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Last Update on September 18, 2014 07:45 GMT

WORLD MARKETS

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Asian stock markets mostly fell today after the U.S. Federal Reserve increased its estimate for the level of the central bank's benchmark interest rate by the end of 2015, surprising investors who expected a slower pace of rate hikes.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 0.7 percent to 24,199.87 and South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.8 percent to 2,046.53.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 declined 0.1 percent to 5,399.60.

Stocks in New Zealand and mainland China also fell but Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.3 percent to 16,099.30 as the yen weakened.

ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD

WASHINGTON (AP) -- There are two government reports due out today.

The Labor Department will release data on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week. For the previous week, slightly more Americans sought benefits, but the total number receiving aid remained at a seven-year low.

The Commerce Department reports on U.S. home construction in August. In July, construction rebounded to an eight-month high, offering hope that housing had regained momentum after two months of declines.

Also today, Freddie Mac will release average mortgage rates for this week. Last week, the average for the 30-year loan edged up to 4.12 percent from 4.10 percent the previous week. At 4.12 percent, the average rate is still down sharply from 4.53 percent at the start of the year.

`And Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen will speak today on the importance of asset building for low- and middle-income households at a conference of the Corporation for Enterprise Development in Washington.

JAPAN-TRADE

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan has logged a 948.5 billion yen ($8.8 million) trade deficit in August, the 26th straight month of red ink, as weak demand at home hit imports while exports also fell.

The Finance Ministry reported Thursday that exports fell 1.3 percent from a year earlier to 5.71 trillion yen ($53.3 billion) while imports dropped 1.5 percent to 6.65 trillion yen ($62.1 billion).

A weakening in the value of the Japanese yen has so far failed to spur a rebound in exports, despite nascent recoveries in the U.S. and Europe. Slower growth in China, Japan's biggest trading partner, has also hurt.

But consumer spending inside Japan has been lackluster since an April 1 sales tax, reducing demand for imports. Weaker oil prices have also cut costs for imported oil and gas.

TOY MANUFACTURING

BURNHAM, Maine (AP) -- Lincoln Logs, the popular toy created nearly a century ago by the son of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is coming home to the U.S.A.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage announced Wednesday the toy logs, created by John Lloyd Wright and used to create miniature toy buildings, will be made at Pride Manufacturing, a wood products company in Burnham.

The toy has been made in China. But Pride Manufacturing officials say that when production of the wooden pieces ramps up, possibly in November, 80 percent of the toy will be made at the plant in Maine.

Some plastic pieces will still be made in China.

Hatfield, Pennsylvania-based K'NEX currently holds the product license.

ROCKET ENGINES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos plans to build a rocket engine that would eventually replace the Russian mainstay used in many American unmanned launches.

United Launch Alliance, a collaboration of two aerospace giants that launches unmanned rockets, announced Wednesday that it will pay Bezos' Blue Origin space firm to develop new rocket engines. In about four years, the launch alliance hopes to start using the new engines in Delta and Atlas rockets.

Some experts worry that tensions over Ukraine might interrupt the supply of Russian engines, but alliance chief Tory Bruno said that's not a problem.

Bezos said he will proceed with plans for his private human space capsule to launch later this decade. However, Bezos' firm wasn't picked Tuesday by NASA for its $6.8 billion private space taxi program.

USDA-WEED KILLER

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Agriculture Department is approving the use of genetically modified corn and soybean seeds that are resistant to a popular weed killer.

However, farmers won't be able to take full advantage of the seeds until the Environmental Protection Agency issues a second ruling allowing the use of Enlist, a new version of the 2,4-D weed killer that's been around since the 1940s. The EPA has said it will rule this fall on Dow AgroSciences' application to market the chemical.

The agriculture industry has been anxiously awaiting the approvals, as many weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide commonly used on corn and soybeans now.

Critics say they are concerned the increased use of 2,4-D could endanger public health and that more study on the chemical is needed.

APPLE-IOS BUG

NEW YORK (AP) -- A bug in Apple's new iOS 8 software for mobile devices is prompting the company to withhold apps that use a highly touted feature for keeping track of fitness and health data.

Apple says it hopes to have HealthKit apps restored to its app store by the end of the month. Affected apps include Carrot Fit, WebMD and AskMD. Apple didn't provide details on what went wrong.

The iOS 8 software became available Wednesday. HealthKit is supposed to create a central repository for health and fitness data, so that apps have a better picture of your overall wellness and can even recommend trips to the doctor.

Apple's new iPhones have sensors to monitor fitness activities, and its upcoming Apple Watch will have a heart-rate monitor.

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