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Associated Press

Posted on November 15, 2012 at 6:02 PM

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BP agrees to pay US government $4.5 billion; 3 employees charged

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A day of reckoning arrived for BP on Thursday as the oil giant agreed to plead guilty to a raft of criminal charges and pay a record $4.5 billion in a settlement with the government over the deadly 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Three BP employees were also charged, two of them with manslaughter.

The settlement and the indictments came 2½ years after the fiery drilling-rig explosion that killed 11 workers and set off the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The settlement includes nearly $1.3 billion in fines — the biggest criminal penalty in the nation's history. As part of the deal, BP will plead guilty to charges involving the 11 deaths and lying to Congress about how much oil was spewing from the blown-out well.

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More American workers to pick their insurance

For some American workers, picking the right health insurance is becoming more like hunting for the perfect business suit: It takes some shopping around to find a good fit and avoid sticker shock.

In a major shift in employer-sponsored health insurance coverage, companies such as Sears Holdings Corp. and Darden Restaurants Inc. are giving employees a fixed amount of money and allowing them to choose their own coverage based on their individual needs.

The approach, called defined contribution health insurance, contrasts to the decades-old practice by most U.S. employers of offering workers a one-size-fits-all plan with benefits they may not want. It also means American workers who've grown accustomed to having their benefits chosen for them could wind up with bigger bills and inadequate coverage if they don't choose wisely.

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Eurozone slides back into recession

LONDON (AP) — The 17-country eurozone has fallen back into recession for the first time in three years as the fallout from the region's financial crisis was felt from Amsterdam to Athens.

And with surveys pointing to increasingly depressed conditions across the 17-member group at a time of austerity and high unemployment, the recession is forecast to deepen, and make the debt crisis — which has been calmer of late — even more difficult to handle.

Official figures Thursday showed that the eurozone contracted by 0.1 percent in the July-to-September period from the quarter before, as economies including Germany and the Netherlands suffer from falling demand for products and services.

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Wal-Mart 3Q profit up but sees sales shortfall

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reported a 9 percent increase in net income for the third quarter, but revenue for the world's largest retailer fell below Wall Street forecasts shoppers continue to grapple with an uncertain economy.

The discounter issued a fourth-quarter profit outlook that fell short of Wall Street expectations, and the company's stock price slid nearly 4 percent.

Wal-Mart is considered an economic bellwether because the retailer accounts for nearly 10 percent of nonautomotive retail spending in the U.S. The company's latest results show that many low-income Americans — it's estimated that the typical Wal-Mart customer has an average household income of between $30,000 and $60,000, rents a home and doesn't own stock — continue to struggle even as the housing market is improving.

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Target upbeat about holidays after 3Q climbs

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Target Corp. is optimistic heading into the critical holiday shopping season after a strong third quarter.

The holiday shopping season can make up 40 percent of a retailer's annual revenue — and Target expects this year to be "highly competitive and promotional," said Kathryn Tesija, executive vice president of merchandising.

The big-box retailer, known for its cheap but trendy merchandise, on Thursday reminded investors of the initiatives it's betting on for growth in the coming weeks, including a holiday collection partnership with luxury department store Neiman Marcus and a new online price matching program.

For the fourth quarter, which ends in January, the company anticipates adjusted earnings of $1.64 to $1.74 per share. Analysts predict $1.50 per share.

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McDonald's ousts US president after sales drop

NEW YORK (AP) — McDonald's Corp. is hoping a leadership shake-up for its U.S. business can help it warm up sales and fight off intensifying competition.

The world's biggest hamburger chain said Thursday that Jan Fields, president of McDonald's USA, will be replaced by Jeff Stratton, its global chief restaurant officer, effective Dec. 1. The announcement comes less than a week after the fast-food giant reported its first monthly sales drop in nearly a decade.

A McDonald's spokeswoman said CEO Don Thompson and Fields are long-time friends and that they discussed the need for a change at the top. A number of business factors played a role in the decision, but recent sales figures were not among them, according to the spokeswoman.

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FDA probing if deaths were linked to energy shots

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration is investigating reports of 13 deaths possibly linked to so-called "energy shots" and cautioning consumers to talk to their doctors before they use them or other energy drinks.

The agency has received 92 reports that cite illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths after consumption of a product marketed as 5-Hour Energy. The FDA has also received reports that cited the highly caffeinated Monster Energy Drink in five deaths and one non-fatal heart attack.

Agency officials said the reports to the FDA from consumers, doctors and others don't necessarily prove that the drinks caused the deaths or injuries, but said they are investigating each one. In a statement FDA officials said they will take action if they can link the deaths to consumption of the energy drink. Such action could include forcing the company to take the drinks, often found at convenience store checkout counters, off the market.

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Superstorm Sandy pushes US jobless claims to 439,000

WASHINGTON (AP) — Superstorm Sandy drove the number of people seeking unemployment benefits up to a seasonally adjusted 439,000 last week, the highest level in 18 months.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications increased by 78,000 mostly because a large number of applications were filed in states damaged by the storm. People can claim unemployment benefits if their workplaces close and they don't get paid.

The storm has affected the claims data for the past two weeks and may distort reports for another two weeks, the department said.

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US consumer prices tick up as rental costs rise

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rising food costs and higher rents offset a drop in gas prices last month, leaving consumer inflation all but flat in October.

The consumer price index rose a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent in October, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's down from sharp gains of 0.6 percent in the previous two months, which were driven by a spike in gas prices that has since receded.

Gas prices fell 0.6 percent last month. Food prices rose 0.2 percent, pushed higher by steep increases in milk and cheese costs.

Excluding volatile food and gas, prices increased 0.2 percent last month.

The cost of shelter, which includes rent, rose 0.3 percent, the most in more than four years. Rental vacancies have declined in recent months, pushing rents higher. Hotel costs also increased last month.

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Computer problems at United delay travelers

NEW YORK (AP) — A computer outage at United Airlines delayed thousands of travelers on Thursday and embarrassed the airline at a time when it's trying to recover from glitches earlier this year.

The two-hour outage held up morning flights around the globe. From Los Angeles to London, Boston to San Francisco, frustrated fliers tweeted snarky remarks about the glitch. It was United's third major computer mishap this year.

United said the technology problem was fixed by 10:30 a.m. EST. But early morning delays can easily ripple throughout an airline's network for the rest of the day even after the underlying cause is fixed. That's because once a plane is late for one flight it can be hard to make up for lost time.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 28.57 points at 12,542.38. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 2.16 points to 1,353.33 and the Nasdaq composite finished 9.87 points lower at 2,836.94.

Benchmark U.S. crude dropped by 87 cents to finish at $85.45 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price many kinds of international oil, fell 47 cents to end at $108.01 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Heating oil fell 1.47 cents to finish at $2.9735 per gallon. Wholesale gasoline rose 1.72 cents to end at $2.6962 per gallon. Natural gas fell 5.7 cents to finish at $3.7030 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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