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Last Update on March 04, 2015 18:48 GMT

ADP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. businesses added more than 200,000 jobs in February for the 13th straight month, a private survey found. It was the latest sign that strong hiring should boost the economy this year.

Payroll processor ADP says companies added 212,000 jobs last month, a solid gain, though down from 250,000 in the previous month. January's figure was revised up from 213,000.

The figures come just before Friday's government report, which economists forecast will show an increase of 240,000 jobs.

The ADP numbers cover only private businesses and sometimes diverge from the government's more comprehensive report, which includes government agencies.

A burst of hiring in the past year has lifted the number of Americans earning paychecks, and a sharp drop in gas prices means those paychecks can buy more goods and services.

ECONOMY-SERVICES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. services firms' activity rose at a slightly faster rate in February, powered by hotels, restaurants and wholesalers.

The Institute for Supply Management says that its services index rose to 56.9 in February, up from January's reading of 56.7. Any reading over 50 indicates expansion.

The survey suggests further growth in employment and imports, as a strong hiring streak over the past year has bolstered consumer spending.

TOYOTA-MANAGEMENT SHAKEUP

DETROIT (AP) -- Toyota has announced sweeping management changes that consolidate power with North American CEO Jim Lentz and promote some U.S. executives to senior posts in Japan.

Lentz, who previously led sales and marketing, will head Toyota's North American manufacturing operations when the changes take place April 1. North American engineering and research operations also will report to him.

Toyota also promoted North American communications chief Julie Hamp to chief communications officer for the entire company. She's Toyota's first female managing officer. And it named Chris Reynolds a managing officer and chief legal officer for the whole company. He's the first African-American to hold the positions. Reynolds was general counsel for U.S. operations.

Company President Akio Toyoda says the diverse team of executives will help Toyota serve customers better around the world.

MCDONALD'S-FOOD

NEW YORK (AP) -- McDonald's plans to announce it will start using chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine and milk that is not treated with rbST, an artificial growth hormone.

The announcement comes as the fast-food giant struggles to shake its junk food image amid intensifying competition from smaller rivals positioning themselves as more wholesome alternatives.

McDonald's has long battled negative perceptions about its food, but the issue has become a bigger vulnerability as more people shift toward options they feel are made with natural ingredients.

The "clean label" movement has prompted companies across the industry to purge ingredients with unrecognizable chemical names from their recipes, even while standing by their safety.

McDonald's has been struggling to boost sales and saw customer visits to U.S. stores decline two years in a row.

CONGRESS-LABOR

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Republican-controlled Senate has voted 53-46 to kill a National Labor Relations Board rule reducing the time between a union's request for representation and a workers' vote on it.

The legislation now goes to the House, where approval is also assured.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the measure, and the Senate's vote indicates that supporters are far from the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override him.

The AFL-CIO has praised the rule. Senate critics say it would permit what they call ambush elections that limit the ability of businesses to defeat certification elections.

The Senate vote took place under a rarely used law that limits debate on congressional attempts to reject agency rules, and bars opponents from stalling a final vote.

SUPREME COURT-HEALTH OVERHAUL-SUBSIDIES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court appears sharply divided over the tax subsidies that make insurance affordable for millions of Americans under President Barack Obama's health overhaul.

The justices on Wednesday aggressively questioned the lawyers on both sides of the latest politically charged fight over the Affordable Care Act.

Chief Justice John Roberts said almost nothing in nearly 90 minutes of back-and-forth, and Justice Anthony Kennedy's questions did not suggest how he will come out. Roberts was the decisive vote to uphold the law in 2012.

The same liberal-conservative divide that characterized that case otherwise was evident Wednesday.

Opponents of the law say that only residents of states that set up their own insurance markets can get federal subsidies to help pay their premiums.

SUPREME COURT-RAILROAD TAX

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court says Alabama should have the chance to justify a fuel sales tax that it assesses on railroads but not on competitors in the trucking and barge industries.

The justices on Wednesday ruled 7-2 against CSX Transportation Inc., which had challenged the state's assessment of a 4 percent sales tax whenever the company purchased diesel fuel.

The railroad company argued that the tax was illegal under a federal law barring taxes that discriminate against railroads. Alabama officials said the tax system was fair because truckers already pay a different 19-cent per gallon tax on diesel fuel.

A federal appeals court ruled in favor of CSX, but the Supreme Court reversed. Justice Antonin Scalia said the appeals court was wrong in refusing to consider Alabama's justification.

FED TRANSCRIPTS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Transcripts of Federal Reserve meetings in 2009 showed central bank officials struggling to contain the worst financial crisis in seven decades and searching for the right policies to halt a deepening economic downturn.

The newly released transcripts show that officials worried about the precedents being set by providing billions of dollars of government support to the nation's largest banks. They also searched for ways to provide more support to an economy that seemed to be in free-fall at the beginning of the year.

During an emergency call on the morning of Jan. 16, 2009, after the government had announced a $20 billion bailout for Bank of America, then-Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said he was unwilling to allow "the failure of a firm the size of Bank of America."

EUROPE-ECONOMY

LONDON (AP) -- A closely watched barometer of the 19-country eurozone economy shows growth in February running at a seven-month high, the latest in a string of evidence suggesting the region's recovery is gaining momentum.

Financial information company Markit says Wednesday its purchasing managers' index -- a broad gauge of economic activity -- rose to 53.3 points in February from 52.6 the previous month.

Though down from the initial estimate of 53.5, the index is at its highest level since July. Anything above 50 indicates expansion.

Chris Williamson, Markit's chief economist, says February was notable as it was the first time since April that all four of the largest eurozone economies -- Germany, France, Italy and Spain -- recorded an expansion in business activity.

The outlook "has brightened for all countries," he says.

ECB-BRITAIN RULING

LUXEMBOURG (AP) -- A European Union high court has handed Britain and its London financial hub a victory by ruling against a European Central Bank decision that would have forced financial institutions clearing trades in euros to be based in the eurozone.

So-called clearing houses ensure financial contracts such as futures are honored, reducing risk for traders.

In its role as financial overseer, the ECB wanted to make clearing houses that mainly process trades denominated in euros to be based in one of the 19 euro states. On Wednesday, the General Court annulled the policy.

Britain is part of the EU but doesn't use the euro. London is Europe's predominant financial center and the ECB's proposal could have eroded its position and cost thousands of jobs.

Britain called the decision "a major win."

FRANCE-NUCLEAR POWER

PARIS (AP) -- Nuclear manufacturer Areva has announced a 4.8 billion euro loss for 2014, more than its entire market value, plunging the powerful French nuclear industry into turmoil.

The French government said Wednesday it's working closely with Areva to restructure and secure financing, and would "take its responsibility as a shareholder" in future decisions about its direction. French news reported it might merge with utility Electricite de France.

Areva reported Wednesday 1 billion euros in losses on three major nuclear projects in Finland and France, among other losses.

The company has suffered years of losses linked to those projects and wariness toward nuclear energy since the 2011 Fukushima accident.

Areva supplies nuclear plants around the world. The industry employs 220,000 people in France, more dependent on atomic power than any other country.

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