By The Associated Press


Speed through the airport like a celebrity

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Cutting lines at airports used to be only for the rich, the famous or very frequent fliers. But then airlines started granting fast-track access to anybody with the right credit card or who was willing to shell out a few extra dollars.

Now, with the masses clogging up special security and boarding lanes, true VIPs are saying: Get me away from this chaos. And the airlines are listening.

Just as they've made first class swankier with new seats, gourmet meals and bigger TVs, airlines are focusing on easing the misery of airports for their highest-paying customers and giving them a truly elite experience.

At a growing number of airports, special agents will meet celebrities, high-powered executives and wealthy vacationers at the curb and privately escort them from check-in to security to boarding.


Japanese, other automakers hit with air bag recall

DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ Six automakers, including Toyota, Honda and Nissan, are recalling nearly 3.4 million older-model vehicles worldwide because of defective air bags that can send shrapnel flying into the passenger compartment.

The recall mainly affects cars sold by Japanese automakers in North America, Europe and Japan. A small number of cars made by Germany's BMW AG and General Motors Co. are also involved.

The front passenger air bags all were made by the same parts supplier, Japan's Takata Corp. They have faulty inflator mechanisms that don't route gas into the air bags. Instead the high-pressure gas can launch plastic and metal parts from the air bags into the cars' passenger areas. Takata says no one has been hurt, but there have been six incidents of air bags deploying improperly on roadways.


Bitcoin bursts: Hacker currency gets wild ride

LONDON (AP) â¿¿ It's a promising form of electronic cash that's free from central bankers and beloved by hackers. Bitcoin may also be in trouble, registering catastrophic losses that have sent speculators scrambling.

Although the cybercurrency has existed for years as a kind of Internet oddity, a perfect storm of developments has brought it to the cusp of mainstream use.

As currency crises in Europe piqued investors' interest, a growing number of businesses announced they were accepting bitcoins for an ever-wider range of goods and services. The value of a single bitcoin began spiraling up amid growing media attention, passing the $100 mark last week before more than doubling again in just a few days.

Then came the crash.

The price of Bitcoin imploded, falling from around $266 on Wednesday to just above $40 on Thursday, according to, which tracks trades across the Internet.


Facebook's Zuckerberg launches political group

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley leaders have formally launched a political group aimed at revamping immigration policy, boosting education and encouraging investment in scientific research.

Zuckerberg announced the formation of (pronounced "forward us") in an op-ed article in The Washington Post late Wednesday night. He said the U.S. needs a new approach to these issues if it is to get ahead economically. That includes offering a path to citizenship for the 11 million or so immigrants who now live in the U.S. illegally.


US unemployment aid applications drop to 346,000

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to a seasonally adjusted 346,000, signaling that the job market might be stronger than March's weak month of hiring suggested.

Applications for unemployment aid dropped 42,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The decline nearly reversed an increase over the previous three weeks. The four-week average, a steadier measure, rose 3,000 to 358,000.

The number of unemployment applications has been volatile in the past two weeks largely because of the Easter holiday, a department spokesman said. The timing of the holiday changes from year to year. That makes it hard to adjust for school holidays and other changes that can cause temporary layoffs.


US rate on 30-year mortgage falls to 3.43 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Average rates on fixed mortgages fell sharply this week and moved closer to historic lows, keeping home-buying and refinancing attractive.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year fixed loan fell to 3.43 percent from 3.54 percent last week. That's near the 3.31 percent reached in November, which was the lowest on records dating to 1971.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage dipped to 2.65 percent from 2.74 percent last week. That's slightly above the record low of 2.63 percent, also reached in November.


Cold March keeps shoppers' spending tepid

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ So much for new spring shorts and T-shirts. As cold weather lingered across most of the country, Americans shopped modestly in March.

U.S. retailers reported a key revenue figure rose slightly during the month, as shoppers held back on spending because of the cold weather across the nation, particularly the Midwest and East Coast. Economists monitor consumer spending because it accounts for more than 70 percent of economic activity.

According to a preliminary tally of 15 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers, revenue in stores open at least a year rose 1.6 percent, or 2.5 percent excluding drugstores. That was below expectations, said Michael Niemira, chief economist at the ICSC.


Investors dump Microsoft, PC stocks on bleak news

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) â¿¿ If fewer people are interested in buying a new personal computer, then fewer investors want to own stakes in companies whose fortunes are tied to the sales of laptop and desktop machines.

That logic ruled Thursday as Wall Street reacted to fresh evidence that PCs are turning into a dying breed of technology as consumers and businesses embrace smartphones and tablet computers as their preferred computing devices.

Shares of PC software maker Microsoft Corp. and PC maker Hewlett-Packard Co. took significant hits on the news that PCs suffered an unprecedented sales decline during the first three months of the year. Other companies connected to the PC industry, such as Intel Corp., also were affected, although not to the same degree as the industry bellwethers.


New owners move Burger King CEO to Heinz helm

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ The new owners of Heinz are tapping Burger King CEO Bernardo Hees as the company's next top executive, a move that installs one of their own at the helm of the ketchup maker.

It also signals other big changes could be in store for the 144-year-old company, which had been run by CEO William Johnson for the past 15 years.

The Pittsburgh-based company, which makes baked beans, vinegar and pasta sauce â¿¿ as well as its namesake ketchup â¿¿ announced in February that it was being acquired and taken private by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital, a private investment firm run by Brazilian billionaires.


Cyprus bailout swells to $30 billion

BRUSSELS (AP) â¿¿ The cost of bailing out Cyprus has swollen to 23 billion euros ($30 billion), with the troubled country taking on the lion's share of measures needed to avoid bankruptcy, according to a draft document by its international creditors.

The document, obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, says the country will have to find 13 billion euros ($17 billion) â¿¿ an increase on the 7 billion euro contribution agreed during the country's chaotic bailout talks last month. The money will be raised by imposing heavy losses on large bank deposits, levying additional taxes, privatizations and a partial sale of the central bank's gold reserves.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 62.90 points to close at 14,865.14, an increase of 0.4 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.64 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,593.37. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index rose 2.90 points, or 0.1 percent, to 3,300.16.

Benchmark oil for May delivery dropped $1.13 to finish at $93.51 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, which sets the price of crude used by many U.S. refineries to make gasoline, fell $1.52 to end at $104.27 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Natural gas rose 5 cents to end at $4.14 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil lost 5 cents to finish at $2.90 per gallon. Gasoline futures fell 3 cents to finish at $2.83 a gallon.

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