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Originally published Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 2:36 PM

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Business Highlights

Mortgage rates are back near record low

The Associated Press

Mortgage rates are back near record low

WASHINGTON (AP) - Turmoil in the stock market and the European debt crisis are making life easier for American homebuyers and families looking to refinance: Mortgage rates are inching closer to a record low.

The window of opportunity may close soon. Home loan rates will rise if investors grow more confident and shift money out of the safety of government bonds, which influence mortgage rates.

For now, though, rates are tantalizingly low. The average 30-year fixed-rate loan sank to 4.78 percent this week, the lowest this year and barely above the record of 4.71 percent set in December. And 15-year loans are at their lowest rates in two decades.

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Slow-motion recovery keeps unemployment high

WASHINGTON (AP) - Two government reports offered new evidence the recovery is too weak to generate enough jobs for 15.3 million unemployed people.

The economy grew at a 3 percent annual rate from January to March, according to a new estimate released by the Commerce Department Thursday. The new reading, based on more complete information, was slightly weaker than an initial estimate of 3.2 percent a month ago.

In a separate report, the Labor Department said the number of newly laid off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits fell to 460,000 last week. But the latest level of claims is actually higher than it was at the start of the year.

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Stocks jump after China shows confidence in Europe

NEW YORK (AP) - Stocks had another turnaround Thursday and rocketed higher after China reassured investors it doesn't plan to sell the European debt it holds.

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The Dow Jones industrial average surged nearly 285 points, while Treasury prices tumbled as traders funneled money into riskier assets like stocks and commodities.

The show of confidence in Europe let the market resume a rally that stalled late Wednesday following a report that China was considering cutting its exposure to European debt. That would have signaled that China didn't think Europe would be able to contain the crisis. The agency that manages China's $2.5 trillion in foreign reserves denied the report.

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Lawmakers press J&J to explain "phantom recall"

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congressional investigators said Wednesday that Johnson & Johnson hired a private company that bought up defective packets of pain relievers in 2008 before recalling the pills months later, after prodding from federal regulators.

The new questions about J&J's handling of quality issues came during a hearing about its latest recall involving over 100 million bottles of children's medicine, some of which contained tiny particles of metal.

Last month J&J's McNeil division recalled more than 40 varieties of children's medicines after the Food and Drug Administration discovered a slew of violations at a company plant.

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Gulf leak eclipses Exxon Valdez as worst US spill

COVINGTON, La. (AP) - BP's attempt to choke off the gusher at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico appeared to be making some progress, officials said Thursday as dire new government estimates showed the disaster has easily eclipsed the Exxon Valdez as the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.

As the world waited to see whether the "top kill" would work, President Barack Obama announced major new restrictions on drilling projects, and the head of the federal agency that regulates the industry resigned under pressure, becoming the highest-ranking political casualty of the crisis so far.

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Shoppers' little extras push Costco profit higher

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Shoppers at Costco Wholesale Corp. are beginning to pick up a few modest extras such as doormats and coffee makers along with their must-haves like food, the company said Thursday.

The stronger sales to everyday shoppers and small businesses helped drive the nation's largest warehouse club's net income up 46 percent for the quarter.

The company, based in Issaquah, Wash., reported that it earned $306 million, or 68 cents per share. That's up from $210 million, or 48 cents per share, a year ago. Adjusted for special items in both periods, the company earned 66 cents per share for the quarter versus 53 cents per share in the prior year.

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Tiffany's 1Q profit more than doubles

NEW YORK (AP) - Jewelry and gift seller Tiffany & Co.'s net income more than doubled in the first quarter as its revenue rose in the U.S. and soared 50 percent in Asia, the company said Thursday.

Tiffany, based in New York and known for its silver jewelry and signature turquoise gift boxes, also forecast higher full-year profit than Wall Street expects.

The robust earnings report offers signs that affluent shoppers are keeping their spending up, even buying jewelry for more than $50,000 apiece, after they pulled back during the depths of the recession. The company cautioned that spending is being compared with sharp declines from a year ago.

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Heinz pours on a 9.8 pct rise in 4Q net income

NEW YORK (AP) - Rising revenue in Asia and the Pacific outpaced food maker H.J. Heinz Co.'s growth in the U.S. and Europe and helped its fourth-quarter net income climb 9.8 percent, the company said Thursday.

The maker of Ore-Ida potatoes, Classico pasta sauce and its signature ketchup said cutting costs and raising its prices also helped, by making up for rising ingredient prices.

Heinz, based in Pittsburgh, raised its 2011 dividend 12 cents to $1.80 and offered guidance for the next year in line with Wall Street analysts' estimates.

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Geithner: US, Europe broadly agree on reform

BERLIN (AP) - The United States and Europe broadly agree on the need for reform of the financial system, but global cooperation is needed, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Thursday. He also said countries are working together to balance cutting back deficits with supporting economic growth.

Geithner met German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble during a two-day visit to Europe that also took him to Britain and to the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.

The trip comes amid ongoing market volatility following European nations' agreement this month on a nearly $1 trillion loan backstop for governments in danger of defaulting on debt - coupled with efforts to cut budget deficits.

By The Associated Press

The Dow rose 284.54, or 2.9 percent, to 10,258.99.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 35.11, or 3.3 percent, to 1,103.06. The Nasdaq composite index climbed 81.80, or 3.7 percent, to 2,277.68, putting it back in the black for 2010.

Benchmark crude for July delivery rose $3.04 to settle at $74.55 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other Nymex trading in July contracts, heating oil rose 7.87 cents to settle at $1.9994 a gallon, and gasoline gained $6.85 cents to settle at $2.0389 a gallon.

In London, Brent crude added $2.92 to settle at $74.66 on the ICE futures exchange.

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