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Stocks rise sharply, led by gains in technology

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Technology stocks roared back Wednesday, driving the Standard & Poor's 500 and Dow Jones industrial average to record highs.

The industry has lagged the broader market this year, but surged after network communication company Adtran reported earnings that were double what Wall Street analysts expected. That boosted optimism that businesses will increase spending on technology equipment.

Chipmakers Micron and Intel jumped, as did other network equipment makers like Cisco and JDS Uniphase. Stocks were also up on an optimistic reading of the Federal Reserve Bank's latest minutes.

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Minutes show Fed supports stimulus through midyear

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ A majority of Federal Reserve policymakers want to continue extraordinary bond purchases to help boost the U.S. economy at least through the middle of the year, according to minutes from the Fed's last meeting released Wednesday.

But many members indicated they want to slow and eventually end the program before the end of the year, as long as the job market and economy show sustained improvement. The Fed's purchases of about $85 billion a month in Treasury and mortgage bonds are intended to lower long-term interest rates and encourage more borrowing and spending.

The minutes of the Fed's March 19-20 meeting were released at 9 a.m. EDT â¿¿ five hours earlier than planned â¿¿ after the Fed inadvertently sent them a day earlier to congressional staffers and lobbyists.

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Research firm: PC sales plunge as Windows 8 flops

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Microsoft's Windows 8 software appears to be driving buyers away from PCs and toward smartphones and tablets, research firm IDC said Wednesday. That's leading to the fastest drop in PC sales the firm has ever seen.

Global shipments of PCs fell 14 percent in the first three months this year, IDC said. That's the sharpest plunge since the firm started tracking the industry in 1994.

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