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China rejects 545,000 tons of corn from US

Updated: Saturday, December 21, 2013 |
BEIJING (AP) - China has rejected 545,000 tons of imported U.S. corn that it says contained an unapproved genetically modified strain.

The country's product quality agency said Friday that the strain, called MIR162, was found in 12 batches of corn that will be returned to the United States. In a statement, the agency called on U.S. authorities to strengthen controls to ensure that unapproved types of corn are not sent to China.

The Chinese government is promoting genetically modified crops as a way to increase food production. But some researchers and other critics have questioned their safety, especially those imported from the United States.
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UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- More people sought U.S. unemployment benefits last week, but jobless claims remain at pre-recession levels.

The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment aid rose 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 302,000. The prior week's was revised down to 279,000 claims, the lowest since May 2000.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 3,500 to 297,250. That's the lowest average since April 2006, more than a year before the Great Recession began at the end of 2007.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. When employers keep their workers, it suggests potential income gains, active hiring and confidence that the economy is growing.

Economists forecast that the employment report being released Friday will show that 225,000 jobs were added in July, according to a survey by the data firm FactSet.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average U.S. mortgage rates declined slightly this week, hovering near their lows for the year.

Mortgage company Freddie Mac says the nationwide average for a 30-year loan slipped to 4.12 percent from 4.13 percent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, declined to 3.23 percent from 3.26 percent last week.

Mortgage rates are below the levels of a year ago. They have fallen in recent weeks after climbing last summer when the Federal Reserve began talking about reducing the monthly bond purchases it was making to keep long-term rates low.

The Fed issued a statement Wednesday after a two-day policy meeting suggesting that it wants to see further improvement in the economy before it starts raising its key short-term interest rate.

MILLION-DOLLAR MILESTONE

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A research firm says a record number of million-dollar homes were sold in the San Francisco Bay Area during the second quarter, another sign that affording a place to live is a growing challenge for anyone who isn't tied to the technology economy.

CoreLogic DataQuick said Thursday that more than 5,700 homes sold for at least $1 million from April through June, the highest since the Irvine, California-based firm began collecting data in 1988. More than 1,100 homes sold for at least $2 million in the nine-county region, also a record.

Santa Clara County, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and the city of San Francisco set records for million-dollar sales. Prices are highest in San Francisco, where the median sales price hit $1 million last month.

DATA SURVEILLANCE LAWSUIT

NEW YORK (AP) -- A judge has ruled against Microsoft Corp., saying U.S. law enforcement can force the company to turn over emails it stores in Ireland.

Loretta Preska, a federal judge in New York, ruled from the bench Thursday after hearing oral arguments.

The Redmond, Washington-based software company has said rulings forcing it to turn over emails threaten to rewrite the Constitution's protections against illegal search and seizure. It says it can also damage U.S. foreign relations. Its arguments were joined by four large technology companies including Apple Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc.

The judge agreed to stay the effect of her ruling to give the company time to appeal.

Preska said she agrees with a magistrate judge who signed a warrant in December.

WISCONSIN UNIONS

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld the 2011 law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers, sparked massive protests and led to Republican Gov. Scott Walker's recall election.

The court upheld the law 5-2 Thursday under a challenge filed by the Madison teachers union and a union representing Milwaukee public workers. They had argued that the law violated workers' constitutional rights to free assembly and equal protection.

A federal appeals court twice upheld the law as constitutional.

The law prohibits public worker unions from collectively bargaining for anything beyond base wage increases based on inflation.

Walker introduced it shortly after taking office, and rose to national prominence as he defended it and won the 2012 recall election.

KELLOGG-MEMPHIS LOCKOUT

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- A judge has ordered Kellogg to put employees at its Memphis, Tennessee, cereal production facility back to work.

The ruling on Wednesday came after the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint in March against the company related to a lockout of about 220 employees.

Contract negotiations between the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union and Kellogg failed in October.

WMC-TV reports U.S. District Judge Samuel Mays gave the Battle Creek, Michigan-based Kellogg five days to put the Memphis employees back to work with the same pay and working conditions that were in place when the lockout began.

TARGET-CEO

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Target has hired Pepsi executive Brian Cornell as its new chairman and CEO as it looks to recover from a huge data breach and troubles in Canada.

Cornell replaces interim CEO John Mulligan, who is chief financial officer for the Minneapolis company. Mulligan stepped into the interim CEO post in May when Target Corp.'s Gregg Steinhafel resigned following a large data breach in the runup to Christmas.

Cornell, 55, most recently served as CEO of PepsiCo Americas Foods. Prior to that, he was CEO and president of Sam's Club of Wal-Mart International and CEO of Michaels Stores Inc.

PepsiCo Inc. said in a statement Thursday that it expects to announce Cornell's successor soon.

Cornell is set to become Target's CEO on Aug. 12.

CHINA-CANADA-HACKING

BEIJING (AP) -- China says Canada's accusation that it was behind the hacking of a Canadian technology development organization is groundless and irresponsible.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement issued Thursday that Canada should withdraw the accusation.

Canada's Treasury Board said on Tuesday that a "highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor" hacked into the National Research Council, which partners with private industry to bring new technologies to market.

The government said one of Canada's spy agencies detected and confirmed the cyberattack. The council's computers were isolated as a precaution. The government wouldn't release more information for security reasons.

In May, the U.S. accused China of vast business spying and charged five military officials with hacking into U.S. companies to steal vital trade secrets.

RUSSIA-SANCTIONS

BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union has revealed the names of five Russian banks it is sanctioning over what the 28-nation bloc decries as Moscow's meddling in Ukraine.

The sanctions limit access to European capital markets for the banks, in which the Russian state holds a majority stake. The lenders are Russia's largest bank, Sberbank, Gazprombank, Rosselkhozbank, VEB and VTB bank.

The sanctions were first announced Tuesday, but the names of the targeted firms were only released Thursday.

The regulation says it will be "prohibited to directly or indirectly purchase, sell, provide brokering or assistance in the issuance" of debt instruments with a maturity of over 90 days.

Russia's state-owned banks last year issued debt worth 15.8 billion euros. About half of that, or 7.5 billion euros, was placed on European markets.

JAPAN-PANASONIC-TESLA

TOKYO (AP) -- American electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc. is teaming up with Japanese electronics company Panasonic Corp. to build a battery manufacturing plant in the U.S. expected to create 6,500 jobs.

The companies announced the deal Thursday, but they did not say where in the U.S. the so-called "gigafactory," or large-scale plant, will be built.

The plant will produce cells, modules and packs for Tesla's electric vehicles and for the stationary energy storage market, employing 6,500 people by 2020.

Under the agreement, Tesla, based in Palo Alto, California, will prepare, provide and manage the land and buildings, while Osaka-based Panasonic will manufacture and supply the lithium-ion battery cells and invest in equipment for manufacturing.

The project will cut costs to better meet mass production needs for electric vehicle batteries.

GERMANY-EARNS-VOLKSWAGEN

BERLIN (AP) -- Germany's Volkswagen, Europe's biggest automaker, says its net income rose 14.1 percent in the second quarter although revenues slipped even as unit sales pushed higher.

Volkswagen AG said its profit in the April-June period was 3.25 billion euros ($4.35 billion), up from 2.85 billion a year earlier. Revenue slipped 2.2 percent to 50.98 billion euros although there was a 5.6 percent increase in the number of vehicles sold, to 2.62 million.

Volkswagen said that revenue was hurt by "significant negative exchange rate effects" and also said that, while global demand for passenger cars continued to rise in the year's first half, "the pace of growth eased off" and regional trends were mixed.

The company maintained its full-year outlook.

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