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US stocks try to hold steady

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are trying to hold steady on Wall Street following three days of losses.

Facebook and Microsoft each rose 1.6 percent, while AT&T gave back 1.2 percent. Discount retailer Fred's plunged 21 percent after suspending its dividend and saying it may sell some assets.

At 12:43 p.m. Eastern Time, the S&P 500 index was down a fraction of a point, to 2,629. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 7 points, to 24,174. And the Nasdaq composite was up 2 points, to 6,764.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 2.33 percent.


Airline group says holiday travel will be higher than 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) — About 51 million Americans are expected to fly on U.S. airlines in the three weeks around Christmas and New Year's Day, a 3.5 percent increase over last year.

That's the forecast from Airlines for America, a trade group for most of the leading U.S. airlines.

The group credits an improving economy and airfares that have lagged below the rate of inflation.

The forecast counts domestic and international flights between Dec. 15 and Jan. 4.

That would mean about 80,000 more passengers per day. The trade group says airlines are adding about 91,000 seats per day to handle the crowds.


Survey: US businesses added a solid 190,000 jobs in November

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. businesses added a robust 190,000 jobs in November, according to a private survey, a sign that hiring is strong enough to reduce an already-low unemployment rate.

Payroll processor ADP says that last month's hiring followed an even larger gain of 235,000 in October. Some of October's job increase reflected a bounce-back from hurricane effects, which lowered hiring in September to just 96,000.

Manufacturers helped drive the increase, adding 40,000 jobs, the largest gain this year, ADP said. Health care added 31,000 positions, and a category that includes restaurants and hotels hired 25,000.

Job gains at last month's pace should, over time, lower the unemployment rate, which is currently at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent.


US records strongest US worker productivity in 3 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. worker productivity rose 3 percent in the third quarter, the best showing in three years, while labor costs fell for a second straight quarter.

The Labor Department says the increase in productivity in the July-September rose sharply from the 1.5 percent increase in the second quarter and a scant 0.1 percent rise in the first three months of the year. Labor costs fell 0.2 percent after an even bigger 1.2 percent decline in the second quarter.

The third quarter figure for productivity was unchanged from an initial estimate while labor costs were initially estimated to have risen by 0.5 percent.

Economists are hopeful that the upturn in productivity may be a sign this key measure of living standards is improving after a prolonged period of weakness.


North Dakota: Refinery near national park could win permit

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota health officials say a proposed $900 million oil refinery close to the picturesque Theodore Roosevelt National Park has met federal and state air pollution rules but must undergo a period of public comment before a permit can be issued.

A state Health Department review that began last spring determined that Meridian Energy Group Inc. has met all of the requirements for an air quality permit for the planned Davis Refinery. Several groups oppose the project, fearing it will pollute the park whose eastern boundary is only about 3 miles (5 kilometers) away.

The 700-acre refinery complex would process up to 49,500 barrels of Bakken crude per day into a variety of fuels. Meridian has said it will be the "cleanest refinery on the planet" and a model for environmentally friendly technology.


Here are your options if YouTube vanishes from Amazon gizmos

NEW YORK (AP) — Google is threatening to pull YouTube from Fire TV as a fierce battle between the two tech heavyweights escalates. The latest dispute is over the e-commerce company's refusal to sell some Google devices that compete with Amazon's products.

If a resolution isn't reached by Jan. 1, Fire TV owners can still watch on phones, tablets or personal computers. That includes Amazon Fire tablets, as Google hasn't threatened to block those yet.

As for streaming TV alternatives, just about any other device will play YouTube. Not all of them will play video from Amazon — though Apple TV just got Amazon's app today.


UnitedHealth ventures deeper into patient care with $5B deal

UNDATED (AP) — The nation's biggest health insurer is spending nearly $5 billion to buy hundreds of clinics, just three days after rival Aetna announced a tie up with CVS Health Corp.

Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group Inc. says that its Optum segment will buy the DaVita Medical Group from DaVita Inc. in a cash deal expected to close next year.

Health insurers have been pushing deeper into managing or providing patient care in order to cut costs and improve health, especially for people with chronic conditions.

DaVita Medical Group runs nearly 300 primary and specialty care clinics in several states.


Home Depot sticks by outlook, buys back $15 billion in stock

NEW YORK (AP) — Home Depot is sticking by its outlook for the year and will buy back $15 billion in company shares.

The Atlanta company is laying out its strategy to investors today, with CEO Craig Menear saying that the retail landscape is changing at an unprecedented pace.

Home Depot expects to post annual, per-share profits of $7.36, and comparable-store sales of 6.5 percent.

Sales in the most recent quarter surged, thanks in part to rebuilding efforts after a pair of devastating hurricanes hit Texas and Florida, and wildfires consumed entire neighborhoods in the West.


China dominates top Western economies in patent applications

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.'s intellectual property agency says China racked up a record 1.3 million patent applications last year, topping the combined total in the U.S., Japan, Korea and Europe.

The World Intellectual Property Organization says innovators worldwide filed 3.1 million patent applications in 2016, up 8.3 percent from a year earlier, marking the seventh straight yearly increase.

China alone accounted for 98 percent of that increase, with its patent office receiving 236,600 more applications than in 2015.


Too chic for Amazon: Luxury firms in EU can pick sales sites

BRUSSELS (AP) — Luxury goods companies may ban sales of their products on online platforms like Amazon to preserve their aura of exclusivity.

The European Union's top court has ruled in favor of the German branch of luxury cosmetics group Coty (KOH'-tee), whose brands include Calvin Klein and Marc Jacobs. Coty sought to keep its products from selling on non-authorized digital sale platforms.

The European Court of Justice says Coty's effort to limit distributors "is appropriate to preserve the luxury image of those goods," adding that it "does not appear to go beyond what is necessary." Coty wanted to ban an authorized distributor from selling its products on Amazon.de in a case pending at a Frankfurt court, which requested a ruling from EU judges.


Greek high court to rule on Russian bitcoin suspect Dec 13

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Russian cybercrime suspect Alexander Vinnik, who is wanted in the United States on charges of laundering billions of dollars' worth of the virtual currency bitcoin, appeared today before Greece's Supreme Court for a hearing into his extradition to the U.S.

Vinnik is the subject of a judicial tug-of-war between the U.S. and Russia, which is also seeking his extradition on lesser charges.

Court officials say a decision on the U.S. request would be announced on Dec. 13. If it decides in favor of extradition to the U.S., Greece's justice minister will have the final word on where Vinnik will be sent. Lower courts in Greece have approved both extradition requests.

Vinnik is fighting his extradition to the United States, but not to Russia.

The U.S. is accusing Vinnik of laundering $4 billion worth of bitcoins through BTC-e, one of the world's largest digital currency exchanges, which he allegedly operated.


Massachusetts currency manufacturer sold for $800M

STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Massachusetts company that for nearly 140 years has supplied the paper used to make U.S. currency has been sold for $800 million to a similarly named Connecticut company.

Stamford, Connecticut-based Crane Co. has agreed to buy 100 percent of the equity interests in Boston-based Crane & Co. Inc. — also known as Crane Currency — from private equity firm Lindsay Goldberg and shareholders including members of the Crane family.

Crane Co., founded in 1855, provides products in the hydrocarbon processing, petrochemical, power generation, aerospace and other markets.

Crane Currency, founded in 1801 in Dalton, Massachusetts, is a pioneer in micro-optic security technology and a supplier of secure banknotes for central banks worldwide. Although corporate headquarters are now in Boston, it maintains a facility in Dalton.


Home health agency agrees to pay Massachusetts $14 million

BOSTON (AP) — A national home health care agency with six locations in Massachusetts has agreed to pay $14 million to settle allegations that it improperly billed the state's Medicaid program.

Attorney General Maura Healey says that Centrus Premier Home Care Inc., which does business in the state as Maxim Healthcare Services Inc., billed MassHealth for services that were not eligible for reimbursement under state regulations.

The attorney general's office says claims were improperly submitted to and paid by MassHealth for home health aide services provided through Maxim when nursing or skilled therapy services were not necessary.

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