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US stocks muddled as Ukraine tensions fester

NEW YORK (AP) — With the situation in Ukraine on the minds of investors, it's difficult to know what new developments could affect the stock market his week.

The stock market ended mixed Friday after a day of muddled trading. Among the three main U.S. stock indexes, one edged higher, one closed little changed and the other closed lower.

Investors focused on the tensions in Ukraine, where the region of Crimea was preparing for a referendum on whether to split away and become part of Russia. It was enough of a reason to sell into the weekend and to offset optimism over a pickup in hiring by U.S. employers last month.

The S&P 500 index closed roughly flat, up a point, or 0.05 percent, to 1,878. The Dow Jones rose 31 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,452. and the Nasdaq composite lost 16 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,336.


Asian stocks tumble over weak China, Japan data

UNDATED (AP) — Stocks across Asia slumped today as lower-than-expected trade data from China over the weekend fueled worries on the outlook of the world's second largest economy. Weak economic data from Japan today did not help.

China's exports plunged by an unexpectedly large 18 percent in February, possibly denting hopes trade will help drive the slowing economy while communist leaders push ambitious promised reforms.

Weakness in key European and U.S. export markets could raise the risk of politically dangerous job losses in trade-reliant industries that employ millions of workers at a time when communist leaders want to focus on restructuring China's economy.

Benchmark crude oil fell below $102.50 per barrel.

The dollar fell against the euro and the yen.


Major economic reports this week

WASHINGTON — There are no government reports scheduled for release today.

Tomorrow, the Commerce Department will report on January's wholesale trade inventories.

Also, the Labor Department will release its job openings and labor turnover survey for January.


Japan has record deficit, lowers growth estimate

TOKYO (AP) — Japan has racked up a record current account deficit in January, and is lowering its economic growth estimate for the October-December quarter.

The government said Monday the world's third-largest economy grew at an annual pace of 0.7 percent, lower than its initial real gross domestic product estimate of 1.0 percent.

Japan's current account deficit totaled 1.589 trillion yen ($15 billion), the biggest for January since comparable records began in 1985, according to the Finance Ministry.

The government has encouraged a weak yen to help exports. That makes imports more expensive. Dependence on imported oil and natural gas has risen since the March 2011 nuclear disaster.

Reactors have been shut down for safety fears. Before the disaster, nuclear energy provided 30 percent of Japan's energy needs.


China's February exports down 18 percent

BEIJING (AP) — China's February exports fell 18.1 percent in a sign of weak global demand, while imports rose 10.1 percent.

Export data Saturday was much weaker than the single-digit decline expected by private sector analysts while imports were in line with forecasts.

The figures might add to concern China cannot rely on trade to help drive its slowing economy while communist leaders launch sweeping promised reforms.

China's trade data often are distorted by the Lunar New Year holiday, when companies shut down for two weeks or more. The holiday falls at different times each year in January or February.

Grouping together the two months, as analysts often do, still showed weak demand. Exports fell 1.6 percent in the two-month period, compared with a year earlier.


China's inflation rate eases to 2 pct in February

BEIJING (AP) — China's inflation rate eased in February to 2 percent year-on-year amid signs the world's second-largest economy might be cooling.

The consumer price rise reported Sunday by the National Bureau of Statistics was down from January's 2.5 percent.

Lower inflation could ease pressure on Chinese leaders as they try to focus on promised reforms aimed at making the economy more productive and keeping growth strong.


Survey: US average gas price up 10 cents a gallon

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) — The average U.S. price of a gallon of gasoline has jumped 10 cents over the past two weeks.

The Lundberg Survey of fuel prices released Sunday says the price of a gallon of regular is $3.51. Midgrade costs an average of $3.69 a gallon, and premium is $3.84.

Diesel was up three cents over the past two weeks at $4.03.

Of the cities surveyed in the Lower 48 states, Los Angeles has the nation's highest average price for gas at $3.94. Jackson, Miss., has the lowest at $3.18.


Americans riding public transit in record numbers

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Americans are boarding public buses, trains and subways in greater numbers than any time since the suburbs began booming.

Nearly 10.7 billion trips in 2013, to be precise — the highest total since 1956.

The new numbers come from the American Public Transportation Association.

Transit ridership has now fully recovered from a dip caused by the Great Recession. With services restored following economy-driven cutbacks, the numbers appear set to continue what had been a steady increase.

Expanding bus and train networks help spur the growth, as does the nation's urban shift.

The sprawling city of Houston had a large ridership gain. So did Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami, Denver and San Diego.

The New York area's behemoth transit network saw the greatest gain, accounting for one in three trips nationally.


United Rentals to acquire National Pump for $780M

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — United Rentals says it's buying National Pump, the second-largest pump rental company in North America, for $780 million.

The deal will cost the Stamford, Conn.-based United Rentals $765 million in cash and $15 million in stock, plus up to $125 million more if certain financial targets are met. United Rentals will fund the deal with existing cash and an unspecified amount of new debt.

The purchase of the Beaumont, Texas, company is expected to close early next quarter.

National Pump rents equipment mainly to the oil, gas and petrochemical industries. It was founded in 2007.

United Rentals says it's the largest equipment rental company in the world. The company says the purchase is part of its strategy to expand specialty businesses.


Comcast challenging Disney's hold on tourism trade

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Comcast Corp. is stepping outside its core business of telecommunications and investing hundreds of millions of dollars in California and Florida theme parks in an effort to boost revenue and profits.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports (http://bit.ly/1kFO02N ) that recent moves by the Philadelphia-based, cable-TV company represent a challenge to the Walt Disney Co.'s tourism business in Orlando.

Comcast took over Universal Orlando Resorts as part of its NBCUniversal acquisition in 2011. It plans a new Harry Potter ride this summer at a second theme park and is financing construction of a 1,800-room hotel so guests can eat, sleep and swim on the same 750-acre Universal complex.

CEO Brian Roberts says Comcast is "doubling down on theme parks" because they have potential for many years to come.


'300' sequel rules box office with $45.1M debut

NEW YORK (AP) — The stylish combat film "300: Rise of an Empire" topped the box office with a strong debut of $45.1 million seven years after the original "300" became an unlikely sensation.

According to studio estimates Sunday, the "300" sequel opened well below the $70.9 debut of Zac Snyder's 2007 original. But the 3-D "Rise of an Empire" beat estimates and easily edged out the weekend's other new wide release, "Mr. Peabody & Sherman."

The movie adaptation of the '60s cartoon opened in second place with $32.5 million.

The Liam Neeson thriller "Non-Stop" slid to third place with $15.4 million in its second weekend.

In limited release, Wes Anderson's European caper "The Grand Budapest Hotel" notched one of the highest per-screen averages ever. On four screens, it made an average of $200,000.


US commerce secretary in Gulf ahead of Obama visit

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.S. Secretary of Commerce has arrived in the Gulf, where she will tell officials from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar that closer economic cooperation with Washington is a bridge to building deeper security ties with the U.S.

Penny Pritzker told The Associated Press from the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi on Sunday that the U.S. is open to investments from its oil-rich Arab allies. U.S. exports to the three countries were some $50 billion last year.

Her visit precedes a planned trip this month by President Barack Obama to Saudi Arabia in an effort to patch over strained relations.

Pritzker is traveling with 21 American companies and is the first U.S. Commerce Secretary to visit the Gulf region with a trade mission in 15 years.


Microsoft warns XP users the end is near

REDMOND, Wash. (AP) — Microsoft is preparing its customers for the end of technical support and security updates for its XP operating system.

As of April 8, Microsoft says it will retire its old, dependable operating system, which first shipped in 2001.

Greg Sullivan, Microsoft's director of Windows, says "We can't continue to support it forever."

Sullivan says it's a standard industry practice to retire operating systems in the constantly evolving tech world. He points to Apple's recent decision to end support for its Snow Leopard operating system, which shipped in 2009.

XP users are being asked to go to AmIRunningXP.com for information on how to upgrade their systems.

Microsoft is encouraging its customers to upgrade to its Windows 8 operating system, which has received mixed reviews.


Bigger pig pens create challenges for farmers

FAIR OAKS, Ind. (AP) — The pork industry is reacting to consumer pressure by investing millions of dollars to give pregnant pigs room to move.

They're converting and building barns to put sows in group pens instead of individual stalls too narrow for the animals to turn around.

Animal rights activists have been pressuring farmers to stop using gestation stalls.

Farmers like Malcolm DeKryger are experimenting with group pens, but say the move isn't cheap or easy. Bigger sows can hog food and bully their smaller sisters.

DeKryger has installed electronic feeding systems on his farm in Fair Oaks, Ind., so each pig can be fed individually.

But the equipment adds hundreds of thousands of dollars to construction costs, and he says he's still trying to find ways to keep sows from hurting each other.


Tribes seek to hold ground ahead of new NY casinos

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — With New York state about to take bids for its first non-Indian casinos, tribes looking to hold their ground have been upgrading their existing casinos and exploring new ones.

The Seneca Nation already operates three casinos. This past week, it bought 32 acres outside Rochester for a potential fourth. And the Oneida Nation unveiled new cash slot machines at its Turning Stone casino in Verona.

New York is in line for up to seven non-Indian casinos after voters in November approved a constitutional amendment to expand casino gambling in the state. A request for proposals is expected this month for the first round of as many as four upstate casinos to be built in designated areas of the Catskills, Southern Tier and Albany region.


Ford Motor Co. leader William Clay Ford dies at 88

DETROIT (AP) — William Clay Ford Sr., who helped steer Ford Motor Co. for more than five decades and owned the NFL's Detroit Lions, has died at the age of 88.

The company said in a statement Sunday that Ford died of pneumonia at his home. He was the last surviving grandson of company founder Henry Ford.

Ford served as an employee and board member of the automaker for more than half of its 100-year history. The company says in a statement that he was instrumental in setting the design direction for the company's vehicles.

CEO Alan Mulally says in a statement that Ford had a profound impact on the company.

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