Business Highlights

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Specialty drugs save lives, come with daunting price tags

Roughly 5 million people in the U.S. rely on a growing class of medications known as specialty drugs — advanced medicine for complex conditions such as hepatitis C, juvenile arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Doctors hail many of these therapies as breakthroughs, since they can conquer or control diseases that were once almost untreatable.

But they can cost more than $80,000 for a single course of treatment and bury patients in debt, even those with insurance. Patient advocates expect the problem to worsen as insurance coverage shrinks and use of specialty treatments grows.

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Here’s why the euro’s tumbling

The euro is notching one milestone after another as it drops against major currencies. On Wednesday, it hit a 12-year low against the dollar and many think its descent has further to go.

The main reason for the fall is that the European Central Bank has cut interest rates and started creating more euros to put into the financial system.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve’s policies are bolstering the dollar.

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Flying cars, robot petting zoo: It’s South by Southwest time

The most outlandish ideas of the future and tech trends shaping the world today will be in focus as the freewheeling South by Southwest Interactive Festival kicks off Friday.

The annual Austin, Texas gathering has a looser reputation than bigger tech conferences like the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, even as it has become more corporate in recent years.

This year top speakers will tackle how to bring ideas that might seem like science fiction to the real world. For example, Google’s Astro Teller will discuss making some of the company’s most ambitious projects, like self-driving cars, a reality.

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Russian auto market collapsing, but luxury cars still a must

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s auto market is in freefall. As financial turmoil in the country makes cars more expensive by the day, demand for many brands has almost evaporated.

Sales fell 38 percent in the year to February, with mid-market brands like Ford plummeting 78 percent, eating into earnings and threatening production.

Only luxury cars are still holding up as richer Russians count on them as status symbols.

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Meat industry fights new dietary proposal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Meat companies have tried to rehabilitate an image tarnished in recent years by health and environmental concerns.

Now the industry is swiftly and aggressively working to discredit a proposal for new dietary guidelines that recommends people eat less red and processed meat.

The proposal last month by a government advisory committee also relegates the health benefits of lean meat to a footnote to the main recommendations.

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Fed orders BofA to resubmit dividend, buyback plans

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bank of America must resubmit its plans to raise dividends or buy back stock, the Federal Reserve has ordered, citing weaknesses in the bank’s planning processes.

The Fed announced the decision Wednesday as part of its “stress tests” — an annual check-up of the nation’s biggest financial institutions. This year, 31 banks were tested to determine if they have large enough capital buffers to keep lending through another financial crisis and severe economic downturn.

The central bank is also barring U.S. divisions of two European banks from paying any dividends, saying their planning for financial risks is inadequate. Those divisions belong to Germany’s Deutsche Bank and Spain’s Santander.

The remaining 28 banks can raise dividends or buy back shares.

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Michigan paying the price now for tax plan to save business

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Auto companies and others are cashing in hundreds of millions of dollars in Recession-era tax credits a year, cutting deeply into state revenues at a time when budgets should be flush with a rising economy.

Especially distressing to state officials is the suddenness and uncertainty of the financial impact.

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Apple reopens iTunes, App stores after lengthy outage

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Apple has restored service to its widely used iTunes and app stores after a rare breakdown Wednesday.

The outage vexed the iPhone and iPad maker for more than five hours, disrupting some of the world’s most widely used and profitable services and frustrating millions of music lovers and mobile device owners around the world.

Access came back in the late afternoon, Eastern time, according to status updates posted by Apple Inc. While they were locked out, exasperated Apple users vented in social media and online forums.

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FTC sues DirecTV, alleges hidden fees and deceptive ads

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government is taking the nation’s biggest satellite TV provider to court, accusing DirecTV of misleading millions of consumers about the cost of its programming.

The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday that its complaint charges DirecTV Inc. with deceptively advertising a discounted 12-month programming package. Consumers weren’t clearly told that the package requires a two-year contract, the commission said.

The advertising, the FTC said, did not make clear that the cost of the package would increase by up to $45 more per month in the second year and that hefty early cancellation fees — up to $480 — would apply.

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Catalog retailer L.L. Bean to triple stores by 2020

FREEPORT, Maine (AP) — L.L. Bean, known for selling its trademark boots via catalog for more than a century, plans to make a bigger push into brick-and-mortar retail by more than tripling the number of locations over the next five years, officials said Wednesday.

The company will open four stores this year and has a goal of “at least 100” by 2020, President and CEO Chris McCormick told workers in a memo Wednesday.

The company is coming off five years of increasing revenue.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 27.55 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,635.39. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slipped 3.92 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,040.24. The Nasdaq composite declined 9.85 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,849.94.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 12 cents to close at $48.17 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose $1.15 to close at $57.54 in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 0.8 cent to close at $1.826 a gallon. Heating oil rose 0.7 cent to close at $1.820 a gallon. Natural gas rose 9.2 cents to close at $2.824 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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