Business Highlights

By The Associated Press

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US consumers boost spending 0.3 percent in August

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. consumers increased their spending slightly last month as their income grew at the fastest pace in six months. The figures point to only modest economic growth in the July-September quarter.

Consumers' spending on goods and services rose 0.3 percent in August, the Commerce Department said Friday. That's up from a 0.2 percent gain in July, which was slightly more than the 0.1 percent reported last month.

Consumer spending drives 70 percent of economic activity. Many analysts say the increases are not enough to accelerate economic growth in the third quarter from the 2.5 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter.

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Gas prices fall as weather, output calm markets

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Gasoline prices have fallen steadily throughout September, and drivers should look forward to even cheaper fill-ups in the weeks ahead.

The national average price for a gallon of gasoline is now $3.42, down from $3.59 on Sept. 1. The price is the lowest it's been at this time of year since 2010 and is likely to keep falling.

"It's a layup for me to predict lower prices until Columbus Day weekend," says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at GasBuddy.com and Oil Price Information Service, which tracks retail and wholesale gasoline prices.

Wholesale gasoline prices have fallen faster in recent days than pump prices, so drivers can expect to pay even less as the pump prices catch up.

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Exxon to offer benefits to same-sex couples in US

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Exxon Mobil Corp. said Friday that it will begin offering benefits to legally married same-sex couples in the U.S. for the first time starting next week.

The company says it will recognize "all legal marriages" when it determines eligibility for health care plans for the company's 77,000 employees and retirees in the U.S.

That means if a gay employee has been married in a state or country where gay marriage is legal, his or her spouse will be eligible for benefits with Exxon in the U.S. as of Oct. 1.

Exxon, which is facing a same-sex discrimination lawsuit in Illinois, said it was following the lead of the U.S. government. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which had allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states. In recent months, federal agencies have begun to offer benefits to legally-married same sex couples.

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Yahoo, Softbank back Alibaba in HK IPO battle

HONG KONG (AP) â¿¿ Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba may be looking to the U.S. for its potentially mammoth IPO.

Its biggest shareholders, Yahoo and Japan's Softbank Corp., on Friday backed the company's unusual management structure that Hong Kong's stock exchange was unwilling to accommodate, which may turn it toward the U.S. for its market debut.

The company broke off talks for a Hong Kong initial public offering because the stock market wasn't willing to make an exception to its listing rules. Instead, it's looking to New York for an initial public offering that analysts estimate could value the company at more than $100 billion.

That would trump Twitter's hotly anticipated offering, which is estimated to have a market value of $10 billion.

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Spain raises forecasts, but recovery to be slow

MADRID (AP) â¿¿ Spain's government said Friday that the worst of the recession is over for the country as it improved its forecasts for unemployment and economic growth.

But the recovery is likely to be slow and hard.

The government expects the jobless rate to average 25.9 percent in 2014. While that is down from a previous forecast of 26.7 percent and slightly better than the current 26.3 percent, it is still close to a record high for Spain.

The economy is forecast to grow 0.7 percent next year, up slightly from the previous estimate of 0.5 percent released in April.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria announced the figures alongside the government's budget for next year, which she described as "the first budget of recovery."

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FDA: Criminal case shows food safety is paramount

DENVER (AP) â¿¿ Criminal charges against two cantaloupe farmers over a deadly food-borne illness send an emphatic message to fruit and vegetable growers to crack down on safety, federal regulators said Friday.

Colorado farmers Eric and Ryan Jensen appeared in shackles in a Denver federal court this week and pleaded not guilty to charges of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce.

The Jensens' trial is scheduled to start Dec. 1. The brothers could face up to six years in prison and $1.5 million in fines each if convicted.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 70.06 points to close at 15,258.24. The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 6.92 points to 1,691.75 and the Nasdaq composite fell 5.83 points to 3,781.59.

Benchmark oil for November delivery fell 16 cents to close at $102.87 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Wholesale gasoline fell 3 cents to $2.68 per gallon. Natural gas rose 2 cents to $3.59 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil lost 1 cent to $2.99 per gallon.

Brent crude, the benchmark for international crudes used by many U.S. refineries, dropped 58 cents to $108.63 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

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

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