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Russia's Lavrov: West plotting to control Ukraine

Russia's economy felt the sting of the Ukrainian crisis Friday after Standard & Poor's cut its credit rating to near junk and Moscow hiked interest rates to keep its sliding ruble from fueling inflation.

The impact could get harder as the West threatens additional sanctions. Still, Russia is showing no signs of backing down, saying Friday that pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine's southeast will lay down their arms only if the Ukrainian government clears out nationalist protesters in Kyiv.

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A fading middle-class perk: lower mortgage rates

WASHINGTON (AP) — For three decades, the U.S. middle class enjoyed a rare financial advantage over the wealthy: lower mortgage rates. Now, even that perk is fading away. Most ordinary homebuyers are paying the same or higher rates than the fortunate few who can afford much more.

Rates for a conventional 30-year fixed mortgage are averaging 4.48 per cent, according to Bankrate. For "jumbo" mortgages — those above $417,000 in much of the country — the average is 4.47 per cent.

This trend reflects the widening wealth gap between the richest Americans and everyone else. Bankers now view jumbo borrowers as safer and shrewder bets even though conventional borrowers put less capital at risk.

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Retailers get creative with Pinterest

NEW YORK (AP) — Target, Nordstrom and other big chains are pinning their hopes of attracting shoppers on social media.

Retailers increasingly are using Pinterest, a social media site that allows users to create collections of photos, articles, recipes and more as "pins", to draw business to their own sites.

Target, the nation's No. 2 discounter, is creating exclusive party-planning collections with top Pinterest users. Shoes, handbags and other popular items on Pinterest are being prominently displayed in Nordstrom stores with special tags. And Caribou created a coffee blend that was inspired by the coffee chain's Pinterest fans.

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HK bankers add to calls for democracy from Beijing

HONG KONG (AP) — A group of Hong Kong finance industry professionals are pledging to join an Occupy-style movement to protest growing influence from Beijing that they say is undermining the Asian financial hub's economy.

The bankers, traders and stockbrokers who make up Hong Kong's financial-worker class are notoriously apolitical. But the group, which currently numbers about 70 people, added their voices to wider calls for full democracy in an open letter to China's President Xi Jinping.

Worried that Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy is being eroded, they urged China's Communist leaders to stop interfering in the city's administrative affairs. They also expressed fears about growing threats to the city's freedom of speech and the press, rule of law and strong anti-corruption culture.

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US consumer confidence jumps to 9-month high

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumer confidence surged in April, approaching the highest level since the recession began in 2007 as Americans reported greater optimism about their financial situation and the economy.

The University of Michigan says its index of consumer sentiment rose to 84.1 in April from 80 in March.

Americans have cut back on debt and benefited from steady hiring and rising stock and home prices. Just 28 per cent said this month that their finances were getting worse, down from 37 per cent in March and the lowest level since April 2007.

Americans were also slightly more optimistic about future hiring, the survey found, though the gains were slight.

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Ford's profit falls 39 per cent in first quarter

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — Ford Motor Co.'s worldwide sales rose in the first quarter, propelled by growing strength in Asia and Europe. But weakness in North America dragged down the company's profit.

Its earnings missed Wall Street's expectations, while revenue beat them.

Also Friday, CEO Alan Mulally said that there is no change in the plan for him to stay with the company at least through the end of this year.

In 2012, Ford named former North America chief Mark Fields as chief operating officer to handle day-to-day duties, and Fields became the heir apparent to take over for Mulally. Recent reports suggested that Mulally plans to leave the company sooner than expected and that Fields would become CEO.

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Burger King's profit rises on cost cuts

NEW YORK (AP) — Burger King reported a higher first-quarter profit on Friday as new restaurant openings overseas and lower costs offset weak sales in the U.S.

The Miami-based chain on Friday said sales at established U.S. locations edged up just 0.1 per cent, dampened by bad weather.

McDonald's, Taco Bell and Dunkin' Donuts also reported underwhelming domestic sales for the first three months of the year, citing the severe weather. Chipotle and Starbucks, which charge higher prices, saw healthy sales gains under the same conditions.

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UAW official nominated for seat on GM board

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors Co. could, for the first time, have an official of the United Auto Workers union on its board of directors.

UAW Vice-President Joe Ashton was nominated to a board seat controlled by a UAW trust fund that pays retiree health care bills. He plans to retire from his union post in June.

The move is a first for General Motors, and a sign of how the relationship between the company and the union has changed in the past decade.

If elected at the company's annual meeting in Detroit in June, Ashton would replace former GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky as the trust's voice on the board. Girsky has been nominated to stay on with a different seat.

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Nokia, Microsoft complete $7.5B cellphone deal

HELSINKI (AP) — Nokia says it has completed the 5.44 billion-euro ($7.5 billion) sale of its troubled cellphone and services division to Microsoft Corp., ending a chapter in the former world leading cellphone maker's history.

The Friday closure of the deal follows delays in global regulatory approvals and ends the production of mobile phones by the Finnish company.

Nokia said the total transaction price would be "slightly higher" than originally thought because of adjustments made for net working capital and cash earnings. The deal was to have closed during the first quarter but was held up because of delays in approvals, including from China.

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Where will calorie labels appear? Not just menus

WASHINGTON (AP) — Diners could soon see calorie counts on the menus of chain restaurants. But will they be able to get that same clear information at grocery stores, convenience stores, movie theatres or airplanes?

The food industry is closely watching the Food and Drug Administration to see what establishments are included in the final menu labeling rules, which are expected this year. Nonrestaurant establishments have lobbied hard for exemption, and the rules have been delayed.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told Congress earlier this month that writing the rules has been "much more challenging than expected." The agency has sent the rules to the White House, meaning they could be released soon.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 140.19 points, or 0.9 per cent, to close at 16,361.46. The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 15.21 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 1,863.40. The Nasdaq composite lost 72.78 points, or 1.8 per cent, to 4,075.56.

Benchmark U.S. crude for June delivery shed $1.07 to $100.87 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Wholesale gasoline was down 0.9 cents at $3.04 a gallon. Heating oil fell 1.9 cents to $2.99 a gallon. Natural gas fell 5.4 cents to $4.65 per 1,000 cubic feet. Brent crude, an international benchmark for oil, gave up 27 cents to $110.06 on the ICE Futures exchange in London a day after gaining $1.22.

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