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Last Update: Friday, April 25, 2014 3:26 AM EDT

Asian stocks mixed on US earnings, goods orders

Asian stocks were mixed today after solid earnings for Apple and Caterpillar and better U.S. durable goods orders.

Markets in Australia and New Zealand were closed for a holiday.

The relief was mixed with concern about higher U.S. unemployment claims, which dampened enthusiasm about gains in durable goods orders.

Benchmark crude oil rose to just under $102 a barrel. The dollar gained against the yen and was steady against the euro.

US, Japan say TPP trade talks make headway

U.S. officials are claiming a breakthrough with Japan on a stalled regional trade pact, even though gaps remain.

U.S. and Japanese officials have emerged after two days of around-the-clock negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership during President Barack Obama's visit to Tokyo. The 12-nation pact is a key component of Obama's effort to assert U.S. influence in Asia in the face of China's ascendancy.

U.S. officials say the two sides have narrowed differences on market access issues related to agriculture and automobiles, two key sectors that have deadlocked negotiations.

The Japanese side is less upbeat, citing progress but no basic agreement.

Even if the two countries can resolve their differences, there are real doubts about whether Obama can rally political support for the agreement in Washington amid opposition from labor groups.

Internet governance debated in Brazil

An international two-day conference on Internet governance is drawing to a close in Brazil as government officials, academics and technical experts from some 90 countries debate how the Internet should be run.

The final document of the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance, or NETmundial is expected to be concluded in the late afternoon.

The draft document being debated says participants "identified a set of common principles and important values that may contribute for an inclusive, multistakeholder, effective, legitimate, and evolving Internet governance framework."

The wide range of topics covered in the document includes the right to privacy; freedom of information; and cybersescurity and ways to prevent cyber crime.

Study: US manufacturers gaining competitiveness

Anew private study finds that U.S. manufacturers have grown more competitive over the past decade compared with factories in China, Brazil and most of the world's other major economies.

The Boston Consulting Group study also finds that rising wages and higher energy costs have diminished China's long-standing edge over the United States. So has a boom in U.S. shale gas production. It's reduced U.S. natural gas prices and slowed the cost of electricity.

The group is issuing a report today on its study of manufacturing costs in the 25 biggest exporting countries. Only seven of those countries had lower manufacturing costs than the United States did this year. And since 2004, U.S. manufacturers have improved their competitiveness compared with every major exporter except India, Mexico and the Netherlands.

Over the past decade, labor costs, adjusted to reflect productivity gains, shot up 187 percent at factories in China, compared with 27 percent in the United States.

And a higher-valued Chinese currency made goods produced in China and sold abroad comparatively more expensive while foreign goods became comparatively more affordable in China.

Visa's 2Q profit jumps 26 pct as payments grow

Visa Inc.'s profit jumped 26 percent in its fiscal second quarter from a year earlier as the company benefited from strong growth in payments volume, service revenue and a one-time tax gain.

The debit and credit card payments processor reported net income of $1.6 billion, or $2.52 per share, for the three months that ended March 31. That compares with net income of $1.3 billion, or $1.92 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding the tax benefit, the Foster City, Calif., company earned $2.20 per share in the latest quarter.

Operating revenue rose to $3.16 billion from $2.96 billion a year earlier.

Analysts polled by FactSet, on average, forecast earnings of $2.18 per share on revenue of $3.19 billion.

Visa shares fell 1.2 percent in after-market trading.

Sands 1Q profit beats predictions thanks to Macau

Casino giant Las Vegas Sands Corp. says its first-quarter net income rose 36 percent due to a strong performance in Macau.

Billionaire CEO Sheldon Adelson says the company delivered growth in every sector of business in Macau, the only place in China where gambling is legal. Sands derives a majority of its revenue from the enclave but also owns properties on the Las Vegas Strip and elsewhere.

Sands reported Thursday that it earned $776.2 million, or 95 cents per share, in the January-March quarter. That's up from $572 million, or 69 cents per share, the year before.

Excluding one-time items, profit came to 97 cents per share.

Revenue rose 21 percent to $4 billion.

Analysts polled by FactSet predicted profit of 92 cents per share on revenue of $3.9 billion.

Pfizer to help investors with dividend, buybacks

Pfizer Inc. CEO Ian Read says the drugmaker will keep working to boost shareholder value, with continuing stock buybacks and higher dividends.

At Pfizer's annual meeting in Short Hills, N.J., the Viagra maker said it will pay a 26-cent second-quarter dividend. It raised the first-quarter dividend in December, from 24 to 26 cents a share.

Read told attendees New York-based Pfizer returned nearly $23 billion to shareholders last year, through buybacks and dividends.

The company said preliminary shareholder vote totals showed its 12 board members were re-elected. Stockholders backed two board-sponsored proposals — to approve Pfizer's 2014 stock plan and, in a nonbinding vote, to approve the top executives' compensation packages.

However, three shareholder proposals were rejected, including one to have the board review which political groups Pfizer supports.

Google, Apple settle high-tech workers' lawsuit

Google, Apple, Intel and Adobe have settled a class-action lawsuit alleging they conspired to prevent their engineers and highly sought technology workers from getting better job offers from one another.

The agreement announced Thursday averts a Silicon Valley trial that threatened to expose the tactics that billionaire executives such as late Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt deployed to corral lower-paid employees working on a variety of products and online services.

The trial had been scheduled to begin May 27 in San Jose, Calif.

Terms of the settlement aren't being revealed yet. An attorney representing the workers in the case says the details will be filed in court by May 27.

The suit was seeking $3 billion in damages on behalf of 64,600 workers.

Netflix joining line-up of 3 US cable-TV services

Netflix's Internet video service is about to join the programming line-up of three small cable-TV providers in the U.S.

The agreements with Atlantic Broadband, RCN and Grande Communications gives Netflix's subscription service a channel on the TiVo boxes that the three cable services provide their customers.

The deals represent a breakthrough for Netflix Inc. as it tries to make its Internet video service more like premium cable-TV channels such as HBO and Showtime.

Netflix subscribers typically have to buy a separate device, such as video game console or a player from Roku or Apple Inc., to stream video on to their TVs.

Atlantic and RCN are adding Netflix to their line-ups Monday. Netflix will join Grande next month.

Collectively, the three cable-TV services have about 820,000 subscribers.

Government to review Northwestern bid to unionize

The National Labor Relations Board has granted Northwestern University's request that it review its ruling that football players at the university are essentially employees of the school with full collective bargaining rights.

It said a previously scheduled vote by Northwestern football players on whether to unionize could go forward Friday but ballots would be impounded for now.

The Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on March 26 that Northwestern scholarship football players are essentially employees of the school — and thus have the right to form a union and exercise full collective bargaining rights. Northwestern is appealing the potentially far-reaching decision, insisting that its scholarship athletes are students first and don't have collective bargaining rights.

The full five-member federal board is now weighing the appeal request.

FDA backs off animal feed rule affecting brewers

The federal government is backing off proposed regulations that brewers say would add to their costs without improving the safety of grain used to feed livestock.

Many beer makers sell or give grain leftover from the brewing process to farmers, who use it as feed for dairy cows and other animals.

The grain would be affected by new food safety rules being developed under the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokesman Dr. Dan McChesney says livestock feed is generally safe, but the agency wants to ensure brewers' grain is handled properly during the transfer from breweries to farms.

Brewers have worried the rule would add costs for testing, training and paperwork.

McChesney says the agency will take another look at the rule and clarify it.

Tesla's Musk paid $70,000 in 2013

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk was paid just under $70,000 in 2013. But he could be eligible for much, much more.

According to a Tesla filing with regulators Thursday, Musk made a base salary of $33,280 in 2013. That was the minimum he was required to make under California law. He got an additional $36,709 in company bonuses.

Tesla says Musk, the billionaire founder of PayPal and rocket-building company SpaceX, only accepts $1 and returns the rest to the company.

But he could one day be eligible for a huge payday.

In 2012, Musk was awarded options to buy nearly 5.3 million Tesla shares at $31.17 each if the company meets certain goals.

The company's stock closed Thursday at $207.86 each, making those shares worth about $900 million.

Mandalay Bay expo center getting $66M expansion

The Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas has announced a $66 million expansion project that will boost its convention center from the seventh-largest to the fifth-largest in the United States.

Hotel officials say the 350,000 square feet of new exhibit space and extra underground parking will help it attract larger trade shows, and will allow conferences already there to expand.

The convention center will encompass 2 million total square feet after the expansion, putting it behind only McCormick Place in Chicago, the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Expo, also in Las Vegas.

Construction at Mandalay Bay, which is owned by MGM Resorts International, is scheduled to begin in late fall of this year. Some new spaces will open in August 2015, and the full project is expected to wrap up in January 2016.

The Trade Show News Network recently named Las Vegas the No. 1 trade show destination in the U.S. for the 20th year in a row.

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