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Originally published Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 3:37 PM

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Business Highlights

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The Associated Press

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Eurozone unemployment hits record high

LONDON (AP) - The 17 countries that use the euro are facing the highest unemployment rates in the history of the currency as recession once again spreads across Europe, pressuring leaders to focus less on austerity and more on stimulating growth.

Unemployment in the eurozone rose by 169,000 in March, official figures showed Wednesday, taking the rate up to 10.9 percent - its highest level since the euro was launched in 1999. The seasonally adjusted rate was up from 10.8 percent in February and 9.9 percent a year ago and contrasts sharply with the picture in the U.S., where unemployment has fallen from 9.1 percent in August to 8.2 percent in March. Spain had the highest rate in the eurozone, 24.1 percent - and an alarming 51.1 percent for people under 25.

Austerity has been the main prescription across Europe for dealing with a debt crisis that's afflicted the continent for nearly three years and has raised the specter of the breakup of the single currency. Three countries - Greece, Ireland and Portugal - have already required bailouts because of unsustainable levels of debt.

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US factory orders fell in March by most in 3 years

WASHINGTON (AP) - Demand for U.S. factory goods dropped in March by the most in three years, driven lower by a sharp fall in volatile orders for commercial aircraft. Still, more recent data suggest the decline may be temporary.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that orders for factory goods fell 1.5 percent. That was the steepest decline since March 2009, when the economy was mired in recession. Orders rose 1.1 percent in February.

A key reason for the drop was aircraft orders plummeted nearly 50 percent. Those orders can fluctuate sharply from month to month.

Excluding transportation goods, orders were unchanged. Demand for less durable items, such as food, chemicals and gasoline, rose 0.5 percent.

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Private survey shows US hiring slowed last month

WASHINGTON (AP) - A private survey shows U.S. businesses sharply reduced hiring in April, a cautionary sign two days before the government reports on monthly job growth.

Payroll provider ADP said Wednesday that businesses added just 119,000 jobs last month, far lower than a revised total of 201,000 jobs in March.

The number of jobs added was the fewest ADP has reported in seven months..

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CVS Caremark 1Q profit jumps 9 percent

CVS Caremark Corp. gained millions of new prescriptions in the first quarter due to a contract impasse between two rivals, and now the drugstore chain wants to keep the growth going by ensuring that those customers stick around and use the rest of its store.

The Woonsocket, R.I., company said Wednesday its first-quarter earnings climbed 9 percent, and it raised its profit forecast for 2012 because the end of a contract between Walgreen Co. and Express Scripts Inc. prompted Walgreen customers to migrate to CVS stores. Walgreen, the nation's largest drugstore chain stopped filling prescriptions for Express Scripts, the biggest pharmacy benefits manager, at the end of 2011, when a contract between the two companies ran out.

CEO Larry Merlo estimates that his company filled about 5.7 million to 6.5 million additional prescriptions in the first quarter due to Walgreen-Express Scripts dispute, which added about 3 cents per share to his company's earnings. All told, CVS Caremark filled more than 179 million prescriptions at its retail pharmacies in the first three months of 2012.

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MasterCard profit up 25 percent on overseas gains

NEW YORK (AP) - Shoppers in Latin America, the Asia Pacific and the Middle East powered a 25 percent increase in MasterCard's profit for the first three months of the year.

The Purchase, N.Y.-based payments processor reported income of $682 million Wednesday, or $5.36 per share, on revenue of $1.8 billion. That exceeded Wall Street's expectations of $5.29 per share on revenue of $1.73 billion.

Ajay Banga, MasterCard's CEO, said the amount of purchases the company processed jumped 29 percent, the highest growth rate since the company went public.

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Visa profit rises 30 percent as card use rises

NEW YORK (AP) - Visa said Wednesday that its profit for the first three months of the year was up 30 percent from the year before, primarily because credit card use rose in the United States and overseas.

The company said Americans rang up 12 percent more on their charge cards for the quarter. Debit card use grew by only 4 percent, however, the slowest growth in a year.

Banks have eliminated some debit card rewards programs since October, when the government limited the fees banks can charge stores for card transactions.

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Comcast 1Q earnings up 30 percent

NEW YORK (AP) - Comcast Corp., the country's largest cable company, reported a 30 percent profit increase in the first quarter, beating expectations on the strength of Super Bowl advertising and its popular broadband service.

The Philadelphia-based cable company said Wednesday that its net income rose to $1.224 billion, or 45 cents per share, for the January to March period from $943 million, or 34 cents per share, a year ago.

Analysts polled by FactSet were expecting earnings of 42 cents per share for the latest quarter

Revenue rose to $14.9 billion, above analysts' expectation of $14.4 billion. The increase was 9.6 percent compared with the combined cable and NBC Universal results a year ago.

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Time Warner 1Q results beat Street on TV, movies

NEW YORK (AP) - A stronger box office slate, a new deal with Netflix and a better TV advertising climate contributed to growth at Time Warner Inc. to start off 2012.

Although earnings fell 11 percent during the first three months of the year because of restructuring charges, adjusted income beat Wall Street's expectations on the strengths of the company's movie studio and TV network businesses.

Those gains offset weakness in the magazine division.

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Sears execs say retailer financially strong

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (AP) - Sears executives tried Wednesday to ease concerns about the troubled retailer's long-term outlook amid ever-sinking sales, emphasizing the company's financial strength, increased liquidity and prospects to boost operational results.

Chairman Edward Lampert told shareholders at Sears Holdings Corp.'s annual meeting that the company is "not planning to just survive" but thrive as a result of actions it's taking to not only win back disillusioned shoppers but get more productivity out of its real estate holdings.

The company has been on the defensive with Wall Street after losing $3.14 billion in 2011 and because of the yearslong decline in sales at its Sears and Kmart stores. Revenue at U.S. stores open at least a year, a key indicator of retailers' performance, fell 2.2 percent last year.

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Target phasing out Amazon's Kindle

NEW YORK (AP) - Target Corp. is phasing out Amazon.com Inc.'s e-reader Kindle at its more than 1,700 stores and its website.

Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said Wednesday that the decision to stop selling Kindles this spring came after an "ongoing review" of Target's merchandise that evaluates quality and prices of the chain's offerings.

The move coincides with the discounter's plan to create mini shops of Apple Inc. products in 25 of its stores this year.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones Industrial average ended the day down 10.75 points, at 13,268.57. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 3.51 points to 1,402.31. The Nasdaq composite index rose 9.41 points at 3,059.85.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude gave up 94 cents to end the day at $105.22 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which helps set the price of oil imported into the U.S., lost $1.46 to finish at $118.20 per barrel in London.

In other energy futures trading, natural gas fell nearly 5 percent after jumping Tuesday to the highest level in two months. Futures fell 11.8 cents to finish at $2.253 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Heating oil fell by 3.46 cents to end at $3.1425 per gallon and gasoline fell by 2.14 cents to end at $3.0757 a gallon.

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