BC-APFN-Business News Digest

Business News at 5:30 p.m.

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â¿¿ Adds: EARNS-H&R BLOCK, BRITAIN-BANKS, SAFEWAY-CANADA

â¿¿ Updates: WALL STREET

TOP STORIES:

DISTRACTED DRIVING

WASHINGTON â¿¿ Dashboard technology that lets drivers text, email and do other tasks with voice commands is actually more distracting than simply talking on a cellphone, a new study finds. Yet the devices are being marketed as a safer alternative. By Joan Lowy.

AP photos, video.

NSA SURVEILLANCE

WASHINGTON â¿¿ The man who leaked documents revealing two secret surveillance programs tells a Chinese newspaper he fled to Hong Kong to reveal criminal action, not hide from justice. But Edward Snowden also says he has no plans to come back voluntarily. In Washington, NSA Director Keith Alexander faces questions from Congress, but likely won't answer many. By Donna Cassata.

AP photos.

With:

â¿¿ NSA SURVEILLANCE-SNOWDEN â¿¿ Mostly through his own words, a picture of Edward Snowden is emerging: computer whiz, high school and Army dropout. But some of his claims appear exaggerated.

ESPN-3-D

NEW YORK â¿¿ ESPN will stop broadcasting in 3-D by the end of the year, dealing a major blow to a technology that was launched with great fanfare but has been limping along for years. The sports network says there were too few viewers to make 3-D broadcasts worth it. It didn't say exactly how many viewers had, but the number was "extremely limited and not growing." By Technology Writer Peter Svensson.

SMALLBIZ-SMALL TALK

NEW YORK â¿¿ When it comes to hiring, small business owners can't be rushed. Jobs are being added. But small business owners are taking their time and bringing on new staffers when it makes sense. Many are waiting for signs that sales will remain strong. They also want to be sure that they can afford the added expense of new workers. For the newest companies â¿¿ startups that don't have revenue yet â¿¿ hiring depends on whether they can get money from investors. This conservative approach to hiring helps explain the slow but steady growth in jobs nationwide the last few months. By Business Writer Joyce M. Rosenberg.

AP photo.

â¿¿ CEO OUTLOOK â¿¿ Chief executives for the largest U.S. companies are more optimistic about sales over the next six months and plan to add more workers.

BRITAIN-BABY BOUNCE

LONDON â¿¿ British officials are hoping that the impending royal birth will produce a bouncing baby buoy for the economy. With the Duchess of Cambridge due to give birth to an heir to the throne next month, it's time for citizens and groups to consider how to best mark the moment. Happy occasions often boost consumer confidence. And happy occasions with the royal family and a new heir hit an emotional jackpot in Britain â¿¿ boosting national pride along with tea, cakes and commemorative china. By Danica Kirka.

AP photos.

MARKETS & ECONOMY:

BUDGET DEFICIT

WASHINGTON â¿¿ The government reports that the U.S. budget deficit widened in May by $139 billion. But the annual deficit stayed on track to finish below $1 trillion for the first time since 2008. By Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger.

AP photo.

WALL STREET

NEW YORK â¿¿ Video-game shops, restaurants and retailers lead the stock market lower. Without any good news to drive the market up, investors grapple with the question hanging over financial markets: When will the Federal Reserve and other central banks pull back their economic stimulus programs? By Business Writer Matthew Craft.

AP photo.

â¿¿ OIL PRICES â¿¿ The price of oil rises above $96 a barrel, reversing losses for the past two days.

â¿¿ IRAQ-OIL â¿¿ A senior Iraqi official says his country expects to ramp up oil production to 4.5 million barrels per day by the end of next year from around 3.5 million barrels now.

â¿¿ NORWAY-ARCTIC OIL â¿¿ Norway has given companies new licenses to explore and drill for oil and gas off its coast, mainly in the Barents Sea in the Arctic region.

FOREIGN DERIVATES TRADING

WASHINGTON â¿¿ The House takes up legislation that could exempt trillions of dollars in derivatives trading from U.S. regulations. Lawmakers have proposed a carve-out for U.S. firms that trade derivatives overseas. Derivatives are risky instruments that helped fuel the 2008 financial crisis. By Marcy Gordon. Eds: Final vote on bill expected after 5:30 p.m.

â¿¿ FARM BILL â¿¿ House Speaker John Boehner says he will vote for a wide-ranging farm bill headed to the House floor this month, a major boost for the five-year, half-trillion dollar legislation that stalled in the House last year.

â¿¿ CROP REPORT-RAINY SPRING â¿¿ Corn farmers are feeling the impact of a cool, wet spring but are still expected to bring in a record crop this year.

INDUSTRY:

BP-WORLD-ENERGY

LONDON â¿¿ BP says the United States saw its biggest-ever annual increase in oil production in 2012, while the world's demand for energy grew at a slower pace than the year before. U.S. oil production rose 13.9 percent to 8.9 million barrels a day. By Danica Kirka.

â¿¿ HACKED FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS-ARRESTS â¿¿ U.S. prosecutors in New Jersey announce charges against eight alleged members of an international cybercrime ring they say hacked into the computers of more than a dozen leading financial institutions and the U.S. military's payroll service.

â¿¿ APOLLO TYRES-COOPER TIRE â¿¿ India's Apollo Tyres is buying Ohio's Cooper Tire for about $2.22 billion, creating one of the world's largest tire makers.

â¿¿ EARNS-H&R BLOCK â¿¿ H&R Block points to tough tax season as fourth-quarter results fall short; shares slip after hours.

â¿¿ JAPAN-BOEING â¿¿ A Japanese carrier's Dreamliner had engine trouble before takeoff a day after a rival airline had a problem on another 787 plane. Neither problem was with the lithium-ion batteries that were overheating and resulted in the Boeing aircraft being grounded for four months.

â¿¿ GENERAL MOTORS-ANALYSTS â¿¿ General Motors says it's making progress cutting costs to improve profit margins.

â¿¿ GIGAMON IPO-MOVER â¿¿ Gigamon shares soar more than 30 percent in the company's first day of trading.

â¿¿ ITALY-FIAT â¿¿ Italian carmaker Fiat says it will temporarily stop production at some European car plants in the coming days due to insufficient deliveries of plastic parts.

â¿¿ BRITAIN-BANKS â¿¿ Bailed-out U.K. lender Royal Bank of Scotland says Stephen Hester will step down as chief executive later this year â¿¿ a move that creates some uncertainty as the bank prepares to return to the private sector.

CONSUMER & RETAIL:

â¿¿ SAFEWAY-CANADA â¿¿ Safeway Inc. says it's selling its supermarket operations in Canada to Sobeys Inc., a Canadian food retailer, for 5.8 billion Canadian dollars ($5.7 billion).

â¿¿ PFIZER-PROTONIX SETTLEMENT â¿¿ Two generic drugmakers will pay $2.15 billion to Pfizer and Takeda Pharmaceutical to settle a patent fight over the heartburn treatment Protonix.

â¿¿ SPAIN-EARNS-INDITEX â¿¿ Spanish clothes retailer Inditex, which owns the Zara store chain, blames currency fluctuations for its lowest first-quarter growth in four years.

â¿¿ BRITAIN E-CIGARETTES â¿¿ Britain will start regulating electronic cigarettes and other products containing nicotine as medicines.

â¿¿ ZYDUS PHARMACEUTICALS-RECALL â¿¿ Zydus Pharmaceuticals is recalling a single lot of the drug warfarin after receiving a complaint that some of the tablets are too large.

TECHNOLOGY & MEDIA:

FACEBOOK-HASHTAGS

NEW YORK â¿¿ Facebook is introducing hashtags, the number signs used on Twitter, Instagram and other services to identify topics being discussed and allow users to search for them. By Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay.

MYSPACE MAKEOVER

NASHVILLE, Tenn. â¿¿ Tim and Chris Vanderhook think Myspace had it right â¿¿ at one point. And they believe they've revived and improved that formula for success as the revamped first titan of social media debuts its latest incarnation. The Vanderhooks unveiled the new Myspace.com Wednesday, revealing a site focused on entertainment that combines social networking with streaming music. By Music Writer Chris Talbott.

AP photo.

ISRAEL-LANGUAGE TRANSLATOR

JERUSALEM â¿¿ An Israeli startup says it has come up with a way to overcome language barriers when conducting international business: an automated service that provides quick translations between English and seven other languages with nothing more than a telephone. By Max J. Rosenthal.

AP photo.

â¿¿ FACEBOOK â¿¿ Facebook starts processing data through its first server farm outside the United States, on the edge of the Arctic Circle in Sweden.

â¿¿ BRITAIN-VODAFONE â¿¿ Mobile phone company Vodafone has approached Germany's biggest cable operator, Kabel Deutschland, about a possible takeover.

INTERNATIONAL:

EUROPE-AIR TRAFFIC STRIKE

PARIS â¿¿ A strike by air traffic controllers forces cancellations of more than 60 percent of flights around France and disrupts travel elsewhere in Europe, as workers protest a plan to simplify Europe's patchwork airspace. By Lori Hinnant.

AP photos.

GREECE-MEDIA

ATHENS, Greece â¿¿ When Nazis marched into Athens on April 27, 1941, radio announcer Costas Stavropoulos urged his audience not to listen to future Nazi transmissions and signed off with the national anthem. That was the only time Greece's state broadcaster had ceased to operate until Wednesday, when the government shut it down to prove to international lenders it will end "incredible waste." By Menelaos Hadjicostis and Derek Gatopoulos.

AP photos.

With:

â¿¿ GREECE-STATE BROADCASTER â¿¿ Greek prime minister rejects key allies' pleas to reopen state TV; coalition government in crisis. AP photos.

â¿¿ SWITZERLAND-TAX DEAL â¿¿ Swiss lawmakers have pushed forward a government-backed bill aimed at ending a long-running dispute with the United States over tax evasion.

â¿¿ PALESTINIANS-ECONOMY â¿¿ AP Interview: New official in charge of West Bank economy says outlook bleak.

â¿¿ GERMANY-ENERGY â¿¿ Germany's chancellor says the country must curb its renewable energy subsidies so that it can afford to upgrade the power grid and tame rising electricity prices.

â¿¿ IRAQ-OIL â¿¿ Official: Iraq targeting oil production of 4.5 million barrels a day next year from around 3.5 million now.

PERSONAL FINANCE:

ON THE MONEY-AUTO LEASING

Americans are increasingly opting to lease a car or truck, rather than buy. Leasing has its perks, especially if you feel the need to drive a new car every couple of years while keeping monthly payments low. But understanding whether leasing is right for you and how the complex lease agreements work is essential to avoid end up paying more than you bargained for. By Alex Veiga.

_____

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CENTERPIECE

Many still feel the pinch

Household wealth rose to $70 trillion in the first quarter of this year. After five and a half years, Americans have regained the $15.6 trillion in wealth lost during the Great Recession. The latest report from the Federal Reserve indicates that U.S. household wealth has risen above its previous peak of $68 trillion in the third quarter of 2007, just before the recession began. But that's the nation as a whole. The average U.S. household still has a long way to go.

COMPANY SPOTLIGHT

Buyout: Cooper Tire & Rubber

The stock of Cooper Tire & Rubber shot up on Wednesday following news that it would be acquired by India's Apollo Tyres for about $2.22 billion.

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