BC-APFN-US--Business Features Digest, APFN

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Associated Press

Posted on March 5, 2014 at 3:30 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 5 at 3:30 PM

The business news enterprise package planned through March 10. For comments or questions, call 212-621-1680. For questions about photos, call ext. 1900. For questions about graphics, call ext. 7636. Repeats of stories are available from http://apexchange.com or the Service Desk, 1-800-838-4616.

Eds: Adds CORPORATE DEALS-FAST START, SMALLBIZ-SMALL TALK.

CORPORATE DEALS-FAST START

NEW YORK — Corporate deal-making is off to fast start this year. Companies are buying up the competition at levels not seen since the dotcom bubble. In the last month, cable powerhouse Comcast has offered to buy competitor Time Warner Cable for $45 billion. Pharmaceutical giant Actavis is buying Forest Laboratories for $25 billion. And Facebook shocked the technology world two weeks ago by buying WhatsApp for $19 billion. The reasons? Companies need new ways to boost earnings, debt is still cheap, and CEOs are confident the economy is improving. By Ken Sweet. UPCOMING: Wednesday, 1,000 words by 4 p.m.

SMALLBIZ-SMALL TALK

NEW YORK — The logjam in bank lending to small businesses is showing signs of clearing nearly five years after the recession officially ended. Bankers say they're lending more and businesses are finding it easier to get loans. Banks are so hungry for business that some are courting owners and giving them easier terms. Still, caution remains, especially when a business is young or considered risky. But overall, the increased lending is a hopeful sign for the economy because small businesses that borrow may be willing to expand and hire. By Joyce M. Rosenberg. SENT: Wednesday, 830 words, photos.

AIRLINES-OVERSIZED BAGS

NEW YORK — United Airlines is cracking down on passengers with oversized carry-on bags. Employees stationed at bag sizers are sending passengers back to the ticket counter to check their luggage for a fee if it violates the limits for carry-ons. Although fliers have long complained about fellow travelers stuffing bags the size of treasure chests into the overhead bin, airlines have been inconsistent in enforcing the rules. United says it wants to speed up the boarding process, but some travelers see it as a grab for more fees. By Scott Mayerowitz. SENT: Tuesday, 1,170.

CHINA-REFORM HOPES

BEIJING — Fledgling entrepreneurs in Liaoning province in China's northeast received a Lunar New Year gift in January when the government scrapped fees of up to $1,600 for registering a new business. The move was part of a stream of small changes in recent weeks aimed at carrying out the ruling Communist Party's pledge in November to make the world's second-largest economy more open and competitive. Now, reform advocates are looking to this week's meeting of China's ceremonial legislature, the National People's Congress, for signs the ruling party is ready to tackle more ambitious and politically thorny changes. By Joe McDonald. SENT: Tuesday, 830 words, photos.

WINTER WEATHER WINNERS

NEW YORK — Harsh winter weather has been rough for some business, but for a lucky few, it has meant more hard, cold cash. Ace Hardware is having its best winter in more than a decade selling snow blowers and shovels. Waterproof boots are on backorder at clothing maker LL Bean. And more people are staying home and ordering gooey grilled cheese sandwiches and booze from online food delivery company Delivery.com. By Joseph Pisani and Anne D'Innocenzio. SENT: Monday, 1,050 words, photos.

NSA SURVEILLANCE-TECH VS TELECOM

WASHINGTON —When Apple, Google, Microsoft and other tech giants united in outrage last summer over being used by the National Security Agency for unfettered spying, telecommunications giants like AT&T, Verizon and Sprint —whose customers are also secretly spied on by the government— remained noticeably mum. But now the phone companies are starting to speak up, at least in closed-door meetings with policymakers, rattling the historically tight bond between telecoms and government. By Marcy Gordon and Martha Mendoza. SENT: Monday, 1,440 words.

SUNKEN PIPELINE FEARS

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — A freshwater channel that separates Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas is a premier Midwestern tourist attraction and a photographer's delight, offering spectacular vistas of two Great Lakes, several islands and one of the world's longest suspension bridges. But nowadays the Straits of Mackinac is drawing attention for something that is out of sight and usually out of mind, and which some consider a symbol of the dangers lurking in the nation's sprawling web of buried oil and natural gas pipelines. Stretched across the bottom of the waterway about 270 feet below the surface are two 20-inch pipes lying side by side that carry nearly 23 million gallons of crude oil daily. By John Flesher. SENT: Monday, 880 words.

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