Business Highlights

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China factories face new challenge as growth slows

HONG KONG (AP) — Chinese manufacturers are discovering that being an efficient low-cost producer is no longer enough to prosper in the face of the country's slowing growth.

Government priorities are changing, labor costs are rising and global demand is still weak. This puts pressure on manufacturers to move into more advanced production, consolidate into bigger entities or shift to cheaper inland regions to survive.

Growth in the world's second-largest economy eased to 7.4 percent last quarter, the lowest since a mini-downturn in late 2012, government figures showed Wednesday. Last year's expansion of 7.7 percent tied 2012 for the weakest since 1999.

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Wal-Mart jumps into the money transfer biz, loudly

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart is delving deeper into financial services at its stores and shaking up the money transfer business.

The world's largest retailer introduced a new money transfer service Thursday that it says will cut fees for its low-income customers by up to 50 percent compared with similar services elsewhere. The Walmart-2-Walmart service is being rolled out in partnership with Ria Money Transfer, a subsidiary of Euronet Worldwide Inc.

The service, which will be available starting April 24, allows its customers to transfer up to $900 to and from more than 4,000 Wal-Mart stores in the U.S.

It's a huge footprint that could reshape that industry and is likely to set off a pricing battle.

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Cyber cops: Target hackers may take years to find

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secret Service investigators say they are close to gaining a full understanding of the methods hackers used to breach Target's computer systems last December.

But the agency says it could take years to identify the criminals who stole some 40 million debit and credit card numbers of Target shoppers and other personal information from as many as 70 million people in the pre-Christmas breach.

It may take even longer to bring the offenders to justice. The federal investigation is complicated by the international nature of high-profile digital heists. The perpetrators are likely located overseas, which makes extradition and prosecution difficult.

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Post Holdings to buy Michael Foods for $2.45B

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Post Holdings Inc. is buying fellow packaged food maker Michael Foods Inc. in a $2.45 billion deal that will expand its range of products.

Michael Foods, which is a privately held company based in Minnetonka, Minn., makes a variety of egg, potato and dairy products. Its brands include Papetti's, Crystal Farms and Simply Potatoes The company will keep operating independently under current management.

Post, based in St. Louis, makes cereal, nutrition drinks and a variety of store-brand products including pasta and peanut butter. The company plans to fund the acquisition with debt and cash on hand. It also plans to raise up to $500 million with a stock sale.

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PepsiCo's profit rises on snack sales, price hikes

NEW YORK (AP) — PepsiCo reported a stronger-than-expected quarterly profit as the company sold more snacks and hiked prices.

The company, which makes Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Mountain Dew and Tropicana products, said global snack volume rose 2 percent in the period. Global beverage volume was unchanged from a year ago, including in its closely watched North American drinks unit.

Even though beverage volume was flat in North America, PepsiCo managed to push up revenue by raising prices as well as introducing more expensive drinks such as Mountain Dew Kickstart, which is marketed as an energy drink of sorts for younger men.

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UnitedHealth's 1Q profit tumbles 8 percent

UnitedHealth Group's first-quarter net income slid 8 percent as funding cuts to a key product and costs imposed by the health care overhaul dented the health insurer's performance.

The federal law aims to provide coverage for millions of uninsured people, but it also trims funding for Medicare Advantage plans, changes how insurers can write their coverage and adds an industry-wide tax, which is not deductible.

The overhaul hit didn't surprise many investors in the Minnetonka, Minn., company. But what may have rattled Wall Street a bit was the insurer's report that it saw intense price competition in several markets, as some competitors are pricing coverage below the costs to attract customers.

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Goldman's income falls 11 percent, but still beats

NEW YORK (AP) — Goldman Sachs' earnings fell in the first quarter as bond trading slumped, but the results still came in ahead of what investors expected as other parts of the bank performed well.

The bank earned $1.95 billion in the quarter, down 11 percent from $2.19 billion in the same period a year earlier. The earnings were equivalent to $4.02 a share, compared with $4.29 in the first quarter of 2013. Revenue totaled $9.33 billion, down 8 percent from $10.09 billion a year earlier.

Goldman's earnings easily beat the $3.49 a share that analysts surveyed by FactSet predicted. First-quarter revenue also beat analysts' expectations of $8.7 billion.

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Morgan Stanley's income rose 18 percent

NEW YORK (AP) — Investment bank Morgan Stanley said Thursday that its first-quarter income rose 18 percent from a year ago, helped by higher earnings in its trading and merger and acquisitions advisory businesses.

Morgan Stanley earned $1.39 billion, up from $1.18 billion in the same period a year ago. The figures exclude accounting adjustments related to the value of the bank's debt. The earnings were equivalent to 68 cents per share. That easily beat the 61 cents per share analysts were expecting, according to FactSet. Revenue from continuing operations was $8.8 billion.

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Chipotle plans first price hike in 3 years

NEW YORK (AP) — Chipotle is feeling confident that customers are willing to pay more for its burritos, bowls and tacos.

The Mexican food chain said Thursday that it would raise prices for the first time in three years as its popularity continues to soar. Menu boards with the new prices should start rolling out in coming weeks and be in place at all restaurants by this summer.

Executives have said in the past they were considering a hike of about 3 percent to 5 percent. That translates to an extra 24 cents to 40 cents for an $8 burrito bowl.

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Facebook rolls out location-sharing feature

NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook users in the U.S. will be able to see which of their friends are in close proximity using a new feature the company is launching on Thursday.

Called "Nearby Friends," the optional tool will only be available to people who choose to turn it on. It uses your smartphone's GPS system to tell your Facebook friends you are nearby — provided they have the feature turned on.

If you like, you can manually share a more precise location with a specific friend you'd like to meet up with.

The Nearby Friends feature will be turned off by default, so people shouldn't expect to broadcast their location unknowingly to their Facebook friends and acquaintances.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones Industrial average fell 16.31 points, or 0.1 percent, to close at 16,408.54. The S&P 500 index rose 2.54 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,864.85. The Nasdaq added 9.29 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,095.52.

Benchmark U.S. crude for May delivery rose 54 cents to close at $104.30 a barrel in New York. Wholesale gasoline rose 1.4 cents to close at $3.055 a gallon. Heating oil fell 0.1 cent to close at $3.001 a gallon. Natural gas for May delivery rose 21.1 cents to $4.741 per 1,000 cubic feet. Brent crude, an international benchmark used to price oil used by many U.S. refineries, was down 7 cents to close at $109.53 a barrel for June delivery in London.

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