Toyota casts doubt on man's speeding Prius claim

SAN DIEGO (AP) ¿ Toyota cast doubt Monday on a California man's claim that his Prius sped out of control, saying the report is inconsistent with the findings of the company's preliminary investigation.

Toyota said in a statement that the accelerator pedal was tested and found to be working normally and a backup safety system worked properly. The automaker said the front brakes showed severe wear and damage from overheating, but the rear brakes and parking brake were in good condition.

The motorist, James Sikes, said his car raced to 94 mph on a freeway near San Diego last week. The March 8 incident ended when Sikes stopped the car with help from a California Highway Patrol officer.

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Stocks end mixed ahead of Fed's rate meeting

NEW YORK (AP) ¿ Investors turned cautious Monday ahead of the Federal Reserve's meeting on interest rates.

Major stock indexes closed narrowly mixed after trading lower for most of the day. An analyst upgrade of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. helped lift the Dow Jones industrial average by about 18 points to 10,642.15, its fifth straight gain.

Investors will be looking to the Fed's statement that follows its meeting Tuesday for clues about the economic recovery and the central bank's plans for interest rates. Policymakers are almost certain to keep the Fed's benchmark rate unchanged at near zero.

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FCC unveiling sweeping national broadband plan

WASHINGTON (AP) ¿ Communications regulators are unveiling a sweeping proposal to overhaul U.S. broadband policy. Their aim: to bring affordable, high-speed Internet connections to all Americans and make access much faster for people who already have broadband.

Yet it's not certain the Federal Communications Commission can find the funding, corporate support and legal clearance to carry out the entire vision of the plan.

Already, broadcasters oppose one key element of the proposal, which calls for reclaiming some airwaves now in the hands of TV stations and instead selling those frequencies to companies that deliver wireless Internet access.

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Calvin Klein parent to buy Tommy Hilfiger for $3B

NEW YORK (AP) ¿ Two iconic American clothing labels ¿ preppy Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, known for its modern aesthetic ¿ are coming together under one roof.

Calvin Klein parent Phillips-Van Heusen said Monday it plans to purchase Tommy Hilfiger for about $3 billion in cash and stock.

The deal adds a prominent brand to Phillips-Van Heusen's stable, which also includes Izod and Arrow. It's expected to help Phillips-Van Heusen introduce some of its brands overseas, where 65 percent of Hilfiger's business is generated.

Apparel analysts expect the Hilfiger brand to expand further beyond its stronghold in Europe into Asia and South America, while bolstering its U.S. business.

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China trims holdings of Treasury securities

WASHINGTON (AP) ¿ China retained its spot as the biggest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury debt in January even as it trimmed its holdings for a third straight month. The string of declines underscored worries that the U.S. government could face much higher interest rates to finance soaring budget deficits.

The Treasury Department said Monday that China's holdings dipped by $5.8 billion to $889 billion in January compared with December. Japan, the second-largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt, also trimmed its holdings but by a much smaller $300 million, to $765.4 billion.

Net foreign purchases of long-term securities, a category that includes both government and corporate debt, totaled $19.1 billion in January, as net purchases of private corporate bonds fell by $24.8 billion, the biggest drop on record.

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Industrial production rises 0.1 percent in February

WASHINGTON (AP) ¿ Industrial production edged up 0.1 percent in February, beating expectations and marking the eighth straight monthly increase. The manufacturing sector ¿ for months a rare bright spot in the economy ¿ produced less due to winter storms but is expected to rebound in March.

The Federal Reserve said Monday that manufacturing, the index's largest component, fell 0.2 percent. Mining and utilities rose 2.0 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively.

Manufacturing took a hit from winter storms that shut down most of the Northeast in February. The storms reduced hours worked at factories and workers' earnings. Still, the severe weather increased demand for heating energy, boosting mining and utility production.

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Homebuilder sentiment index falls in March

LOS ANGELES (AP) ¿ Harsh winter weather and competition from deeply discounted foreclosures are putting a damper on sales prospects for homebuilders.

The National Association of Home Builders said Monday its housing market index, which tracks industry confidence, slipped this month by two points to 15, back to its January level.

Builders are seeing fewer prospective buyers and are feeling less optimistic about the likelihood of sales over the next six months, according to the survey of 477 builders.

Readings below 50 indicate negative sentiment about the market. The last time the index was above 50 was in April 2006.

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US, UK top debt ratings safe for now, Moody's says

LONDON (AP) ¿ The United States and Britain are more likely than Germany and France to witness an embarrassing downgrade of their top debt rating, agency Moody's Investors Service said Monday.

In a quarterly report assessing the prospects of the triple A-rated countries, including Spain and the "less fiscally challenged" Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, Moody's warned that the economic recovery remained fragile in many advanced economies.

For now though, Moody's said the triple A governments don't face an immediate threat to their top ratings as the servicing of the debt remains manageable ¿ the top credit rating reduces the interest payments countries have to pay on their debt when going to the bond markets to raise capital.

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Former InfoGroup CEO paying $7.3M

WASHINGTON (AP) ¿ The founder and former CEO of database provider InfoGroup Inc. has agreed to pay more than $7.3 million to settle federal regulators' charges of siphoning off nearly $9.5 million from the company to finance his lavish lifestyle.

Vinod Gupta also was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of putting InfoGroup Inc. into $9.3 million of undisclosed transactions with other companies in which he held a personal stake. He agreed to the settlement announced Monday without admitting or denying the SEC's allegations.

The SEC also said it reached a settlement with the former chairman of InfoGroup's audit committee, Vasant Raval, who is paying a $50,000 civil fine. Charges against two former chief financial officers are still pending.

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Boston Scientific suspends defibrillator sales

WASHINGTON (AP) ¿ Medical device maker Boston Scientific said Monday it is suspending sales of its heart-shocking defibrillator implants after failing to alert regulators to changes in manufacturing of the best-selling devices.

The company said it uncovered two production changes that were not cleared with the Food and Drug Administration. Medical device makers are required to alert regulators to significant changes in life-sustaining devices like defibrillators, which help correct irregular heart beats.

The Natick, Mass.-based company said it will retrieve all the affected devices from suppliers and hospitals. It was unclear when the company would resume sales. By The Associated Press

The Dow rose 17.46, or 0.2 percent, to 10,642.15, its highest close since Jan. 19.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.52, or 0.1 percent, to 1,150.51. The index is at its highest level since Oct. 1, 2008. The technology-dominated Nasdaq composite index fell 5.45, or 0.2 percent, to 2,362.21.

Benchmark crude contracts for April delivery sliding $1.44 to settle at $79.80 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Earlier, crude dipped as low as $79.16. It's been nearly two weeks since prices dropped below $80.

In other Nymex trading in April contracts, heating oil fell 3.64 cents to settle at $2.0576 a gallon, and gasoline dropped 3.22 cents to settle at $2.2228 a gallon. Natural gas slipped by 0.9 cent to close at $4.391 per 1,000 cubic feet. It hit a new 52-week low of $4.334 in earlier trading.

In London, Brent crude was down $1.50 at $77.89 on the ICE futures exchange.

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