Business Highlights

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Global free trade talks collapse

GENEVA (AP) — Negotiators came tantalizingly close but failed to clinch a global free trade deal after more than a decade of talks that could have boosted the world economy by $1 trillion, the head of the World Trade Organization said Tuesday.

Diplomats from the WTO’s 159 members were trying to reach an agreement ahead of a summit next week in Bali, Indonesia where ministers were to have signed the deal.

The negotiations sought to ease the rules of global commerce by cutting red tape to open markets and help develop poorer economies. They also focused on tariff quotas, government incentives for exports and agriculture issues such as subsidies for grain stockpiling. But disputes between major economies such as the United States, the European Union, China and India bogged down the discussions.

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Typhoon ruined traditional, high-tech livelihoods

TANAUAN, Philippines (AP) — As Typhoon Haiyan tore across the eastern Philippines, coconut plantations older than the fathers of the men who tend them were smashed like matchsticks and call centers that field customer service gripes from around the world fell silent.

The storm that killed thousands also wrecked traditional and high-tech livelihoods in the worst hit region, a blow that will ripple long after the disaster fades from attention.

The workload of call and data centers that are soaked in water and choked with debris has easily been diverted to other Philippine cities. Less simple is the choice faced by thousands of workers: uproot and separate from family or stay in Leyte province and wait perhaps a year for the jobs to return. And tenant coconut farmers know they must clear flattened trees and replant. It will be three years before the new trees are mature enough to bear fruit.

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US home permits rise at 5-year high on apartments

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. developers received approval in October to build apartments at the fastest pace in five years, a trend that could boost economic growth in the final three months of the year.

Permits to build houses and apartments were approved at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.034 million, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That’s 6.2 percent higher than the September rate of 974,000 and the fastest since June 2008, just before the peak of the financial crisis.

Nearly all of the increase was for multi-family homes, a part of residential construction that reflects rentals and can be volatile from month to month. Those permits rose 15.3 percent to a rate of 414,000, also the fastest since June 2008. Plans for construction in the U.S. south drove much of the increase.

Permits for single-family houses, which make up roughly two-thirds of the market, rose 0.8 percent to a rate of 620,000.

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US home prices rose at slower pace in September

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices rose more slowly in September than in August, a sign that weaker sales are preventing the kinds of sharp price gains that occurred earlier this year.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 0.7 percent from August to September, down from a 1.3 percent gain from July to August. Still, year over year, prices jumped 13.3 percent from September 2012, the fastest such gain since February 2006.

The Case-Shiller index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The September figures are the latest available. Prices aren’t adjusted for seasonal variations, so the month-to-month changes reflect, in part, slower buying in late summer and fall.

Other recent reports show that previous gains in home prices, higher mortgage rates and the partial government shutdown last month have weighed on the housing market.

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US consumer confidence falls to 7-month low

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumers’ confidence in the economy fell in November to the lowest level in seven months, dragged down by greater concerns about hiring and pay in the coming months.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its index of consumer confidence dropped to 70.4 from 72.4 in October. The October reading was higher than initially reported, but still well below the 80.2 reading in September.

November’s drop comes after the 16-day partial government shutdown caused confidence to plunge in October. The declines in both months were driven by falling expectations for hiring and the economy over the next six months.

Some economists also attributed the weakening confidence to Americans’ frustrations and worries about the implementation of the Obama administration’s health care reform.

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Men’s Wearhouse now in pursuit of Jos. A. Bank

NEW YORK (AP) — Never say never – just when it looked like a potential combination of Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A. Bank was dead in the water, the script has been flipped.

Men’s Wearhouse is now the one offering approximately $1.54 billion for its rival. Less than two weeks ago, Jos. A. Bank dropped a $2.3 billion bid for its competitor. A combination could create a menswear powerhouse of more than 1,700 outlets.

The announcement that Men’s Wearhouse was interested in a possible deal came as a bit of a surprise on Tuesday. The retailer had received an unsolicited offer of $48 per share from Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc. in September. But it rejected that bid in October, calling it “opportunistic” and inadequate.”

Jos. A. Bank said Tuesday that its board will evaluate the offer and respond “in due course.”

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French drugmaker warns on morning-after pill

PARIS (AP) — A French contraceptive maker said Tuesday that its morning-after pill doesn’t work when taken by women who weigh more than 80 kilograms (176 pounds) and plans to change its labels to warn patients.

The decision to change its labels by HRA Pharma is based on a previous study of levonorgestrel, one of the active ingredients in its Norlevo emergency contraceptive. Norlevo is not sold in the U.S. but another drug with the same active ingredient is widely available. A dose of HRA’s drug contains 1.5 mg of levonorgestrel, which is identical to levels found in Plan B One-Step, manufactured by Teva Pharmaceuticals in the U.S.

Teva declined to comment. The Food and Drug Administration said that it is currently reviewing the issue and will determine what, if any, labeling changes are needed for approved emergency contraceptives.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 0.26 of a point to close at 16,072.80. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.27 of a point to 1,802.75. The Nasdaq composite added 23.18 points to close at 4,017.75.

Benchmark U.S. crude for January delivery fell 41 cents to close at $93.68 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Wholesale gasoline added 1 cent to $2.69 gallon. Heating oil added 1 cent to $3.04 a gallon. Natural gas gained 3 cents to $3.82 per 1,000 cubic feet. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, slipped 12 cents at $110.88 a barrel on the ICE exchange in London.

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