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Originally published Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 2:38 PM

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Business Highlights

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The Associated Press

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Oil drilling technology leaps, clean energy lags

NEW YORK (AP) - Technology created an energy revolution over the past decade - just not the one we expected.

By now, cars were supposed to be running on fuel made from plant waste or algae - or powered by hydrogen or cheap batteries that burned nothing at all. Electricity would be generated with solar panels and wind turbines. When the sun didn't shine or the wind didn't blow, power would flow out of batteries the size of tractor-trailers.

Fossil fuels? They were going to be expensive and scarce, relics of an earlier, dirtier age.

But in the race to conquer energy technology, Old Energy is winning.

Oil companies big and small have used technology to find a bounty of oil and natural gas so large that worries about running out have melted away. New imaging technologies let drillers find oil and gas trapped miles underground and undersea. Oil rigs "walk" from one drill site to the next. And engineers in Houston use remote-controlled equipment to drill for gas in Pennsylvania.

The result is an abundance that has put the United States on track to become the world's largest producer of oil and gas in a few years. On Thursday the U.S. reported that oil imports have fallen to a 17-year low.

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US economic reports hold out hope for hiring gains

WASHINGTON (AP) - Fewer people are losing their jobs. Employers are struggling to squeeze more work from their staffs. The U.S. is producing so much oil that imports are plunging, narrowing the trade deficit.

A string of data Thursday raised hopes for stronger hiring and U.S. growth in coming months. More jobs would spur spending and help energize the economy, which has yet to regain full health nearly four years after the Great Recession officially ended.

And an interest rate cut Thursday by the European Central Bank, if it helps bolster the European economy, could also contribute to U.S. growth.

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US jobless claims fall to 5-year low of 324,000

WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to seasonally adjusted 324,000, the lowest since January 2008. The drop points to fewer layoffs and possibly more hiring.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications fell 18,000, the second straight sharp drop. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, plummeted 16,000 to 342,250, close to a five-year low.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When they fall below 350,000, it is generally consistent with moderate hiring.

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US trade deficit falls to $38.8 billion in March

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in March for a second month as the daily flow of imported crude oil dropped to the lowest level in 17 years. The deficit with China hit a three-year low.

The overall trade deficit decreased to $38.8 billion, an 11 percent drop from February's $43.6 billion, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Exports fell 0.9 percent to $184.3 billion as sales of machinery, autos and farm products all declined. Imports fell 2.8 percent to $223.1 billion, led by a 4.4 percent drop in foreign petroleum. Crude oil imports averaged just 7 million barrels per day, the lowest since March 1996.

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US worker productivity rises just 0.7 percent in Q1

WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. worker productivity barely grew from January through March after shrinking in the final three months of 2012. Weak productivity growth could prompt employers to hire more if consumers and businesses continue to increase spending.

The Labor Department said Thursday that productivity rose at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.7 percent in the first quarter, after shrinking 1.7 percent in the previous quarter.

Labor costs increased at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.5 percent, below the fourth quarter's 4.4 percent gain.

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Intel taps COO Krzanich as chipmaker's next CEO

NEW YORK (AP) - Intel, one of the pillars of Silicon Valley, is following its traditions and promoting an insider to the job of CEO. The world's largest chipmaker is tasking Chief Operating Officer Brian Krzanich with steering it through an industry shake-up that is seeing tablets and smartphones overshadow Intel's base in personal computers.

Intel announced Thursday that Krzanich will replace Paul Otellini on May 16. Six months ago, Otellini, 62, announced his surprise decision to resign and will end a nearly 40-year career with Intel, including eight years as CEO.

Krzanich, who is 52 and spent his entire career at the company, comes out of a manufacturing organization where meticulous attention is required to churn out processors with billions of minute details.

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ECB cuts benchmark interest rate to 0.5 percent

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) - The European Central Bank cut its key interest rate to a record low 0.50 percent Thursday and announced other measures to spur lending and help lift the euro area out of a stubborn recession.

ECB President Mario Draghi said the bank was prepared to flex its muscles further in the face of high and rising unemployment and growing evidence that Europe's economy is getting weaker. He said the ECB stood "ready to act if needed," but he also implored European governments - which responded to the region's debt crisis by slashing spending - to do more to stimulate economic growth.

On Wednesday the U.S. Federal Reserve signaled it wouldn't rule out taking more action to boost growth and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke warned America's political leaders that their policies were holding back the economy.

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Decades-old question: Is antibacterial soap safe?

WASHINGTON (AP) - It's a chemical that's been in U.S. households for more than 40 years, from the body wash in your bathroom shower to the knives on your kitchen counter to the bedding in your baby's basinet.

But federal health regulators are just now deciding whether triclosan - the germ-killing ingredient found in an estimated 75 percent of antibacterial liquid soaps and body washes sold in the U.S. - is ineffective, or worse, harmful.

The Food and Drug Administration is planning to deliver a review this year of whether triclosan is safe. The ruling, which will determine whether triclosan continues to be used in household cleaners, could have implications for a $1 billion industry that includes hundreds of antibacterial products from toothpaste to toys.

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US rate on 15-year mortgage at record 2.56 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) - The average U.S. rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage fell to a new record low last week, and the rate on the 30-year fixed loan declined. Cheaper mortgages have encouraged more home-buying and refinancing.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 15-year fixed mortgage slipped to 2.56 percent. That's the lowest on records dating to 1991. It fell from 2.61 percent last week, the previous record.

The rate on the 30-year loan declined to 3.35 percent from 3.40 percent last week. That's near the average rate of 3.31 percent reached in November, the lowest on records dating back to 1971.

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GM 1Q profit falls 14 percent; new pickups key to year

DETROIT (AP) - New cars were key for General Motors' in the first quarter. New trucks will be the key to the rest of this year.

Two new Opels - the Mokka subcompact SUV and Adam small car - helped GM stanch its first-quarter losses in Europe, while the Cadillac XTS and Chevrolet Malibu sedans took China by storm. GM's worldwide sales rose almost 4 percent in the first three months.

Now GM's fortunes rest on the redesigned Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups. The trucks, which were last updated in 2007, go on sale in a few weeks. GM hopes to cut into Ford's lead in the pickup segment, which is red-hot due to a recovery in the housing and construction markets.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 130.63 points, or 0.9 percent, to 14,831.58. The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 14.89 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,597.59. The Nasdaq advanced 41.49 points, or 1.3 percent, to 3,340.62.

Benchmark oil for June delivery rose $2.96, or 3.3 percent, to finish at $93.99 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, which is used to set prices of oil from the North Sea used by many U.S. refiners, rose $2.90, or 2.9 percent, to finish at $102.85 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Natural gas futures dropped by 30 cents, or 7 percent, to end at $4.03 per 1,000 cubic feet, its biggest one-day slide since August. Wholesale gasoline gained 6 cents to end at $2.78 a gallon. Heating oil added 7 cents to finish at $2.86 a gallon.

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