Business Highlights

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Associated Press

Posted on December 31, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Updated Saturday, Dec 31 at 11:02 AM

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After many ups and downs, stocks end flat for 2011

NEW YORK — The stock market ended a tumultuous year right where it started.

In the final tally, despite big climbs and falls, unexpected blows and surprising triumphs, all the hullabaloo proved for naught. The Standard & Poor's 500 index closed Friday at 1,257.60. That's less than half a percentage point below where it started the year.

It was a year when U.S. companies were supposed to run out of ways to make big profits. But they didn't. In fact, they generated more than ever.

It was a year when the U.S. lost its prized triple-A credit rating, which should have spooked buyers of its bonds. Instead investors bought more of them and made Treasurys one of the best bets of 2011. It was a year when stocks caught fire, then collapsed to near bear-market lows before recovering.

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Deep Gulf drilling thrives 18 months after BP spill

ALAMINOS CANYON BLOCK 857, GULF OF MEXICO (AP) — Two hundred miles off the coast of Texas, ribbons of pipe are reaching for oil and natural gas deeper below the ocean's surface than ever before.

These pipes, which run nearly two miles deep, are connected to a floating platform that is so remote that Shell named it Perdido, which means "lost" in Spanish. What attracted Shell to this location is a geologic formation found throughout the Gulf of Mexico that may contain enough oil to satisfy U.S. demand for two years.

While Perdido is isolated, it isn't alone. Across the Gulf, energy companies are probing dozens of new deepwater fields, thanks to high oil prices and technological advances that finally make it possible to tap them.

The newfound oil will not do much to lower global oil prices. But together with increased production from onshore U.S. fields and slowing domestic demand for gasoline, it could help reduce U.S. oil imports by more than half over the next decade.

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In a first, gas and other fuels are top US export

NEW YORK (AP) — For the first time in at least 21 yearrs, the top export of the world's biggest gas guzzler, is — wait for it — fuel.

Measured in dollars, the United States is on pace this year to ship more gasoline, diesel and jet fuel than any other single export, according to U.S. Census data going back to 1990. It will also be the first year in more than 60 that America has been a net exporter of these fuels.

Just how big of a shift is this? A decade ago, fuel wasn't even among the top 25 exports. And for the last five years, the top U.S. export was aircraft.

The trend is significant because for decades the U.S. has relied on huge imports of fuel from Europe in order to meet demand. It only reinforced the image of America as an energy hog. And up until a few years ago, whenever gasoline prices climbed, there were complaints in Congress that U.S. refiners were not growing quickly enough to satisfy domestic demand; that controversy would appear to be over.

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On 10th anniversary, euro takes blame for economy

PARIS (AP) — Just three years ago, the euro was being praised as the can-do currency that had delivered unprecedented prosperity in Europe.

Now, it's widely derided as a hugely flawed experiment in the wake of a debt crisis that's threatening its very existence — an uncomfortable backdrop as the currency's notes and coins hit their first decade in circulation on Jan. 1.

The question is: Will it get to its 11th birthday, let alone 20th? In the euro's tumultuous short history, it has already been heralded as the ultimate mark of a peaceful, united Europe; it's been scoffed at as a giant act of hubris by a distant political elite; and it's been credited with giving Europe a more influential voice in the world.

These days, as it faces its biggest crisis yet, the euro is a daily reminder to more than 330 million people of the dismal state of the economy in the 17-nation eurozone. Many countries seem headed back into recession, and policymakers are grappling with a spiraling debt crisis.

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Walgreen pushes to keep Express Scripts clients

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Walgreen CEO Greg Wasson said Friday that chances are "slim to none" that the drugstore operator will reach an agreement with pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts before their current contract ends Saturday.

Walgreen Co. announced that it is taking several steps to help patients covered by an Express Scripts pharmacy network to continue to use Walgreen locations after the agreement ends. It expects to continue working with more than 120 Express Scripts clients, which include employers and health plans.

Express Scripts Inc. pays Walgreen and other drugstore operators to fill prescriptions. The companies have said since June that they were preparing to stop business once their three-year contract ends. Walgreen has said it would rather give up the revenue it gets from Express Scripts, which is based in St. Louis than continue filling unprofitable prescriptions.

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FDA clears Pfizer vaccine for adults over 50

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators have approved a vaccine for adults age 50 and older to prevent pneumococcal disease, including the most common type of pneumonia.

Friday's announcement from the Food and Drug Administration that it has approved Pfizer Inc.'s best-selling Prevnar 13 vaccine for such use was widely anticipated. It comes a little more than a month after a panel of federal health experts voted overwhelmingly to recommend Prevnar 13 as a safe and effective vaccine to prevent the bacterial infections in adults.

Prevnar 13 protects against 13 strains of pneumococcal bacteria, which cause meningitis, pneumonia and ear infections.

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GM recalling Chevrolet Sonics to check brake pads

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors Co. said on Friday that it is recalling more than 4,000 of its 2012 Chevrolet Sonic subcompact cars to check for missing brake pads.

The possibility that some Sonics could be missing an inner or outer brake pad was discovered during warranty service for a rental vehicle customer. GM said the problem "is expected to exist in very few cars," and there are no known crashes or injuries related to the issue. The lack of a pad could lengthen stopping distance or contribute to a crash.

The recall involves 4,296 of GM's 2012 Sonics sold in the U.S. The affected models are from the Orion Township, Mich., assembly plant, where the Sonic is built for sale in the U.S. and Canada.

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Verizon reverses on $2 fee for one-time payments

NEW YORK (AP) — After a customer backlash, Verizon Wireless on Friday dropped a plan to start charging $2 for every payment subscribers make over the phone or online with their credit or debit cards.

In a statement on its website Friday, the company said "customer feedback" prompted the decision to drop the "convenience fee" it wanted to introduce on Jan. 15.

Verizon wanted to steer people to electronic check payments, which are cheaper, and automatic credit card payments, which are more reliable.

A petition on Change.org against the fees had gathered more than 95,000 names by Friday afternoon, a day after Verizon, the country's largest cellphone company, announced the fees. The petition was set up by Molly Katchpole, who earlier this year started a successful campaign to make Bank of America drop a $5-per-month fee for debit-card use.

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Spain revises up deficit and raises taxes

MADRID (AP) — Spain's new government warned Friday that the country's budget deficit will be much bigger than anticipated this year, as it unveiled a first batch of austerity measures that include surprise income and property tax hikes.

Following the new conservative government's second Cabinet meeting, the budget deficit for this year was revised up to 8 percent of national income from the previous government's forecast of 6 percent.

Along with the upward revision, which comes amid predictions that the Spanish economy will soon be back in recession, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government announced further measures to get a handle on Spain's debts, including $11.5 billion in spending cuts.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 69.48 points, or 0.6 percent, to 12,217.60. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.42 points, or 0.4 percent. The Nasdaq composite index fell 8.59 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,605.15.

Benchmark crude gave up 82 cents to finish at $98.83 per barrel. Brent crude, which is used to price foreign oil that's imported by U.S. refineries, fell 63 cents to end the year at $107.38 per barrel in London.

In other energy trading Friday, heating oil rose 1.75 cents to finish at $2.935 per gallon, and gasoline futures rose by less than a penny to end at $2.6863 per gallon. Natural gas futures fell by 3.8 cents to finish at $2.989 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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