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Business Highlights

Associated Press Updated: April 14, 2015 at 6:01 pm
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Why your rent will rise again this year

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Living in an apartment? Expect your rent to go up again.

Renting has gotten increasingly expensive over the last five years. The average U.S. rent has climbed 14 percent to $1,124 since 2010, according to commercial property tracker Reis Inc. That's four percentage points faster than inflation, and more than double the rise in U.S. home prices over the same period.

Now, even with a surge in apartment construction, rents are projected to rise yet another 3.3 percent this year, to an average $1,161, according to Reis. While that's slower than last year's 3.6 percent increase, the broader upward trend isn't going away.

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Only small number of Jeeps fixed 2 years after recall began

DETROIT (AP) — Nearly two years after agreeing to recall 1.56 million older Jeeps that could catch fire in rear-end crashes, the maker of the vehicles has repaired only a fraction of the Jeeps covered by the recall, according to documents filed with federal safety regulators.

Fiat Chrysler U.S. has fixed just 4 percent of the Grand Cherokees and 27 percent of the Libertys that were recalled.

The Jeep repair rate of Fiat Chrysler U.S. is far below the average of 75 percent 1 ½ years after a recall is announced, and it could set up another confrontation between Chrysler, which makes Jeeps, and the government.

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European Central Bank to stress: No way we'll taper stimulus

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Europe's economic outlook is finally beginning to brighten a little. But don't expect European Central Bank head Mario Draghi to sound all that excited when he takes the stage Wednesday for his next news conference.

Draghi will sound a little cautious in order to discourage any thought that the bank might make an early exit from its 1.1 trillion euro ($1.2 trillion) monetary stimulus program slated to run through September 2016.

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Panel asks: Could cramped airline seats be dangerous?

WASHINGTON (AP) — The shrinking space on airplanes is surely uncomfortable, but it might also be dangerous for passengers' health and safety.

Planes are filled with more passengers than ever before. Fliers are older and heavier. Flight attendants warn about an increase in air rage, and experts question if having rows of seats packed closer together might make it harder for passengers to evacuate after a crash.

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This year's fight for the tech industry: Patent trolls

WASHINGTON (AP) — The same week that Alex Haro and Chris Hulls raised $50 million for their mobile app, Life360, the business partners got a letter. It said they had three days to pay licensing fees to a company they had never heard of because their app violated its patented technology.

Haro and Hulls traced the company, Advanced Ground Information Systems, to a coastal home in Jupiter, Florida, with a phone number that initially went to an anonymous voicemail. They couldn't find any employees on LinkedIn. To Haro, it was "a punch in the gut," he said.

Congress is expected to take up legislation this year that would make it tougher to claim patent infringement, and put them on the hook for legal costs if they lose. The bill has become a top lobbying priority this year for the tech industry, which says it repeatedly fends off frivolous lawsuits because of poorly written software patents and laws that favor patent holders.

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IMF cuts forecast for US economy, upgrades Europe and Japan

WASHINGTON (AP) — The International Monetary Fund, citing the consequences of a strong dollar, is downgrading its outlook for the U.S. economy but raising its forecast for Europe and Japan.

The IMF predicted Tuesday that the American economy will grow 3.1 percent this year and next — a performance the fund characterized as "robust." But the U.S. outlook was down from the IMF's January forecast of 3.6 percent growth in 2015 and 3.3 percent growth in 2016. The American economy advanced 2.4 percent last year.

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US retail sales heat up in March; has big thaw arrived?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans increased their spending on autos, furniture, clothing and building materials in March, lifting retail sales for the first time in four months.

Retail sales jumped 0.9 percent last month, after declining 0.5 percent in February, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. The rebound suggests that shoppers are returning after an unseasonably cold winter froze sales.

Warmer weather fueled a 2.7 percent increase in auto sales and a 2.1 percent boost in building materials, possible signs that the lagging manufacturing and construction sectors might also recover from a winter slump.

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More expensive gas lifts wholesale prices in March

WASHINGTON (AP) — Higher gas costs drove up wholesale prices last month, ending a string of four straight declines.

The producer price index increased 0.2 percent in March, after sharp drops in the two previous months, the Labor Department said Tuesday. The index measures prices before they reach the consumer.

Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core prices also rose 0.2 percent.

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US businesses boosted stockpiles 0.3 percent in February

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. businesses increased their stockpiles by a moderate amount in February although total business sales were weak for a seventh straight month.

Businesses boosted stockpiles 0.3 percent in February after no growth in January, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. Sales were flat in February following a 2.3 percent plunge in January. Sales by businesses have either fallen or been flat for the past seven months with the last increase coming in July.

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Government proposes rules for brokers on retirement accounts

WASHINGTON (AP) — Brokers who manage Americans' retirement accounts may soon be required to put investors' interests first under new restrictions proposed by the U.S. government.

The Labor Department on Tuesday opened the rules to public comment for 75 days. The Obama administration has put its weight behind the move. Against a backdrop of intense opposition from the financial industry on an earlier proposal, administration officials took pains to reassure the industry that the new framework wouldn't end the way brokers do business or prohibit them from receiving commissions or other fees.

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Tobacco company lawsuit alleges FDA overstepping authority

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation's largest tobacco companies are suing the Food and Drug Administration over recent guidelines that they claim overstep the agency's authority over labeling and packaging for cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Units of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Altria Group Inc. and Lorillard Tobacco filed the lawsuit Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claiming the FDA's guidance infringes on their commercial speech.

The FDA gained authority to regulate tobacco in 2009, including the power to pre-review new tobacco products that are significantly different from older ones already on the market.

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Tablet for 2 waiting at an Olive Garden near you soon

NEW YORK (AP) — Olive Garden has a tablet for two waiting for you.

The Italian restaurant chain said Tuesday that it is installing Ziosk computer tablets at all of its U.S. locations so customers can order and pay by touch screen.

Olive Garden, owned by Florida's Darden Restaurants Inc., started using Ziosk tablets in some of its restaurants last year. The chain said Tuesday that locations using the devices have experienced faster dining times and increased tip percentages for wait staff. It will start rolling them out at additional restaurants next month and expects the 7-inch devices to be in all of its more than 800 U.S. restaurants before year's end.

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JC Penney expects 1Q key sales metric to top Street's view

NEW YORK (AP) — J.C. Penney expects comparable-stores sales to top most expectations in the first quarter but industry watchers believe it will be at a cost and shares slid in Tuesday trading.

Figures for sales at stores open at least a year were released in a regulatory filing Tuesday, the company said, after a senior official inadvertently sales data to a securities analyst. That data included had non-public information about first-quarter same stores sales to date, which are up about 6 percent.

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Despite nebulous legal status, pot growers hire lobbyists

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California's marijuana farmers have existed in a legal gray area in the 18 years since the state became the first to allow residents to use the drug for medical purposes.

But veteran cannabis growers are emerging from the shadows to make their voices heard at the Capitol now that groundwork is being laid to legalize pot for recreational use in the state.

Marijuana producers from Northern California's infamous Emerald Triangle are hiring lobbyists, forming political action committees and taking elected officials on fact-finding tours — even though large-scale pot farms remain illegal under federal law and growers risk being raided and prosecuted.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones rose 59.66 points, or 0.3 percent, to 18,036.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 climbed 3.41 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,095.84. The Nasdaq composite fell 10.96 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,977.29.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.38 to close at $53.29 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose 50 cents to close at $58.43 in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 3.1 cents to close at $1.836 a gallon. Heating oil rose 1.9 cents to close at $1.802 a gallon. Natural gas rose 1.9 cents to close at $2.530 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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