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Business Highlights

By The Associated Press

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Fewer US banks failing as industry strengthens

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. banks are ending the year with their best profits since 2006 and fewer failures than at any time since the financial crisis struck in 2008. They're helping support an economy slowed by high unemployment, flat pay, sluggish manufacturing and anxious consumers.

As the economy heals from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, more people and businesses are taking out â¿¿ and repaying â¿¿ loans.

And for the first time since 2009, banks' earnings growth is being driven by higher revenue â¿¿ a healthy trend. Banks had previously managed to boost earnings by putting aside less money for possible losses.

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Trains carrying more oil across US amid boom

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) â¿¿ Energy companies behind the oil boom on the Northern Plains are increasingly turning to an industrial-age workhorse â¿¿ the locomotive â¿¿ to move their crude to refineries across the U.S., as plans for new pipelines stall and existing lines can't keep up with demand.

Delivering oil thousands of miles by rail from the heartland to refineries on the East, West and Gulf coasts costs more, but it can mean increased profits â¿¿ up to $10 or more a barrel â¿¿ because of higher oil prices on the coasts. That works out to about $700,000 per train.

The parade of mile-long trains carrying hazardous material out of North Dakota and Montana and across the country has experts and federal regulators concerned. Rail transport is less safe than pipelines, they say, and the proliferation of oil trains raises the risk of a major derailment and spill.

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Dockworkers strike averted for now at US ports

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Dockworkers along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico agreed Friday to extend their contract for more than a month, averting a weekend strike that could have crippled major ports from Boston to Houston and bottled up billions of dollars' worth of cargo.

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