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Posted: Monday, June 30, 2014 1:03 pm

WALL STREET

Stocks mixed

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are mixed in midday trading as the market heads for a modest gain for June.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down slightly, while The Standard & Poor's 500 index and the Nasdaq composite edged up. The S&P 500 ended last week with a slight loss but is still up nearly 2 percent in June.

Paint maker PPG Industries rose 3 percent after announcing plans to buy Mexico's Consorcio Comex.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note edged down to 2.52 percent.

U.S. markets will close early on Thursday and remain closed Friday for the July 4 holiday.

SUPREME COURT-BIRTH CONTROL

Justices: Can't make employers cover contraception

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court says some corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.

Today's 5-4 decision is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies' health insurance plans.

Contraception is among a range of preventive services that must be provided at no extra charge under the health care law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010 and the Supreme Court upheld two years later.

The court stressed that its ruling applies only to corporations that are under the control of just a few people in which there is no essential difference between the business and its owners, like the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby chain of arts-and-craft stores that challenged the provision.

SUPREME COURT-UNION FEES

Court: Public union can't make nonmembers pay fees

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court says public sector unions can't collect fees from home health care workers who object to being affiliated with a union.

The justices say collecting the fees violates the First Amendment rights of workers who are not union members.

Today's ruling is a financial blow to labor unions that have bolstered their ranks in Illinois and other states by signing up hundreds of thousands of home health care workers.

The case was brought by a group of Illinois in-home care workers who said they didn't want to pay fees related to collective bargaining. They claimed the "fair share fees" violate their constitutional rights by compelling them to associate with the union.

Lower courts had thrown out the lawsuit.

PENDING HOME SALES

Contracts to buy US homes up sharply in May

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes shot up in May. But the pace of buying this year remains slower than in 2013, in part because of sluggish sales during winter.

The National Association of Realtors says its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index rose 6.1 percent to 103.9 last month. It was the sharpest month-over-month gain in more than four years. The index remains 5.2 percent below its level a year ago.

Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a contract and a completed sale.

Lower mortgage rates and increased supplies of homes on the market drove much of the gains. Signed contracts in May rose in all four U.S. regions: the Northeast, Midwest, South and West.

GENERAL MOTORS-COMPENSATION

GM won't limit ignition switch crash compensation

WASHINGTON (AP) — The man in charge of compensating victims of crashes in small GM cars is prepared to pay out billions of dollars -- to those who can prove that the cars' faulty ignition switches caused the crash.

Kenneth Feinberg, one of the country's top compensation experts, outlined the details of the plan today in Washington.

He says GM has placed no limit on the total amount he can pay to injured people, or to relatives of those who were killed. And even though he's being paid by GM, he says he alone -- and not the company -- will decide how much money each person can get.

Feinberg isn't estimating the ultimate cost to GM, saying he has no idea how many death or injury claims he will get.

With the compensation plan, GM is trying to limit its legal liabilities, control the damage to its image and eventually move beyond the crisis caused by its failure to correct the ignition switch problem for more than a decade. During that time, the company learned of fatal crashes. This year, it recalled 2.6 million older small cars to replace the switches.

The company says the defective ignition switch is linked to 13 deaths. But trial lawyers and lawmakers say the claims for wrongful death and injury could total in the hundreds.

VETERANS AFFAIRS

Obama taps business exec to oversee troubled VA

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will nominate former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald to lead a Veterans Affairs Department gripped by reports of treatment delays and cover-ups.

An administration official says Obama plans to nominate McDonald later today. If confirmed by the Senate, the 61-year-old McDonald would succeed Eric Shinseki (shin-SEHK'-ee), who resigned last month as the scope of the issues at veterans' hospitals became apparent.

McDonald's nomination signals that Obama put a premium on management experience as he sought a new VA secretary. McDonald also has a military background, graduating near the top of his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and serving as a captain in the Army.

The administration official insisted on anonymity in order to confirm McDonald's appointment before the president's announcement.

SUPREME COURT-GOOGLE-PRIVACY

High court rejects Google appeal in snooping case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has declined to hear Google's appeal of a ruling that it pried into people's online lives through their Wi-Fi systems as part of its drive to collect information for its Street View mapping project.

The justices did not comment today in leaving in place a ruling that Google employees violated the federal wiretap law when they rolled through residential streets with car cameras to shoot photos for Street View.

The federal appeals court in San Francisco said the information picked up from unencrypted Wi-Fi signals included emails, usernames, passwords, images and documents.

Google had argued that it did not run afoul of the wiretap law because data transmitted over a Wi-Fi network is a radio communication that is readily accessible to the public.

SUPREME COURT-MADOFF FINANCIAL INSTITUTION CLAIMS

Court won't allow Madoff trustee to sue banks

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court will not let the trustee working to recover money for Bernard Madoff's investors sue major financial institutions for their role in Madoff's massive fraud.

The court today refused to hear an appeal from trustee Irving Picard, who wants to pursue tens of billions of dollars from UBS AG, HSBC Bank PLC and other institutions.

As trustee for the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, Picard has brought claims in bankruptcy court alleging that the institutions were complicit in Madoff's vast Ponzi scheme because they provided him with financial services while ignoring obvious signs he was a con artist. A federal appeals court ruled that Picard doesn't have legal standing to make claims against the financial institutions that Madoff's burned customers could make themselves.

SUPREME COURT-EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION

Court weighs government duty to settle bias claims

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court will consider how hard government lawyers must negotiate with an employer to settle charges of job discrimination before filing a lawsuit.

The justices today agreed to hear an appeal from an Illinois company sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for allegedly failing to hire qualified female job applicants. Mach Mining LLC says the lawsuit should be thrown out because the EEOC didn't put enough effort into settlement talks before going to court.

A federal judge agreed to review whether settlement attempts were sincere. But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, saying it is up to the EEOC — not the courts — to decide what is acceptable.

The Supreme Court will reconsider that decision during its new term this fall.

GAS DRILLING-LOCAL BANS

New York's top court OKs local gas-drilling bans

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York's top court has ruled that local officials can approve zoning laws to ban hydraulic fracturing within their borders.

The state Court of Appeals today affirmed a lower court ruling that state oil and gas law doesn't trump the authority of local governments to control land use.

The two "fracking" cases have been closely watched by drillers hoping to tap into New York's piece of the Marcellus Shale formation and by environmentalists.

Drilling opponents say more than 170 towns have passed bans or moratoriums.

A statewide moratorium on fracking has been in effect for nearly six years. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he won't decide whether to lift the ban until a health impact review begun in 2012 is completed. There's no timetable for the review.

EUROPE-MOBILE INTERNET FEES

EU slashes mobile data roaming fees by 55 percent

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union says the surcharges for surfing the Internet on mobile devices while traveling across the 28-nation bloc will be more than halved.

The European Commission says the new cap on the so-called roaming fees will be effective starting tomorrow, just in time for the summer holiday travel season.

It said today the price cap for one megabyte of data use will be lowered to 27 cents — a 55 percent drop. Phone calls and text messaging services across national borders are also getting cheaper by about 25 percent.

The bloc's executive Commission is keen on being seen as helping the EU's 500 million consumers. It started cracking down on the fees in 2007 and seeks to abolish them altogether by 2016.

BELGIUM-RAIL STRIKE

Strike cripples rail service in Belgium

BRUSSELS (AP) — A 24-hour strike is disrupting train service throughout Belgium and has caused the cancellation of high-speed Thalys services between Brussels and Paris, Amsterdam and other European cities.

As of this morning Belgian national railways reported virtually no passenger service in the country's French-speaking Wallonia region, and "very limited" service in Dutch-speaking Flanders.

The company is advising people who want to travel in Belgium to seek alternatives.

On its website, Thalys said all its international trains have been halted for the day. Eurostar said its trains between London and Brussels will terminate and start from the French city of Lille, near the Belgian border. A reduced timetable will be in effect.

The strike was called by a labor union angered that hiring isn't keeping pace with work force departures.

EUROPE-ECONOMY

Eurozone inflation stuck at low 0.5 percent

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's statistics office says the inflation rate for the 18-nation eurozone in June remained flat at a low 0.5 percent.

Eurostat today said its initial June estimate shows the core inflation rate, which excludes volatile food and fuel costs, has edged up to 0.8 percent from 0.7 percent in May.

The European Central Bank seeks an inflation rate of about 2 percent and has embarked on a raft of aggressive measures to spur inflation and boost Europe's economy.

Some economists are warning the persistently low inflation rate could lead to deflation, in which prices fall persistently and choke growth. The bank says it's worried about the low inflation rate but doesn't expect the currency zone to slide into deflation.

NETHERLANDS-PHILIPS

Philips to separate its LED parts arm

AMSTERDAM (AP) — Royal Philips NV says it will separate its LED lighting components unit into a stand-alone company within Philips by 2015, preparing it for a potential spin-off or sale. The subsidiary had sales of $1.91 billion in 2013.

Philips said today in a statement that the new section will include its profitable automotive lighting unit, which is a major supplier to carmakers around the globe.

The world's largest maker of lights says it will explore "strategic options" to raise capital for the business, including from outside investors.

Philips said it will remain a customer and shareholder of the new company.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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