar infractions, authorities said at a Brooklyn news conference.

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Starboard says Smithfield sale undervalues company

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — One of Smithfield Foods Inc.’s largest shareholders says a $4.72 billion takeover bid from China’s largest meat producer falls short of what the company would be worth if sold off piece by piece.

In a letter to the Smithfield, Va.-based pork producer’s board of directors on Monday, the New York-based investment firm Starboard Value LP estimated the company’s value at $9 billion to $10.8 billion, or about $44 to $55 per share. Starboard owns about 5.7 per cent of Smithfield’s common stock.

Under the deal struck last month with Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd., Smithfield will sell itself for $34 per share. The deal, which remains subject to regulatory and shareholder approvals, would be the largest takeover of a U.S. company by a Chinese firm, valued at about $7.1 billion, including debt. Smithfield’s stock will no longer be publicly traded once the deal closes, which is expected in the second half of the year.

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Apple details government requests for data

NEW YORK (AP) — Apple says it received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. law enforcement for customer data for the six months ended in May.

The company, like some other businesses, had asked the U.S government to be able to share how many requests it received related to national security and how it handled them. Those requests were made as part of Prism, the recently revealed highly classified National Security Agency program that seizes records from Internet companies.

Prism appears to do what its name suggests. Like a triangular piece of glass, Prism takes large beams of data and helps the government find discrete, manageable strands of information.

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Google settles suit, clears way for stock split

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google has resolved a shareholder lawsuit blocking a long-delayed stock split, clearing the way for the Internet search leader to issue a new class of non-voting shares later this year.

The settlement announced Monday came on the eve of a scheduled Delaware chancery court trial that threatened to cast an unflattering light on Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

The class-action by the Brockton Retirement Board in Massachusetts and another Google shareholder, Philip Skidmore, alleged that Page and Brin engineered the stock split in a way that unfairly benefits them while shortchanging the rest of the company’s shareholders.

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Lowe’s offers to buy Orchard Supply for $205 million

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Lowe’s plans to expand its California presence with an acquisition of Sears spinoff Orchard Supply Hardware Stores for about $205 million in cash.

Orchard Supply filed a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition on Monday, so the offer from Lowe’s will become the “stalking horse” bid for an auction of Orchard’s assets. Such a bid sets the floor for an auction process that lets competitors make better offers.

The California market is key since it has been a strong market for home improvement retailers recently. In its most recent earnings report Lowe’s reported net income that rose 3 per cent but missed expectations, hurt by a rainy and cool spring. However its larger rival Home Depot Inc., with a bigger presence in California, reported better-than-expected results.

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Lucrative long-hauls get boost at Paris Air Show

LE BOURGET, France (AP) — Airbus and Boeing won pledges for big purchases of their lucrative long-haul wide-body jets at the Paris Air Show Monday, raising hopes that demand is recovering following the worldwide recession.

The global aviation event at Le Bourget airfield north of Paris is once again playing host to the rivalry between U.S.-based Boeing and France-based Airbus. After several years of success for their smaller models, the world’s leading plane makers are hoping to get orders for the bigger, more expensive long-haul jets.

Ahead of the aerospace industry showcase, Airbus heavily promoted the A350 — its first all-new plane in eight years. The A350 seats up to 440 and is Airbus’ best chance to catch up with Boeing’s 787 and 777, which carry up to 300 and 365 passengers respectively, in the race to sell planes used on long-haul flights.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 109.67 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 15,179.85. The Nasdaq composite rose 28.58, or 0.8 per cent, to 3,452.13. The Nasdaq composite rose 28.58, or 0.8 per cent, to 3,452.13. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 12.31 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 1,639.04.

Benchmark oil for July delivery fell 8 cents to finish at $97.77 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for many international oil varieties, fell 46 cents to end at $105.47 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline fell 4 cents to finish at $2.86 a gallon. Heating oil dropped 1 cent to end at $2.95 per gallon. Natural gas advanced 14 cents to finish at $3.88 per 1,000 cubic feet.