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Last Update on April 02, 2015 07:36 GMT

ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Labor Department will report today on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week. In last Thursday's report, fewer people sought jobless benefits, evidence that strong hiring should continue despite signs of slower economic growth at the start of 2015.

Also today, the Commerce Department will release its report on U.S. factory orders for February. In January, orders to U.S. factories dropped again, as manufacturers grappled with weak growth overseas and a stronger dollar. Commerce will also release February's trade deficit figures. In January, the U.S. trade deficit dropped sharply as both exports and imports fell.

Freddie Mac will report on average U.S. mortgage rates today. Last week, the nationwide average for a 30-year mortgage fell to 3.69 percent, edging closer to historically low levels at the start of the spring home-buying season.

HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS-INVESTIGATION

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- A group of 14 attorneys general is asking Congress to launch an investigation of the herbal supplements industry and to consider giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stronger oversight of the industry.

The group is led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has alleged that DNA tests on certain store-brand supplements found none of the herbs on the labels. Industry groups and some consumer advocates have criticized Schneiderman's testing, saying DNA testing is unable to identify highly processed plant material.

Under federal law, herbal supplements, vitamins and other dietary supplements are subject to much less rigorous oversight than pharmaceutical products.

GNC, one of the retailers targeted by Schneiderman, said last week that it has provided him test results showing its products were safe and properly labeled.

ALLEGIANT AIR STRIKE

UNDATED (AP) -- A federal court has issued a temporary restraining order blocking pilots at discount carrier Allegiant Air from a planned strike Thursday.

The Las Vegas-based airline had gone to court to block the strike, which would have grounded 250 flights and affected 33,000 customers.

The union says it will comply with the judge's decision and Allegiant says all scheduled flights are expected to operate normally.

Thursday is one of Allegiant's busiest travel days.

Allegiant is one of the most profitable airlines in the world, taking vacationers from smaller U.S. cities to warm destinations like Phoenix, Las Vegas and the Florida cities of Orlando and Tampa.

The airline's pilots are upset over the company's change in crew scheduling and a rollback in a disability program and other benefits.

CONGRESS-MEDICARE

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress will get a little extra time to prevent a threatened 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors.

Technically, the cut was to take effect Wednesday.

But the Department of Health and Human Services said it will hold off processing claims at the lower rate until April 15.

The House has overwhelmingly passed a bill to repeal the 1990s budget formula that requires the Medicare cuts. But the Senate left on its spring break before taking action. President Barack Obama says he would sign the House bill.

The Senate goes back into session on April 13, giving it just two days to act.

If Medicare is forced to pay doctors at the lower rate, it would cover the difference later, assuming Congress acts.

But that could raise administrative costs.

KRAFT-MONDELEZ-CHARGES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal regulators have charged two major U.S. food companies, Kraft and Mondelez, with manipulating prices for wheat and wheat futures in a scheme that reaped more than $5.4 million in profit.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced the civil charges Wednesday against the two companies. The agency said the companies used "manipulative trading strategies" in December 2011 to artificially lower wheat prices on the spot market.

The CFTC also said Kraft Food Groups Inc. and Mondelez Global LLC violated rules limiting the volume of futures contracts in wheat that financial investors can trade on exchanges.

Kraft, based in Northfield, Illinois, makes Oscar Meyer cold cuts, Jell-O pudding and Velveeta cheese. Oreo, Cadbury and Trident are among Mondelez's brands.

Mondelez and Kraft had been one company. They split in 2012.

MAXIM MAGAZINE-SCAM CHARGES

NEW YORK (AP) -- A New York lawyer has been charged with conspiring to help a convicted con man in a ruse to borrow millions of dollars in a failed bid to buy Maxim magazine.

Attorney Harvey Newkirk was freed on $500,000 bail after appearing Wednesday in Manhattan federal court.

Newkirk is charged with wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. He's accused of helping Calvin Darden Jr. use his successful father's name to convince two lenders to provide a total of $8 million. Prosecutors say the pair tried to convince a third investor to contribute $20 million.

Darden pleaded guilty in November. His father is a retired UPS Inc. executive who sits on the boards of several major companies.

Newkirk's lawyer says he did nothing wrong.

McDONALD'S-WORKERS

NEW YORK (AP) -- McDonald's says it's raising pay for workers at company-owned U.S. restaurants, making it the latest employer to sweeten worker incentives in an improving economy.

The fast-food chain owns about 10 percent of its more than 14,300 U.S. restaurants, representing about 90,000 workers. The rest are run by franchisees and McDonald's said they "make their own decisions on pay and benefits."

The announcement comes as several major companies including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have announced wage hikes as the economy has picked up and made it more difficult to find reliable workers. Over the past 12 months, the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.5 percent from 6.7 percent.

The change also comes as McDonald's has been dealing with negative publicity from ongoing demonstrations demanding pay of $15 an hour and a union.

MINIMUM WAGE-SEATTLE

SEATTLE (AP) -- Seattle's new $15 minimum wage law has gone into effect nearly a year after the pricey West Coast city was celebrated by activists as the first metropolis to push employers into providing higher wages.

But the fast food workers who staged walkouts to advance the idea won't be seeing anything close to $15 an hour in their paychecks this week, as the increase is being phased in gradually through 2017 and beyond.

The change in Seattle is part of a larger trend toward higher wages playing out in statehouses and on ballots across the nation. In November, San Francisco voters approved their own phased-in minimum wage hike to $15 an hour by July 2018

PUERTO RICO-ECONOMY

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- A group of U.S. bondholders has offered to invest $2 billion in energy production and other measures that it says would help improve the finances and infrastructure of Puerto Rico's power company amid fears it will go bankrupt.

The announcement comes just days after the government of the U.S. territory obtained a two-week extension from creditors as the company prepares for a potential restructuring. The Electric Energy Authority holds nearly $9 billion in debt and owes investors some $400 million by July.

The bondholder group said the $2 billion would be used to bolster infrastructure, including possible construction of a natural gas-powered electricity generating plant that would allow the agency to sell power at a lower rate and stabilize its finances.

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Business News

Major business and economic reports scheduled for today

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Labor Department will report today on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week. In last Thursday's report, fewer people sought jobless benefits, evidence that strong hiring should continue despite signs of slower economic growth at the start of 2015.

Consumer Info

   WEST PALM BEACH, FL -- (Marketwired) -- 03/21/14 --
 Companies that pride themselves on being eco-friendly may have conflicted
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Entertainment News

"FAST AND FURIOUS" - INTERNATIONAL

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It's going to be a big hit domestically when it hits theaters tomorrow.

Get This

SEN. AL FRANKEN WANTS DAVID LETTERMAN TO RUN FOR OFFICE

NEW YORK (AP) -- David Letterman for senate?

Science/Tech News

IN THE NEWS: PRESIDENT OBAMA AUTHORIZES SANCTIONS AGAINST CYBERATTACKERS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hit 'em where it hurts.

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