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Google steps up efforts for more racial diversity

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Google has had more trouble diversifying its workforce than its computer scientists have had writing programs that respond to search requests in the blink of an eye or designing cars that can navigate traffic without a human behind the wheel.

That seemed to be the conclusion when the Silicon Valley giant this week issued a gender and ethnic breakdown of its workforce that showed that of its 26,600 U.S. employees, 61 per cent are white, 30 per cent Asian, 3 per cent Hispanic and 2 per cent black. Thirty per cent of its employees are women.

Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco and Advanced Micro Devices have published similar breakdowns.

"Google is miles from where we want to be," said Laszlo Bock, head of personnel at Google.

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Apple's Beats buy joins tech and street-wise style

NEW YORK (AP) — Beats Electronics' colorful, oversized headphones serve as a fashion accessory to cool kids riding the New York City subway, but as tech companies such as Apple, Samsung and others are discovering, wearable gadgets like smartwatches and Google Glass still have a long way to go to become trendy, must-have consumer items.

Apple's $3 billion purchase of Beats Electronics, by far the company's largest acquisition, is at least in part recognition that Beats founders Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine might be able to help Apple incorporate more style and flair into its premium technology gadgets —especially a coming wave of wearable devices.

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Apple's Beats buy is two-sided for music streaming

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Apple's $3 billion purchase of headphone maker and streaming music company Beats Electronics sheds light on a rarely recognized reality in the music streaming industry: It's hard to succeed in the business without offering other products and services.

Streaming music companies like Beats Music, which charge users up to $10 a month, can sometimes pay as much as 70 per cent of their revenue in artist royalty fees. That leaves little left for advertising and promotional campaigns to explain to consumers the benefits of paying for a music service.

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US economy set for rebound after Q1 contraction

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy took a beating from an especially harsh winter during the January-March quarter, skidding into reverse for the first time in three years. But spring has arrived and along with it, signs that the chill was just a temporary setback in the long road to recovery.

Gross domestic product contracted at an annual rate of 1 per cent in the first quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That was worse than the government's initial estimate that GDP grew by a slight 0.1 per cent. The economy last posted a decline in the first three months of 2011 when it dropped 1.3 per cent.

Since then, the labour market has continued to improve, consumer spending is solid and manufacturers are benefiting from increased spending. Economists expect a robust GDP rebound in the April-June quarter as a result.

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Tyson enters meat brawl with Hillshire bid

NEW YORK (AP) — Hillshire Brands is at the centre of a barnyard brawl.

Tyson Foods, the largest U.S. meat processor, on Thursday made a $6.2 billion offer for the maker Jimmy Dean sausages and Ball Park hot dogs, topping a bid made two days earlier by rival poultry producer Pilgrim's Pride. Based in Greeley, Colorado, Pilgrim's Pride is owned by Brazilian meat giant JBS.

The takeover bids for Hillshire by the two major meat processors are being driven by the desirability of brand-name processed products like Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches. The convenience foods are more profitable than fresh meat, such as chicken breasts, where there isn't as much wiggle room to pad prices.

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Japan aid widens Myanmar factories vs farms divide

THILAWA, Myanmar (AP) — Tin Hsan and her husband lived modestly in the outskirts of Myanmar's commercial capital Yangon, growing rice and betel leaves on their 22 acres and peddling vegetables, but they got by, until they were forced to move to make way for Thilawa, a showcase industrial zone being built with Japanese aid.

The expansive factory park is part of plans to develop the Yangon region and its crumbling, pre-World War II infrastructure as Myanmar rushes to shift from subsistence farming to export manufacturing following sweeping political and economic reforms that ended outright rule by the military.

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California city votes to end hot sauce dispute

IRWINDALE, Calif. (AP) — The fiery fight is apparently over between the makers of a popular hot sauce and a small Southern California city that said its factory's smells were unbearable.

The Irwindale City Council voted Wednesday night to drop a public nuisance declaration and lawsuit against Huy Fong Foods, makers of Sriracha (suhr-AH'-chuh) hot sauce. The dual moves brought an effective end to the spicy-air dispute that had Sriracha devotees worried about future sauce shortages and had suitors including the state of Texas offering Huy Fong a friendlier home.

The closed-session council vote was unanimous with one councilman abstaining due to a conflict of interest, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported.

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Applications for US jobless aid near 7-year low

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell last week to nearly the lowest level in seven years, a sign hiring may be picking up.

Weekly applications for unemployment aid dropped 27,000 to a seasonally adjusted 300,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's just above a seven-year low reached three weeks ago. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to 311,500, the fewest since August, 2007.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the drop suggests companies are cutting fewer jobs. When employers are confident enough to keep staff, they may also step up hiring. That is a good sign ahead of May's jobs report, to be released next Friday.

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Contracts to buy US homes rose slightly in April

WASHINGTON (AP) — More Americans signed contracts to purchase homes in April than the prior month. But the pace of buying is still weaker than last year, as higher prices and relatively tight supplies have limited sales.

The National Association of Realtors says its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index rose 0.4 per cent to 97.8 last month. The index remains 9.2 per cent below its level a year ago.

Pending sales are a barometer of future purchases. A one- to two-month lag usually exists between a signed contract and a completed sale.

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Average US 30-year mortgage rate down to 4.12 pct.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell this week for a fifth straight week. The spring home-buying season has started slowly, but it may be aided by the low rates.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate for a 30-year loan edged down to 4.12 per cent from 4.14 per cent last week. The average for the 15-year mortgage declined to 3.21 per cent from 3.25 per cent.

Warmer weather has yet to boost home-buying as it normally does. Rising prices and higher interest rates beginning in mid-2013 have made homes less affordable for would-be buyers. At the same time, a limited supply of homes is available to buy. New construction has focused increasingly on rental apartments, instead of single-family homes.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average rose 65.56 points, or 0.4 per cent, to 16,698.74. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 10.25 points, or 0.5 per cent, to close at 1,920.03 Thursday. The S&P 500 is at a record high. The Nasdaq composite rose 22.87 points, or 0.5 per cent, to 4,247.95.

Benchmark crude for July delivery rose 86 cents to close at $103.58 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oil used by many U.S. refineries, rose 16 cents to close at $109.97 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline was rose 0.8 cent to close at $2.996 a gallon. Natural gas fell 5.6 cents to close at $4.559 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil fell a penny to close at $2.920 a gallon.

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