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Business Highlights

Associated Press Updated: September 15, 2014 at 5:47 pm

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'Minecraft' could boost Microsoft's mobile reach

NEW YORK (AP) — Microsoft's decision to spend $2.5 billion for the creator of the hit game "Minecraft" could help the Xbox maker grab attention on mobile phones, a new priority for the company.

But the move carries risks, as gamers can be fickle. Although the Lego-like multiplayer game is currently the top paid app for the iPhone and Android devices in the U.S., today's popular hit could be tomorrow's dud. The maker of the much obsessed-over "Candy Crush Saga," for example, rode the game's popularity to go public this year, only to see its stock falter.

In addition, the founders of Mojang, the Swedish company behind "Minecraft," aren't staying with Microsoft. That could raise questions about Mojang's ability to create another big hit.

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GM expert says 19 deaths eligible for compensation

DETROIT (AP) — The death toll tied to faulty ignition switches in General Motors small cars has risen to 19, according to a compensation expert hired by the company. The number is likely to go higher.

Kenneth Feinberg said Monday that he has determined that 19 wrongful death claims are eligible for payments from GM. General Motors' estimate of deaths has stood at 13 for months, although the automaker acknowledged the possibility of a higher count.

Feinberg received 125 death claims due to the faulty switches in older-model small cars such as the Chevrolet Cobalt. The rest remain under review or require further documentation, he said in a report issued Monday.

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Speculation swirls over Fed language on rate hike

WASHINGTON (AP) — When the Federal Reserve issues a policy statement after it meets this week, the financial world will be on high alert for two words:

"Considerable time."

The presence or absence of that phrase will trigger a rush to assess the likely timing of the Fed's first increase in interest rates since it cut them to record lows in 2008.

The Fed's recent statements have said it expects to keep its key short-term rate near zero for a "considerable time" after it stops buying Treasurys and mortgage bonds. Those bond purchases have been intended to keep long-term rates down to support the economy.

But the purchases are set to end in November, so the Fed may soon see the need to use some phrasing other than "considerable time" to signify when it might start raising rates. It could sub out that phrase in this week's statement. Or it could wait until its next meeting in October.

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Once-troubled reverse mortgages poised for rebound

WASHINGTON (AP) — Advertised as a path to an affordable retirement, federally insured reverse mortgages are showing signs of a rebound, drawing the scrutiny of regulators seeking to reduce historically high default rates that have cost the government billions.

Industry analysts expect strong growth as the housing market improves, particularly in once hard-hit Sun Belt areas including Phoenix, Miami and San Diego, California, and aging Americans find value in growing old in their homes.

They are also being boosted by high-appreciation, gentrifying neighborhoods in older cities such as New York's Brooklyn borough.

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US wealth gap putting the squeeze on state revenue

WASHINGTON (AP) — Income inequality is taking a toll on state governments.

The widening gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else has been matched by a slowdown in state tax revenue, according to a report being released Monday by Standard & Poor's.

Even as income for the affluent has accelerated, it's barely kept pace with inflation for most other people. That trend can mean a double-whammy for states: The wealthy often manage to shield much of their income from taxes. And they tend to spend a lower percentage of it than others do, thereby limiting sales tax revenue.

As the growth of tax revenue has slowed, states have faced tensions over whether to raise taxes or cut spending to balance their budgets as required by law.

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Why hire? French confront reasons for malaise

PARIS (AP) — Marc Winocour and his two sons have enjoyed some success transforming the family farm into a field-to-table company that includes bread ovens, delivery trucks and a boutique. Revenues are climbing more than 50 percent a year.

But even as customer interest grows, adding new employees to their team of 10 is a decision of last resort. For French business owners like them, the financial risk is too great and the government's promises to lighten the highest labor costs in the world and overhaul 3,000 pages of work rules are too remote.

President Francois Hollande's Socialist government has a plan to lower such payroll charges, cut red tape and make it easier to hire — but only if it can win a confidence vote on Tuesday.

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Eurozone economic growth forecast cut

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — A major international organization has cut its growth forecast for the countries that use the euro and says the troubled currency union needs even more stimulus from the central bank and governments.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a think tank dealing with the world's developed countries, cut its forecasts for the eurozone this year to 0.8 percent from 1.2 percent in its May assessment.

The Paris-based OECD also cut its growth forecasts for the U.S. and several other large economies but said the global economy overall was continuing a moderate if uneven recovery. The outlook for the U.S. was cut to 2.1 percent from 2.6 percent and for Japan to 0.9 percent from 1.2 percent. Italy, one of the more troubled economies in Europe, was downgraded from 0.5 percent to minus 0.4 percent.

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Detroit bankruptcy trial resumes after settlement

DETROIT (AP) — A judge refused to extend a timeout Monday in Detroit's bankruptcy trial after a deal with a major creditor removed another opponent from the city's plan to exit the largest Chapter 9 case in U.S. history.

A bond insurer, Financial Guaranty Insurance, said it needs more time to craft trial strategy after another insurer ironed out a settlement with Detroit. But Judge Steven Rhodes said Financial Guaranty should have been prepared to lose an ally, and he resumed the trial with testimony from a pension actuary.

The trial was suspended last Wednesday so Detroit and Syncora could reach an agreement. Syncora is getting cash and long-term leases on a parking garage and the tunnel between Detroit and Canada, among other concessions.

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Gilead to license generic version of Sovaldi

Gilead Sciences has reached a deal with several generic drugmakers to produce a cheaper version of its popular, $1,000-per-pill hepatitis C drug Sovaldi for use in developing countries.

Gilead said Monday that the India-based companies will make a generic version of Sovaldi, also known as sofosbuvir, and another investigational drug for distribution in 91 countries.

Sovaldi hit the U.S. market late last year and has been hailed as a breakthrough treatment. But Gilead has taken criticism over its cost, which can amount to $84,000 for a full course of treatment.

Hepatitis C is a liver-destroying virus carried by an estimated 3 million to 4 million Americans. Until late last year, the standard treatments required taking up to 12 pills a day, alongside antiviral drug injections that can cause flu-like symptoms. That approach cured only about 75 percent of patients.

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Olive Garden defends breadstick policy

NEW YORK (AP) — Olive Garden is defending its practice of giving customers as many breadsticks as they want, saying the policy conveys "Italian generosity."

The remark is part of a response by the chain's parent company, Darden Restaurants Inc., to a nearly 300-page criticism released by hedge fund Starboard Value last week. Starboard took Olive Garden and its management to task for a litany of issues, including its liberal distribution of breadsticks, its failure to salt the water used to boil its pasta and even the length of the asparagus it serves.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average rose 43.63 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,031.14. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 1.41, or 0.1 percent, to 1,984.13. The Nasdaq composite fell 48.70 points, or 1.1 percent, to 4,518.90.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 65 cents to $92.92 a barrel. Brent crude, a benchmark for international crude oils imported by many U.S. refineries, slipped 2 cents to $96.65. Wholesale gasoline rose 1.2 cents to $2.531 a gallon. Heating oil was flat at $2.74 a gallon. Natural gas rose 7.4 cents to $3.931 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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