Business Highlights

By The Associated Press

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JPMorgan Chase reaches $4.5 billion settlement

JPMorgan Chase & Co. said Friday it has reached a $4.5 billion settlement with investors over mortgage-backed securities.

The settlement covers 21 major institutional investors. The mortgage-backed securities were issued by JPMorgan and Bear Stearns between 2005 and 2008. New York-based JPMorgan acquired the failing investment bank Bear Stearns in March 2008.

The deal is the latest in a series of legal settlements over JPMorgan's sales of mortgage-backed securities in the years preceding the financial crisis. As the housing market collapsed between 2006 and 2008, millions of homeowners defaulted on high-risk mortgages. That led to billions of dollars in losses for investors who bought securities created from bundles of mortgages. Those securities were sold by JPMorgan and other big Wall Street banks.

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Retailers take on Silicon Valley

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) a¿¿ Software engineers wearing jeans and flip flops test the latest smartphone apps. Walls and windows double as whiteboards where ideas are jotted down. And a mini basketball net is in the center of it all.

At first glance, this workplace resembles any Silicon Valley startup. There's just one exception: Target's trademark red bulls-eye at the entrance.

Target, Kohl's and home-shopping network QVC are among a half dozen retailers opening technology test labs in the San Francisco area to do things like improve their websites and create mobile shopping apps. They're setting up shop in modern spaces and competing for top Silicon Valley talent to replicate the creativity, culture and nimbleness of online startups.

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Altered landscape for Sony, Microsoft consoles

NEW YORK (AP) a¿¿ Remember a time before "Angry Birds," the iPad and the iPhone? No?

When Sony and Microsoft last came out with new video game consoles a¿¿ seven and eight years ago, respectively, the companies touted the machines' high-definition graphics, powerful processors and ability to play DVDs, and in Sony's case, Blu-ray discs.

But a lot has changed since then. People are playing games on a broader array of devices than ever before, and they have more options to stream movies, TV shows and music. Connecting with friends online is the norm, not an obscure activity for young people.

That's the world the Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One enter. The PlayStation 4 goes on sale Friday and the Xbox One will be released next week. As Sony and Microsoft once again spar this holiday season over who has the brawnier machine and more enticing online features, hardcore gamers are all but certain to fall for the shiny, powerful new consoles. But what's less clear is how the gadgets will compete for the attention of people who now look to their tablets, smartphones and other devices for entertainment.

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Defying veto threat, House OKs health law change

WASHINGTON (AP) a¿¿ Brushing aside a White House veto threat, the Republican-controlled House voted by a healthy bipartisan majority Friday to weaken a core component of "Obamacare" and permit the sale of individual health coverage that falls short of requirements in the law.

In all, 39 Democrats broke ranks and supported the legislation, a total that underscored the growing importance of the issue in the weeks since millions of cancellation notices went out to consumers covered by plans deemed inadequate under government rules.

The final vote was 261-157 as lawmakers clashed over an issue likely to be at the heart of next year's midterm elections. The measure faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where Democrats seeking re-election in 2014 are leading a move for generally similar legislation.

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China promises market opening in reform plan

BEIJING (AP) a¿¿ China's leaders pledged Friday to open state-dominated industries wider to private competition and ease limits on foreign investment in e-commerce and other businesses in a sweeping reform plan aimed at rejuvenating a slowing economy.

The changes promised in a report issued following a closely watched Communist Party conference could be China's most significant economic overhaul in at least two decades. State media have compared the effort to market-style reforms in 1978 that launched China's economic boom.

Chinese leaders are trying to replace a growth model based on exports and investment that has run out of steam after delivering three decades of rapid growth. Reform advocates say economic growth rates will plunge, undermining the ruling party's claim to power, if industries from energy to telecoms to banking that are controlled by state companies are not opened to competition.

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US factory production rises 0.3 percent in October

WASHINGTON (AP) a¿¿ U.S. factories increased production for a third straight month in October, as stronger output of primary metals and furniture offset declines in auto production.

Manufacturing output rose 0.3 percent last month, up from 0.1 percent in September, the Federal Reserve reported Friday. Factory output is the biggest component of industrial production, which also includes mining and utilities.

Overall industrial production fell 0.1 percent after a 0.7 percent September gain. The mining sector, which includes oil and gas drilling, declined 1.6 percent after six months of gains. Utility output fell 1.1 percent.

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US wholesalers boost stockpiles for 3rd month

WASHINGTON (AP) a¿¿ U.S. wholesalers increased their stockpiles in September for the third straight month, an indication that they expect more demand from businesses and consumers.

Wholesale stockpiles rose a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent, the Labor Department said Friday. That follows an increase of 0.8 percent in the previous month. August's increase was the highest in seven months.

Sales at wholesale businesses rose 0.6 percent in September, up from 0.4 percent in August.

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Post office reports loss of $5 billion for year

WASHINGTON (AP) a¿¿ The U.S. Postal Service said Friday it lost $5 billion over the past year, and postal officials again urged Congress to pass legislation to help the beleaguered agency solve its financial woes.

In a positive sign, the loss was a fraction of the record $15.9 billion the Postal Service reported losing last year. But it was still the agency's seventh straight annual loss and came despite its first growth in revenue since 2008.

Operating revenue rose 1.2 percent to $66 billion, thanks to growth in the post office's package delivery business and higher volume in standard mail. That was not enough to offset long-term losses in first class mail a¿¿ the post office's most profitable service a¿¿ where revenues declined by 2.4 percent.

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AP Exclusive: US union vote won't affect Volkswagen plans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) a¿¿ A top Volkswagen labor official says a pending decision about union representation for workers at the automaker's lone U.S. plant will have no bearing on whether the company will decide to add the production of another vehicle there.

The world's third-largest automaker, which is mulling whether to make a new SUV in Mexico or Tennessee, shocked Southern union foes by engaging in talks with the United Auto Workers about creating a German-style "works council" at the Chattanooga, Tenn., plant.

Southern politicians say they fear a successful UAW organization of the Volkswagen plant would hurt the region's ability to attract future investment, and that it could lead to the spread of organized labor to other foreign car makers.

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At McDonald's, a push for customization

NEW YORK (AP) a¿¿ McDonald's is looking to give people a little more wiggle room to customize their orders, as they can at chains such as Chipotle, Five Guys and Subway.

The world's biggest hamburger chain says it's testing a "build-your-own burger" concept in Laguna Niguel, Calif., that lets customers pick from a variety of toppings. Its new Dollar Menu and More also features five sandwiches with different sauces and toppings.

McDonald's is equipping its kitchens with new "assembly tables" that can accommodate more ingredients. The tables will also help improve the speed of service, which has become an issue for McDonald's as it has expanded its menu.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 85.48 points, or 0.5 percent, to 15,961.70. The Nasdaq composite rose 13.23 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,985.97. The S&P 500 added 7.56 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,798.18.

Oil rose 8 cents to close at $93.84 a barrel. Brent crude, the benchmark for an international variety of crude, gained 22 cents to $108.50 a barrel on the ICE exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline fell 3 cents to $2.66 a gallon. Heating oil gained 1 cent to $2.94 a gallon. Natural gas rose 6 cents to $3.66 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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