Business Highlights

The Associated Press

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EU running out of time as Greece nears the exit

ATHENS, Greece (AP) â¿¿ European leaders insist they want to keep Greece in the eurozone, but are putting off any agreement on how they hope to accomplish that. Greece says it, too, wants to stay in the eurozone, but until after elections it's uncertain whether it can implement the austerity that Europe has set as a condition for doing so.

Essentially, both are playing for time â¿¿ about a month. The question is whether financial markets will wait or force their hand.

Concerns that European leaders lack the political will â¿¿ and wherewithal â¿¿ to tackle the continent's economic problems have worried the markets for weeks. Among the 17 countries that use the euro, seven are in recession. Business confidence is under pressure and banks are feeling the squeeze. The biggest fear is that if Greece cannot be kept in the euro, other larger economies â¿¿ like Spain or Portugal â¿¿ might face the same fate.

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Goldman's Blankfein gets a break

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) â¿¿ For once, the spotlight wasn't on Goldman Sachs.

The bank that Wall Street critics love to hate enjoyed a relatively calm shareholder meeting Thursday while two of its peers, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, grappled with public-relations nightmares.

Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein was peppered with questions about the bank's political lobbying, but the vitriol and the shouting protesters that have haunted other banks' meetings this spring were absent.

The tranquility was partly a product of timing. Earlier this month, JPMorgan announced a surprise $2 billion trading loss, which has bolstered the banking industry's critics but also taken pressure off Goldman.

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Morgan Stanley may refund some Facebook investors

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Morgan Stanley, the lead investment bank in Facebook's troubled initial public offering, will compensate investors who overpaid when they bought Facebook's stock in Friday's IPO, according to a source familiar with the matter.

This person said the firm is reviewing orders its retail clients placed for Facebook stock, and will make price adjustments if the clients paid too much. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The person did not say what amount constituted overpaying for Facebook's stock.

The world's largest social network's IPO was highly anticipated. But technical problems with the Nasdaq Stock Market delayed its open on Friday, and the stock closed nearly flat on its first trading day at $38.23.

It's down 14 percent as of Thursday.

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Food stamp fraud raising concerns in government offices

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Food stamp recipients are ripping off the government for millions of dollars by illegally selling their benefit cards for cash â¿¿ sometimes even in the open, on eBay or Craigslist â¿¿ and then asking the government for replacement cards.

The Agriculture Department wants to curb the practice by giving states more power to investigate people who repeatedly claim to lose their benefit cards.

It is proposing new rules Thursday that would allow states to demand formal explanations from people who seek replacement cards more than three times a year. Those who don't comply can be denied further cards.

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US bank earnings rose this winter to 5-year high

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. bank earnings rose in the first three months of the year to the highest level in nearly five years and the number of troubled banks fell for the fourth straight quarter.

The mostly positive first-quarter earnings released Thursday illustrate how far the banking industry has come since the 2008 financial crisis. Still, the report noted that many banks remain cautious about lending, a necessary driver of economic growth.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said the banking industry earned $35.3 billion in the January-March period. That's up from $28.7 billion in the first quarter of 2011 and the highest level since the second quarter of 2007.

About 67 percent of U.S. banks reported improved earnings. Overall revenue increased from the first quarter of 2011, bolstered by higher profits from loans and fees on customers' bank accounts.

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Weekly US jobless aid applications dip to 370,000

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The number of people seeking unemployment benefits changed little last week, signaling modest job growth.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for benefits dipped by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 370,000.

Applications have leveled off this month after declining from April's five-month high of 392,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, has also dropped â¿¿ it was 370,000 last week.

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US durable goods orders up 0.2 percent in April

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Orders for long-lasting factory goods edged up slightly in April. But a measure of tracks business investment spending fell for a second straight month.

Durable goods orders increased 0.2 percent last month after a 3.7 percent decline in March, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Gains in volatile commercial aircraft orders and more demand for autos and parts drove the modest increase.

So-called core capital goods orders, which are considered a proxy for business investment plans, fell 1.9 percent in April after a 2.2 percent decline in March. Demand for computers and electronics products and heavy machinery fell.

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US 30-year mortgage rate falls to record 3.78 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The average U.S. rate for the 30-year fixed mortgage fell to a record low for a fourth straight week. Cheap mortgages have helped boost home sales modestly this year.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan dipped to 3.78 percent. That's down from 3.79 percent last week and the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.

The average rate on 15-year fixed mortgage, a popular option for refinancing, held steady at 3.04, matching the record low hit last week.

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Tiffany's cuts outlook amid slowing demand

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Tiffany & Co., a bellwether of luxury spending, says its sales aren't rising as fast as last year in the U.S. or abroad, and the gift and jewelry chain cut its forecasts for sales and profit for the year.

Tiffany delivered its lower outlook on Thursday as it reported first-quarter profit essentially the same as a year ago and below what analysts were expecting.

The news from Signet Jewelers Ltd, which targets a more moderate-income market, was similar. Signet reported lower sales than Wall Street expected, and it forecast slower growth.

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Sony ends panel joint venture with rival Sharp

TOKYO (AP) â¿¿ Sony Corp. is ending its joint venture with rival electronics maker Sharp Corp. to produce and sell large liquid-crystal displays for TVs â¿¿ part of its new strategy to buy panels rather than invest in manufacturing them.

Sony said Thursday it will sell back to the joint venture Sharp Display Products Corp. all 7 percent of the stake it has held since 2009. Sony won't lose any money as it will receive 10 billion yen ($126 million), the same as what it paid for shares in the Sharp subsidiary, which produces panels in Sakai city, western Japan.

Tokyo-based Sony, which makes the Walkman portable player and PlayStation 3 game machine, recently also ended its joint venture with Samsung Electronics Co. to produce flat panels.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones Industrial average closed up 33.60 points at 12,529.75. The Standard & Poor's 500 index edged up 1.82 to 1,320.68. The Nasdaq composite index fell 10.74 points to 2,839.38.

Benchmark U.S. oil rose 76 cents to $90.66 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price international oil varieties, increased 99 cents to $106.55 per barrel in London.

Natural gas dropped 9 cents, or 3 percent, to $2.65 per 1,000 cubic feet. Natural gas is still up 75 cents from a 10-year low reached in April, although it's still down $1.70 from a year earlier.

Heating oil rose 1 cent to $2.82 per gallon and gasoline futures rose less than a penny to $2.88 per gallon.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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