Business Highlights

The Associated Press

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Apple sets record for company value at $624 billion

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Apple is Wall Street's all-time MVP â¿¿that's Most Valuable Property.

On Monday, Apple's surging stock propelled the company's value to $624 billion, the world's highest, ever. It beat the record for market capitalization set by Microsoft Corp. in the heady days of the Internet boom.

After a four-month dip, Apple's stock has hit new highs recently because of optimism around what is believed to be the impending launch of the iPhone 5, and possibly a smaller, cheaper iPad.

Apple Inc. has been the world's most valuable company since the end of last year. It's now worth 54 percent more than No. 2 Exxon Mobil Corp.

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Lowe's 2Q results miss expectations, cuts outlook

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ For Lowe's, the improving housing market is still a bust.

The nation's second largest improvement retailer cut its full-year-earnings and revenue forecasts Monday after posting a 10 percent drop in second-quarter net income. Revenue at stores opened at least a year, a key yardstick for measuring the health of the retailer, declined 0.4 percent.

Lowe's results were hurt in part by a timing shift in how the retailer reported the quarter and a charge tied to job cuts. But the latest performance also shows the company's efforts to revamp its merchandise and prices isn't working while its rival Home Depot, is reaping the benefits of the improving but still weak housing market.

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Summertime blues for drivers: Gas at August record

You may pay more than ever for a late-summer drive.

U.S. drivers paid an average of $3.72 per gallon on Monday. That's the highest price ever on this date, according to auto club AAA, a shade above the $3.717 average on Aug. 20, 2008. A year ago, the average was $3.578.

More daily records are likely over the next few weeks. The national average could increase to $3.75 per gallon by Labor Day, said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service. By comparison, gas prices stayed below $3.70 in late August and early September in both 2008 and 2011.

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Insurer Aetna to buy Coventry in $5.7 billion deal

Aetna, one of the nation's biggest health insurers, claimed a bigger stake in the burgeoning market for government-funded coverage Monday when it announced plans to buy a leading provider of Medicaid and Medicare coverage for $5.7 billion.

The Hartford, Conn., company's proposed acquisition of insurer Coventry Health Care will bolster its Medicaid business a few months before millions of people are expected to become eligible for the state- and federally-funded program for the needy and disabled under President Barack Obama's massive health care overhaul.

It also will boost the company's portion of business from the federally-funded Medicare program, which covers seniors over age 65 and those who are disabled, at a time when interest in these plans is growing in part because the baby boomers are aging.

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New coupons aim to keep people off generic drugs

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) â¿¿ If brand-name prescription medicines cost you as little as generic pills, which would you choose? A few drugmakers are betting Americans will stick with the name they know.

They've begun offering U.S. patients coupons to reduce copayments on brand-name medicines and compete with new generic versions of the drugs. The medicines include staples in the American medicine cabinet â¿¿ cholesterol fighter Lipitor, blood thinner Plavix and blood pressure drug Diovan â¿¿ along with drugs for depression and breast cancer.

Pfizer Inc. tested the new trend last year and now offers copay coupons that can bring insured patients six of its medicines for as little as $4 a month each. That includes Lipitor, which was taken by more than 3.5 million Americans until generic competition arrived last Nov. 30.

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Analysis: New studies weigh college value and cost

Two new studies offer emphatic answers to much-discussed questions about higher education: Yes, a college degree is worth it, but yes, it's the middle-class that's getting particularly squeezed with student debt in the pursuit of one.

Both studies make persuasive cases, though each could be misunderstood without important context.

The first, released last week by the Lumina Foundation and Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, seems to thoroughly demolish the idea that the Great Recession diminished the value of a college degree. Yes, recent college grads have struggled more than usual to find jobs matching their training. But overall, even as unemployment was rising past 10 percent, the authors found the economy actually added 200,000 jobs for workers with a bachelor's degree. Since the recovery began, it's created 2 million more.

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Best Buy hires Joly as new CEO

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ The fight over Best Buy's future is getting ugly.

Best Buy Co, the nation's largest consumer electronics chain, announced Monday it has tapped Hubert Joly, the former head of global hospitality company Carlson and a turnaround expert, as the new CEO and president. The move comes a day after talks between the ailing retailer and its co-founder, former chairman and largest shareholder Richard Schulze failed over his takeover bid proposal.

In a statement issued Monday, Schulze criticized the choice and vowed he would go forward with his proposal to take the company private.

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Wal-Mart brings back holiday layaway

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ After seeing high customer demand for layaway during last year's winter holiday season, Wal-Mart is expanding the interest-free pay-over-time program for Christmas.

The new program will last a month longer than last year's and will include more items than the toys and electronics featured last year.

The world's largest retailer says its mostly lower-income shoppers are still having a hard time stretching their dollars to the next paycheck. A little more than three years into the economic recovery, shoppers, particularly in the low-income bracket, remain particularly hard hit by unemployment and other financial worries.

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Fox to distribute DreamWorks Animation movies

LOS ANGELES (AP) â¿¿ DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., the movie studio behind "Kung Fu Panda" and "Madagascar," said Monday that its films will be distributed by 20th Century Fox next year.

The five-year deal replaces an existing distribution agreement DreamWorks has with Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures.

The announcement Monday came after DreamWorks had contemplated distributing its films on its own.

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Kinder Morgan Energy selling some assets for $1.8 billion

HOUSTON (AP) â¿¿ Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP on Monday said it reached a deal to sell some of its assets to Tallgrass Energy Partners LP for about $1.8 billion in cash, a move necessary for its parent, Kinder Morgan Inc., to get regulatory approval for its $20 billion buyout of El Paso Corp.

Kinder Morgan Inc. owns the general partner and limited partner interests in Kinder Morgan Energy. The Houston company reached a deal with the Federal Trade Commission in March to sell certain assets in the Rockies in order to get approval for the El Paso transaction. The company completed the El Paso acquisition in May.

Kinder Morgan Energy is selling Kinder Morgan Interstate Gas Transmission, Trailblazer Pipeline Co., the Casper-Douglas natural gas processing and West Frenchie Draw treating facilities in Wyoming and its 50 percent stake in the Rockies Express Pipeline to Overland Park, Kan.-based Tallgrass Energy.

Including debt, the company values the deal at $3.3 billion. The deal is targeted to close in the fourth quarter, pending FTC approval.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 3.56 points, or 0.3 percent, at 13,271.64. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 0.03 point to 1,418.13. The Nasdaq composite index fell 0.38 point to 3,076.21.

Benchmark oil dropped 4 cents to $95.97 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties of oil, slipped a penny to $113.70 per barrel in London.

Heating oil was flat at $3.09 per gallon. Wholesale gasoline rose less than a penny to $3.03 per gallon. Natural gas rose 5.7 cents to $2.776 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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

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