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Fed keeps key rates unchanged; foresees fewer hikes in 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve is keeping a key interest rate unchanged in light of global pressures that risk slowing the U.S. economy.

As a result, Fed officials are forecasting that they will raise rates more gradually this year than they had envisioned in December. The officials now foresee two, rather than four, modest increases in their benchmark short-term rate during 2016.

The Fed said Wednesday that the economy has continued to grow at a moderate pace but that the global economy and financial markets still pose risks. Offsetting the threats, the Fed said in a statement after a policy meeting that it foresees further strengthening in the job market.

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Stocks end modestly higher after Fed holds rates steady

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks rose Wednesday after the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged and forecast it will raise rates more gradually than it had envisioned late last year.

The market had been lower before the Fed released its statement, which highlighted strength in hiring and housing, but weakness in exports and concerns over slower global economic growth. The Fed now expects to raise interest rates two times this year instead of four.

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China’s Li pledges more reform, tries to reassure on growth

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday promised more market-opening reforms and said Beijing can keep slowing growth on track, seeking to reassure jittery global markets about the outlook for the world’s No. 2 economy.

Speaking at a news conference, Li promised to shrink bloated steel and coal industries, make the financial system more market-oriented and reduce the government’s role in business. He expressed confidence that despite such wrenching change, the world’s second-largest economy can achieve its official growth target of 6.5 to 7 per cent and avoid mass job losses.

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European stock exchanges agree to $30 billion merger

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The London Stock Exchange and Germany’s Deutsche Boerse say they are merging in an all-stock deal that will leave the German side with a majority in a company worth about $30 billion.

The exchange operators are calling it a merger of equals that will accelerate their growth and offer customers more products and services — and said the deal is going ahead even if Britain votes to leave the European Union.

They expect to complete the combination by the first quarter of 2017. The two companies together are worth about $30 billion based on their stock market value Wednesday.

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Major oil producers to talk output freeze in Qatar in April

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — OPEC member states and other major oil producers plan to meet next month to discuss a freeze in oil output levels, Qatar’s top energy official said Wednesday.

The gathering, which will build on earlier talks that included major suppliers Russia and Saudi Arabia, reflects a growing sense of urgency among producers to try to shore up crude prices following a steep drop that is straining their domestic budgets.

Qatar holds the rotating presidency of OPEC and will host the upcoming talks, which are scheduled to take place the capital, Doha, on April 17.

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AP sources: Autonomous braking to be in most cars by 2022

DETROIT (AP) — Major automakers and the U.S. government have reached agreement to make automatic emergency braking standard equipment on most cars by 2022, two people briefed on the deal said.

The agreement will be announced Thursday by automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Automakers will phase in the equipment on nearly all models except some with older electronic capabilities and some with manual transmissions, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because terms of the agreement haven’t been announced.

Automatic emergency braking uses cameras, radar and other sensors to see objects in the way and slow or stop a vehicle if the driver doesn’t react.

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Peabody Energy warns it may file for bankruptcy protection

NEW YORK (AP) — The largest American coal miner, Peabody Energy, is delaying an interest payment due this week and warned that it may have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

A slowing global economy and toughening environmental standards have slammed the coal industry, which is already beset by bankruptcies, shuttered mines and layoffs.

Peabody makes most of its money by selling its coal to utility companies that use it to generate electricity. But many utilities have shifted to using natural gas, which costs less than coal and produces less pollution.

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US consumer prices slip in February

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumer prices fell in February, dragged by another steep drop in energy prices. However, core inflation managed to tick higher, led by the biggest jump in clothing costs in seven years.

Consumer prices edged down 0.2 per cent last month after no change in January and a small decline in December, the Labor Department reported Wednesday.

Core inflation, which excludes the volatile categories of food and energy, rose 0.3 per cent following a similar 0.3 per cent rise in January.

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US factory output picks up in February for 2nd month

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. factories produced more machinery, appliances and other goods last month, the second straight increase in output and a sign manufacturing may be stabilizing after a difficult year.

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that factory production rose 0.2 per cent in February, after rising 0.5 per cent the previous month. The increases in the past two months follow four declines in the previous five months.

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Chipotle using freebies to fight eeriness of empty stores

NEW YORK (AP) — Chipotle is still giving away free burritos to convince people its food is safe and combat the eeriness of empty stores.

The Denver-based chain made its first big push with freebies on Feb. 8 when it closed stores nationwide for a few hours so employees could participate in a food safety meeting after an E. Coli outbreak and other incidents sent sales plunging.

Chipotle said 5.3 million people tried to download the mobile coupon for a free entree offered on Feb. 8 as a “rain check” for when stores were closed. The company has since also started mailing people coupons for a free entree.

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The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 74.23 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 17,325.76. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index picked up 11.29 points, or 0.6 per cent, to 2,027.22. The Nasdaq composite index gained 35.30 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 4,763.97.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $2.12 to $38.46 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oils, rose $1.59, or 4.1 per cent, to $40.33 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.42 a gallon. Heating oil gained 5 cents, or 4.5 per cent, to $1.23 a gallon. Natural gas rose 2 cents to $1.87 per 1,000 cubic feet.