Business Roundup for Tuesday, March 18

Walmart entrance in California (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks are closing higher after some encouraging news on housing and on hopes that the conflict between Russia and the West over Ukraine won't escalate. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 13 points, or 0.7 percent, to close at 1,872 Tuesday. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 89 points, or 0.6 percent, to 16,336. The Nasdaq composite climbed 53 points, or 1.3 percent, to 4,333. Microsoft jumped 4 percent after Reuters reported that CEO Satya Nadella plans to use his first big press event to unveil an iPad version of the company's Office software suite. GameStop sank 3 percent following news that Wal-Mart plans to expand its video game trade-in program to its stores. Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.67 percent.

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. CEOs are growing more optimistic about economic growth this year. The Business Roundtable says its CEO outlook index rose to its highest level in two years in the first quarter. Nearly half the CEOs surveyed said they plan to invest more in the next six months. Such spending is typically followed by more hiring.

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece has reached an agreement with international debt inspectors that will allow the release of a long-delayed rescue loan installment. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras says the deal includes no new austerity measures. The agreement concludes six laborious months of talks with officials from the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission. Greece has depended on its bailout from other European countries and the IMF since mid-2010.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A federal grand jury is convening as part of a widening criminal investigation triggered by Duke Energy's massive coal ash spill in North Carolina. The spill coated 70 miles of the Dan River with toxic sludge. Prosecutors have issued at least 23 subpoenas to Duke executives and state officials.

NEW YORK (AP) — Organizers of the fast-food protests for higher wages are shifting their sights to another issue affecting workers: practices they say amount to "wage theft." Protesters rallying at McDonald's restaurants in New York and other cities are calling attention to the denial of breaks and other violations they say deprive workers of their pay.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Inflation remains in check at the consumer level. The Labor Department says the consumer price index rose 0.1 percent in February. Cheaper energy offset a big rise in the cost of food. Excluding those volatile categories, core prices also rose just 0.1 percent. The report comes as the Federal Reserve begins a two-day policy meeting.

MOSCOW (AP) — The chief executive of Russia's largest oil company is scoffing at Western sanctions, calling them "evidence of powerlessness." Yesterday, the United States and the European Union announced asset freezes and visa bans against Russian and Ukrainian officials involved in the Crimean crisis. They are considering broadening those sanctions to include more individuals, such as the CEO of oil company Rosneft. Igor Sechin says if that happens, he can take his business elsewhere.

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors has named a new safety chief. Jeff Boyer is an engineer who has spent 40 years with GM. He'll be in charge of recalls and other safety issues. The move comes as GM deals with a huge recall over a deadly ignition switch problem. The recall has damaged GM's reputation after revelations that the company knew about the problem at least 11 years ago.

BEIJING (AP) — International stocks are mixed today on stronger U.S. factory production and relief that sanctions imposed on Russia following the Crimea reference avoid its vital economic interests. Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose back above $98 a barrel. The dollar fell against the euro and the yen.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal Reserve policymakers begin a two-day meeting to set interest rates today. It's the first policy-setting meeting under new Fed chair Janet Yellen. This morning, the Labor Department releases its Consumer Price Index for February. Inflation at the consumer level has been tame for the past year. The Commerce Department offers up housing starts.

NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart is taking a deeper dive into video games. The retailer plans to expand its video game trade-in program to its stores, offering store credit for thousands of video games. The world's largest retailer also plans to offer refurbished used games in its stores for the first time. Wal-Mart has been seeking new ways to boost revenue as its low-income customers remain under economic pressure.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea says a consortium of Caesars Entertainment and Indonesia's Lippo conglomerate has received a preliminary license to build a casino-resort near the country's largest airport, stepping up competition among Asian countries to lure Chinese tourists. The Indonesian-U.S. consortium plans to spend 743.7 billion won ($696 million) to open a casino town in Incheon in 2018. It is the first South Korean casino license given to foreign investors.

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