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Originally published Monday, April 29, 2013 at 2:25 PM

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Business Highlights

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The Associated Press

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US consumers keep spending despite higher taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) - This year got off to a sour start for U.S. workers: Their pay, already gasping to keep pace with inflation, suddenly shrank with a Social Security tax increase.

That raised the worrisome question, would consumers stop spending and further slow the economy? Apparently, not yet.

On Friday the government said consumers spent 3.2 percent more on an annual basis in the January-March quarter than in the previous quarter - the biggest jump in two years. And in a report Monday, the government said consumers increased their spending in each month, by 0.2 percent in March, 0.7 percent in February and 0.3 percent in January.

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US loans from China at issue in debt-ceiling fight

WASHINGTON (AP) - Despite what you may have heard, China isn't the country's biggest creditor. America is.

The bulk of the national debt - soon to exceed a staggering $17 trillion - is held by the Federal Reserve, Social Security system, various pension plans for civil service workers and military personnel, U.S. banks, mutual funds, private pension plans, insurance companies and individual domestic investors.

China is responsible for just a shade over 7 percent of that total debt. And while it remains the single largest foreign lender (just ahead of Japan), China's been slowly trimming its holdings, down from nearly 10 percent a few years ago. Overall, foreign investors - including national central banks - account for roughly a third of the total outstanding federal government debt.

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Google invades Siri's turf with iPhone, iPad app

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Siri may be feeling a little job insecurity. The sometimes droll assistant that answers questions and helps people manage their lives on Apple's iPhone and iPad is facing competition from an up-and-coming rival made by Google.

The duel began Monday with the release of a free iPhone and iPad app that features Google Now, a technology that performs many of the same functions as Siri.

It's the first time that Google Now has been available on smartphones and tablet computers that aren't running on the latest version of Google's Android software. The technology, which debuted nine months ago, is being included in an upgrade to Google's search application for iOS, the Apple Inc. software that powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. It's up to a user to decide to activate Google Now within the redesigned Google Search app, which is available through Apple's app store.

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Hospitals fight superbugs with Germ-zapping `robots'

NEW YORK (AP) - They sweep. They swab. They sterilize. And still the germs persist.

In U.S. hospitals, an estimated one in 20 patients pick up infections they didn't have when they arrived, some caused by dangerous "superbugs" that are hard to treat.

The rise of these germs, along with increased pressure from the government and insurers, is driving hospitals to try all sorts of new approaches to stop their spread - machines that resemble "Star Wars" robots and emit ultraviolet light or hydrogen peroxide vapors - germ-resistant copper bed rails, call buttons and IV poles, along with antimicrobial linens, curtains and wall paint.

While these products can help get a room clean, their impact is still debatable. There is no widely accepted evidence that these innovations have prevented infections or deaths.

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Pending US home sales reach 3-year high in March

WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose in March to the highest level in three years, pointing to higher sales this spring.

The National Association of Realtors said Monday that its seasonally adjusted index for pending home sales rose 1.5 percent to 105.7. That's the highest since April 2010, when a homebuyer's tax credit boosted sales. It's also above February's reading of 104.1.

There is generally a one-to-two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed sale. Contract signings rose in the South, West and Midwest, and were unchanged in the Northeast.

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Chrysler profit falls 65 percent on lower shipments

DETROIT (AP) - Chrysler's first-quarter profit tumbled 65 percent as shipments of cars and trucks fell while it prepared factories to launch several key new vehicles.

The Auburn Hills, Mich., company said Monday that it earned $166 million in the January-March quarter, compared with $473 million a year ago. Revenue fell 6 percent to $15.4 billion.

Chrysler, which is majority-owned by Italy's Fiat SpA, said worldwide vehicle shipments fell 6 percent during the quarter to 574,000.

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Express Scripts profit up 39 percent

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Express Scripts says its first-quarter earnings jumped 39 percent compared to last year, when charges tied to its acquisition of competitor Medco Health Solutions hurt the largest U.S. pharmacy benefit manager's performance.

The acquisition more than doubled Express Scripts' revenue in the quarter, more than offsetting higher operating costs for the combined company.

Express Scripts made $373 million, or 45 cents per share, in the quarter, up from $267.8 million, or 55 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding one-time charges, profit was 99 cents per share.

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JC Penney to get $1.75 billion in financing

PLANO, Texas (AP) - J.C. Penney on Monday confirmed that Goldman Sachs will provide it with $1.75 billion in financing.

The five-year senior secured term loan can be used to fund the company's operations as well as pay off some of its debt. It will be secured by real estate, as well as an interest the company's other assets and some of its subsidiaries.

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James Bond studio to open 1st US facility in Georgia

ATLANTA (AP) - The British film studio that's home to the James Bond movie franchise announced plans Monday for its first U.S. film production facility, at a site near Atlanta.

The large-scale film complex will be called Pinewood Atlanta, and Pinewood will manage the facility under an agreement with a group of private investors. Plans call for the studio to be developed on 288 acres south of Atlanta in Fayette County and initially include at least five soundstages as well as production offices.

It's the fifth major studio development or expansion announced in Georgia in recent months. Last week, Atlanta-based developer Jacoby Development said it would build an estimated $1 billion multi-use project north of Atlanta that will include 12 soundstages as well as production offices and an arts and media school aimed at training the next generation for the film industry.

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Italy's new government wins 1st confidence vote

ROME (AP) - Italy's new government easily passed its first confirmation vote Monday in parliament after Premier Enrico Letta made concessions to his uneasy coalition allies, promising to relax part of a slate of austerity measures that have weighed on Italians impatient at the slow pace of economic recovery.

While pledging the country will do what the eurozone wants to improve its public finances and debt problem, the center-left leader has to placate his tense two-day-old coalition, including former premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives, whose support he needs for confirmation.

The lower house of Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, approved his fledgling government by a vote of 453 to 153. The government faces the second mandatory confidence vote of confirmation in the Senate on Tuesday afternoon.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 106.20 to 14,818.75, up 0.7 percent. The S&P 500 index rose 11.37 points, or 0.7 percent, to close at 1,593.61. The Nasdaq composite rose 27.76 points to 3,307.02, an increase of 0.9 percent.

Benchmark crude for June delivery gained $1.50 to finish at $94.50 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price oil from the North Sea used by many U.S. refiners, rose 65 cents to end at $103.81 on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline was up almost a cent to finish at $2.83 a gallon. Heating oil was flat at $2.90 a gallon. Natural gas added 17 cents to end at $4.39 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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