Business Highlights

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DC, Dallas and Boston lead US in job growth

WASHINGTON (AP) - Jobs are hard to come by in every U.S. city, but you stand a better chance of getting hired if you live in Washington, Dallas or Boston.

Those three metropolitan areas topped the rest of the nation's cities in jobs added in 2010.

And all three are home to industries that are poised to hire this year. Information technology companies, biomedical research firms and government contractors are growing industries that are likely to add to their payrolls in the coming months - and the federal government has plenty of jobs listed, too.

The unemployment rate fell in 207 of the 372 largest metro areas, the most to report a decline since September. It rose in 122 areas and was the same in 43, the Labor Department said Wednesday.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate dropped sharply in December to 9.4 percent from 9.8 percent. About half that decline was because more unemployed workers gave up on their job searches. The government doesn't count people as unemployed when they stop looking for work. The metro data lags behind the national data by several weeks.

Boston, Dallas and Washington are among the top 10 areas with the most online job ads in January, according to the Conference Board's help wanted online index.

All three have benefited from growth in the information technology sector, economists said. Companies like Intel, which has a plant in the Boston region, are producing more semiconductors, and computer makers have also boosted output. Corporations are investing more in computer networking and data storage equipment.

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Moody's downgrades 5 Egyptian banks

CAIRO (AP) - Moody's Investors Service downgraded the ratings for five Egyptian banks while Standard & Poor's lowered its assessment on two of the institutions, in the latest volley of bad news for the economy of a nation mired in violent protests.

Egypt's government, meanwhile, moved to ensure that food supplies were adequate and reaching the market as complaints mounted that the business closures stemming from more than a week of protests could lead to food shortages.

Moody's cuts come just two days after it lowered Egypt's sovereign rating, citing the unrest that has gripped the Arab world's most populous nation. It warned that the ratings for the five lenders - Banque Misr, NBE, Commercial International Bank, Bank of Alexandria and Banque du Caire - remain on review for possible additional downgrade. Analysts have grown increasingly concerned of a spillover effect, worried that the chaos will begin to affect other countries in the oil-rich Mideast.

Both international ratings agencies cited the political turmoil in Egypt and its potential impact on the country's economy, raising concerns that included a possible liquidity squeeze and government's ability to support the banking sector.

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S&P cuts Ireland credit grade over bank debt fears

DUBLIN (AP) - Ratings agency Standard & Poor's cut its credit grade for Ireland on Wednesday and warned it could fall further because of doubts about the true scale of defaulting loans yet to surface in the country's largely state-owned banks.

S&P joined fellow agencies Moody's and Fitch in dropping Ireland's credit score following the nation's November negotiation of a potential euro67.5 billion ($93 billion) credit line from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. Ireland already has drawn down euro8.4 billion ($11.6 billion) this year from that rescue fund - and plowed much of it straight into the cash-strapped coffers of Dublin banks.

Still, S&P's reduction Wednesday was just one notch to A minus, one step above the multi-grade cuts imposed last month by Moody's and Fitch. Both dropped Ireland into the higher-risk BBB tier in the immediate wake of the EU-IMF bailout deal. The BBB level is considered the lowest investment-grade rating, whereas BB and lower indicate "junk bond" status.

S&P senior analyst Frank Gill warned the agency could also drop Ireland's rating somewhere into the BBBs in April, once a new Irish government settles in and the impact of the current infusion of EU-IMF cash into Dublin banks can be assessed.

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Visa posts 16 percent jump in fiscal 1Q profit

NEW YORK (AP) - Visa Inc. on Wednesday said its fiscal first-quarter profit rose 16 percent, as debit card use continued to grow and consumers returned to using credit cards.

The San Francisco company said net income for the three months ended Dec. 31 rose to $884 million, or $1.23 per share, from $763 million, or $1.02 per share, in the 2009 period.

Revenue rose across all of the world's largest payments processing network's main businesses, gaining 14 percent to $2.24 billion, compared with $1.96 billion the prior year.

Visa said its growth was driven by higher payments volume both in the U.S. and globally. The total number of transactions handled in the quarter rose 15 percent to 13 billion.

The results topped Wall Street expectations. Analysts were expecting profit of $1.20 per share on $2.22 billion revenue, according to data provided by FactSet.

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Yum Brands reports strong profit growth

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Yum Brands Inc., owner of the Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC fast-food brands, said Wednesday that its fourth-quarter net income rose 27 percent with robust growth overseas.

The company's operating profit in the U.S., where it has struggled as recession-weary consumers remain at home more often to eat, rose 15 percent. And Pizza Hut's sales at U.S. restaurants open at least a year - a key barometer for restaurant performance - rose 10 percent. The figure also rose for Taco Bell and KFC.

Yum reported net income of $274 million for the three months that ended Dec. 25, or 56 cents per share. That compares with $216 million, or 45 cents per share, a year earlier.

The Louisville-based company's fourth-quarter revenue was $3.56 billion, up from $3.37 billion.

The results beat analysts' expectations in some respects and fell short in others. Yum shares closed at $47.73, up 31 cents, before the report was released. The stock rose another $1.28, or 2.7 percent, to $49.01 after hours.

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Barbie powers Mattel to holiday sales spike

NEW YORK (AP) - Barbie, American Girl and new Monster High dolls all sold strongly for Mattel Inc. during the fourth quarter, sending revenue up 9 percent.

The growth outpaced the industry and likely its chief rival Hasbro, which earlier forecast a revenue decline for the quarter.

The nation's largest toy maker said Wednesday net income edged down to $325.2 million or 89 cents per share, from $328.4 million, or 89 cents per share last year. Last year's quarter included a one-time tax benefit of 8 cents per share, however.

Analysts expected 86 cents per share, according to FactSet.

Revenue rose 9 percent to $2.12 billion. Analysts expected net income of $2.07 billion.

Barbie revenue rose 8 percent, and Fisher-Price revenue rose 6 percent.

Mattel has seen a resurgence in its classic Barbie brand since it turned 50 in 2009, in part by garnering buzz for unconventional versions of the dolls, such as Barbie Video Girl, a Barbie with a video camera inside

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AP source: Hedge boss' brother cited in NY probe

NEW YORK (AP) - The government has identified the brother of one-time billionaire hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam as a co-conspirator in what authorities have called the biggest hedge fund insider trading case in history, a person familiar with the probe said Wednesday.

The person told The Associated Press that Ragakanthan Rajaratnam is the person identified in court papers filed last week only as "CC-1." That means co-conspirator No. 1.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the younger brother of the hedge fund founder is not identified publicly by the government. The comments came after The Wall Street Journal first reported the development.

The Galleon fund's founder has pleaded not guilty to securities fraud charges in a case that prosecutors say has generated more than $50 million in profits. He remains free on $100 million bail.

His brother, who no longer works at Galleon, did not immediately return a call for comment left at his Oakland office at Clorox Co., where he has worked since September 2009. He previously worked at Galleon as a portfolio manager.

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Stop the presses: First iPad newspaper debuts

NEW YORK (AP) - A daily newspaper designed by News Corp. exclusively for Apple's iPad is available for $40 annually, comparable to what some big-city publishers charge monthly to deliver their print editions.

The digital newspaper, called The Daily, debuted Wednesday in Apple Inc.'s App Store. News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch unveiled it in New York after weeks of anticipation.

The Daily is the latest example of how media companies are trying to mine the iPad's popularity for new streams of revenue. Last month, a company backed by The New York Times Co., The Washington Post Co. and USA Today publisher Gannett Co. launched Ongo, a website that, for $7 a month, pulls together stories from various outlets in one place and lays them out in a clean, ad-free format.

Newspaper publishers are especially desperate because the print advertising revenue they have traditionally relied upon has been falling for the past four years.

News Corp. hasn't been as hard hit as many publishers, mostly because it can fall back on revenue coming from its ownership of the Fox television network and the 20th Century Fox movie studio. News Corp. also owns The Wall Street Journal, one of the few newspapers able to sell a large number of digital subscriptions.

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HP, Dell computers delayed because of Intel flaw

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. are warning that some of their new computers are affected by a technical flaw in an Intel Corp. chip.

The problems were expected when Intel revealed the design error in one of its support chips on Monday.

HP, the biggest personal computer maker, says only a "small fraction" of its PCs sold since early January are affected, mostly consumer notebooks and desktops. One desktop computer model sold to businesses in Europe, the Middle East and Africa was also affected.

HP has stopped making computers with the faulty Intel chip, and customers who bought the problem machines can get a refund or exchange.

Dell says four of its computer models are affected, along with several planned products.

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The Dow Jones industrial average rose 1.81 points to end the day at 12,041.97. That's the highest close since June 19, 2008.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 3.56 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,304.03. Nine of its 10 company groups fell. Financial companies had the largest fall of any group, dropping 0.9 percent.

The Nasdaq composite lost 1.63 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 2,749.56.

West Texas Intermediate crude for March delivery settled 9 cents higher at $90.86 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose as high as $91.78 and fell as low as $90.10. Brent crude gained 60 cents to settle at $102.34 on the ICE Futures Exchange in London.

In other Nymex trading for March contracts, heating oil added 2.37 cents to settle at $2.7807 per gallon. Gasoline futures fell 2.09 cents to settle at $2.4985 per gallon and natural gas rose 8.2 cents to settle at $4.429 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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