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Stocks mixed

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are mixed in midday trading on Wall Street.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index was about flat, a day after closing at an all-time high. The Dow Jones industrial average was down slightly and the Nasdaq composite was slightly higher.

A report of modest hiring gains at U.S. businesses in January has failed to excite investors. Brown-Forman rose 5 percent after the company reported better sales of its flagship Jack Daniel's brand and other liquors.


US service sector grew at slower pace in February

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. service companies expanded more slowly in February as hiring levels declined in a cautionary sign for the economy coming out of the winter.

The Institute for Supply Management says its service-sector index fell to 51.6 from 54 in January. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

But the harsh winter weather posed challenges. The real estate, retail, hotel, food services and construction industries all contracted last month.

A measure for hiring plunged 8.9 percentage points to 47.5, evidence that many companies shed workers. Still, measures for new orders and production both point to continued growth.

The survey covers businesses that employ 90 percent of the workforce, including retail, construction, health care and financial services firms.


Survey: US companies add 139,000 jobs in February

WASHINGTON (AP) — A private survey shows that U.S. companies added slightly more jobs in February than in the previous month, but harsh winter weather weighed on hiring for the third straight month.

Payroll processor ADP says businesses added 139,000 jobs last month, up from 127,000 in January. But January's figure was revised sharply lower from an original estimate of 175,000.

The ADP numbers cover only private businesses and often diverge from the government's more comprehensive report. In January and December its initial figures were much higher than the official count.

The government said employers added 113,000 jobs in January, about half the rate each month last year.

Economists forecast that the government's Friday report will show the economy generated 145,000 jobs in February. The unemployment rate is expected to remain at 6.6 percent.


2-year extension seen for canceled health plans

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration will allow a two-year extension for people whose individual health insurance policies don't comply with requirements of the new health care law. The decision will help defuse a politically difficult issue for Democrats during an election year.

A government official familiar with the policy said Wednesday that the administration has decided to extend for another two years a transition plan the White House announced last fall. The extension would be valid for policies issued up to Oct. 1, 2016. The official was not authorized to discuss the change on the record and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The cancellation of at least 4.7 million individual policies was the most politically damaging issue in the transition to a new insurance system under President Barack Obama's law.


Former IRS official refuses to testify at hearing

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner is once again refusing to answer questions at a congressional hearing on the targeting of tea party groups.

Lerner headed the IRS division that improperly targeted tea party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status from 2010 to 2012.

She appeared at a Wednesday hearing by the House Oversight Committee. But when Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (EYE'-suh) asked her questions about her role in the matter, Lerner invoked her constitutional right not to incriminate herself.

Lerner was the first IRS official to publicly disclose the targeting last spring. But this is the second time Lerner has declined to answer questions at a congressional hearing.


US agency demands recall data from General Motors

DETROIT (AP) — A U.S. safety agency is demanding that General Motors turn over documents showing what the company knew about a dangerous ignition problem in older compact cars and how it responded.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating GM's handling of the problem, which has been linked to 13 traffic deaths and prompted a global recall of 1.6 million cars. GM has acknowledged it was aware of the problem a decade ago but didn't recall the cars until last month.

GM spokesman Alan Adler says the company received an order for the information Tuesday. He says GM is cooperating and welcomes the chance to help NHTSA fully understand the facts.

If the agency determines GM was slow to recall the cars or withheld information, it can fine it $35 million.


2 men guilty in sale of trade secrets to China

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal jury has found two men guilty of economic espionage involving the theft and sale of a U.S. company's technology to a competitor controlled by the Chinese government.

The jury returned the verdict on Wednesday against Robert Maegerle and Walter Liew.

They were accused of stealing Delaware-based DuPont Co.'s method for making titanium oxide, a chemical that fetches $17 billion a year in sales worldwide and is used to whiten everything from cars to the middle of Oreo cookies.

Each defendant could face sentences of 15 years or more in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.


Court weighs class-action securities suits change

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court appears open to the idea of modifying a quarter century of precedent to make it harder for investors to join together to sue corporations for securities fraud.

The justices heard arguments Wednesday in an appeal by Halliburton Co. that seeks to block a class-action lawsuit claiming the energy services company inflated its stock price.

Justices threw out the company's first attempt to block the lawsuit in 2011. But Halliburton now urges the court to overturn a key 1988 precedent that sparked a wave of securities class-action lawsuits against publicly traded companies and led to billions in settlements.

Several justices asked about seeking a middle ground that would leave the precedent largely intact but place another hurdle for investors to certify a class.


Landowners file lawsuit over Missouri River floods

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A group of farmers and business owners is suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, claiming the agency mismanaged the Missouri River since 2006 and contributed to major flooding in five states.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday claims some plaintiffs experienced extensive damage — particularly during the extended 2011 flooding that devastated hundreds of thousands of acres of mostly farmland in South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.

Corps officials did not immediately respond to a message Wednesday morning.

Outside experts who reviewed the 2011 flooding said the Corps did the best it could in dealing with record amounts of water that flowed into the 2,341-mile-long river after unusually heavy spring rains in Montana and North Dakota.


Target tech chief resigns as it overhauls security

NEW YORK (AP) — Target Corp. says Chief Information Officer Beth Jacob is resigning effective Wednesday as the retailer overhauls its information security and compliance division in the wake of a massive data breach.

In a statement released to the Associated Press, Target's President and CEO Gregg Steinhafel says the company will search for an interim chief information officer who can help guide the company through the transformation.

Jacob had held the job since 2008.

Target also will look outside the company for a chief information security officer as well as a chief compliance officer. The company says it's working with an outside adviser, Promontory Financial Group, to evaluate its technology, structure, processes and talent as part of the overhaul.

Target is based in Minneapolis.


EU to provide Ukraine with aid worth $15 billion

BRUSSELS (AP) — The head of the European Union's executive arm says the bloc is ready to provide Ukraine an 11 billion euros ($15 billion) aid package in loans and grants over the coming years.

Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Wednesday it will include 1.6 billion euros in loans and 1.4 billion euros in grants from the EU as well as 3 billion euros in fresh credit from the European Investment Bank.

Barroso didn't immediately provide details over what time the money will be disbursed and which conditions on overhauling its economy the government in Kiev will have to meet.

The United States announced a $1 billion aid package in energy subsidies Tuesday.

Kiev estimates it needs $35 billion in international rescue loans over the next two years.


EU freezes assets of Ukrainians for fund misuse

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union says it is freezing the financial assets in Europe of 18 people held responsible of misusing state funds in Ukraine.

The EU's 28 foreign ministers approved the list of names Wednesday. The identity of those targeted was withheld pending the official publication in the EU's legal journal Thursday, at which point the sanctions will be effective for the coming 12 months.

Officials say releasing the names could give those targeted a last chance to pull their assets out of the 28-nation bloc.

The ministers said the sanctions also contain provisions facilitating the recovery of the frozen funds for Ukraine's new government "once certain conditions are met."

Wednesday's move follows similar action by Switzerland and Austria last week.


Eurozone growth gaining traction — before Ukraine

LONDON (AP) — Further signs have emerged that the eurozone economic recovery was gaining traction in the period before the crisis in Ukraine escalated.

A survey Wednesday from financial information company Markit suggested that economic growth in the eurozone accelerated to a 32-month high in February. Its composite purchasing managers index — a broad gauge of business sentiment — rose to 53.3 points in February. That was up from the initial estimate of 52.7 and ahead of January's 52.9. Anything above 50 indicates growth.

Meanwhile, Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency, said retail sales in January rose by a monthly rate of 1.6 percent in January, more than offsetting the previous month's 1.3 percent decline. Eurostat also confirmed that the eurozone grew by a quarterly 0.3 percent in the final three months of 2013.


Newsweek to use Slovak Piano paywall

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) — A Slovakia-based company that offers paywall projects for media to earn revenue for access to their online sites has made its first foray into the U.S. with a deal to provide its services to Newsweek.

Piano Media says Wednesday its metering paywall system has been chosen by Newsweek's owner IBT Media for the magazine, which is currently web-only. Piano will also process payments for the print version, which is due to relaunch Friday.

Starting in 2011, Piano has put major media in Slovakia, Slovenia and Poland behind a single paywall in each country while people pay a small one-time fee for unlimited access to a range of websites for premium content.

Piano has also introduced metered paywalls for individual publishers, which have been used in Germany, Spain and other countries.


Facebook to drop posts for illegal gun sales

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Under pressure from gun control advocates, Facebook has agreed to delete posts from users selling illegal guns or offering weapons for sale without background checks.

The social networking site says a similar policy will apply to Instagram, its photo-sharing platform.

The policies announced Wednesday will be implemented over the next few weeks.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (SHNEYE'-dur-muhn) and gun control groups have been talking to Facebook to get restrictions.

The state requires a federal background check for private gun sales and prohibits selling some popular firearms, such as the AR-15.

Facebook says it will remove posts regarding buying or selling guns that indicate an attempt to evade the law, including interstate sales without a licensed firearm dealer involved.

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