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TJ Maxx, Marshalls to follow Wal-Mart in raising pay

NEW YORK (AP) The owner of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods stores became the latest retailer to boost pay for its U.S. workers, putting pressure on other chains to do the same.

TJX Cos. said Wednesday that it will increase pay for its U.S. workers to at least $9 an hour starting in June. The announcement came a week after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it would increase starting wages for its U.S. employees to at least $9 per hour by April and by at least $10 by February 2016. Home furnishings retailer IKEA and Gap clothing chain also have raised pay recently.

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GOP lawmakers accuse Yellen of playing politics

WASHINGTON (AP) Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen came under fire Wednesday from House Republicans, who challenged the central bank's lack of accountability during her second day of testimony to Congress.

They questioned her opposition to GOP legislation that would expand the ability of Congress to audit the Fed's operations. They accused her of being unduly influenced by Democrats.

Yellen, who was nominated by President Barack Obama, rejected those suggestions and staunchly defended the Fed's independence.

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Too big to manage? HSBC's chiefs grilled over tax scandal

LONDON (AP) First there was money laundering. Then foreign-exchange rigging. Now tax evasion.

HSBC, Europe's biggest bank, has endured a string of scandals and paid billions in penalties to regulators around the world. But recent revelations that its Swiss private bank helped the wealthy evade taxes are raising new questions about whether big banks like HSBC have become too vast to manage and who should be accountable when things go wrong.

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Strong reliability scores should help Buick brand's rebirth

DETROIT (AP) Buick, the brand that once was the pace car for the drive to the senior center, has made a comeback by appealing to buyers not yet ready for retirement.

U.S. sales rose 11 percent in 2014. In China, Buick's biggest market, sales gained almost 14 percent.

This week, strong showings in two influential quality surveys are bringing good publicity to a nameplate that was inches from the grave when its parent company, General Motors, was in bankruptcy six years ago.

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Overfishing driving slavery on Thailand's seafood boats

SAMUT SAKHON, Thailand (AP) Urine pools under a bed where an emaciated Burmese man lies wearing only a T-shirt and a diaper.

As he struggles to sit up and steady himself, he tears at his thick, dark hair in agitation. He cannot walk and doesn't remember his family or even his own name. He speaks mostly gibberish in broken Indonesian a language he learned while working in the country as a slave aboard a Thai fishing boat.

Near death from a lack of proper food, he was rescued from a tiny island in Indonesia two months ago. He is just one of countless hidden casualties from the fishing industry in Thailand, the world's third-largest seafood exporter.

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US new home sales fall slightly in January

WASHINGTON (AP) Sales of new U.S. homes were basically flat in January, evidence that recent job gains and relatively low mortgage rates have yet to spur the real estate market.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that new home sales slipped 0.2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 481,000. This marks a slight decrease from sales of 482,000 homes in December, but represents a solid 5.3 percent gain from a year ago when harsh winter weather caused home-buying to stall.

Despite the increasingly favorable economy, home sales have been sluggish at the start of the year. Still, many analysts expect that the housing market will gather momentum with the start of the spring buying season.

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MetLife will pay gov't $123.5M in mortgage settlement

NEW YORK (AP) MetLife's home lending unit will pay $123.5 million to end an investigation into allegations it gave government-backed mortgages to people who didn't meet federal requirements.

The Justice Department said Wednesday that MetLife knew the business was issuing hundreds of loans that didn't meet federal requirements, which means they were not eligible for insurance by the Federal Housing Authority. But MetLife granted the mortgages anyway, and the agency says the FHA and taxpayers were stuck with the bill when defaults followed.

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American Express raises interest rates on some credit cards

NEW YORK (AP) American Express increased interest rates on some of its credit card accounts by an average of 2.5 percentage points in recent weeks, a spokeswoman for the company said Wednesday.

Spokeswoman Elizabeth Crosta declined to say how many of its roughly 42 million cards would be affected. But she said Wednesday that it was a "small percentage" of its customers.

American Express had been charging a lower interest rate, as much as 3.25 percentage points, on its credit cards compared with rates its competitors charge for customers with similar credit scores, Crosta said. The rate increase was authorized after an analysis showed the difference.

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FAA: Southwest for now can use planes that missed inspection

DALLAS (AP) Federal officials have agreed to let Southwest Airlines Co. keep flying planes that missed an inspection of a backup rudder system if the planes are checked in the next five days.

Southwest grounded 128 planes about one-fifth of its fleet on Tuesday after discovering the missed inspections.

Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said the groundings caused the airline to cancel about 80 flights Tuesday and 15 more by late Wednesday morning. She said crews inspected 80 of the planes overnight and will check the rest before the five-day deadline.

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$100M settlement for hundreds in Florida tobacco lawsuits

MIAMI (AP) A $100 million settlement has been reached between three major tobacco companies and hundreds of people who sued them for smoking-related deaths and illnesses in Florida federal court.

The tentative agreement announced Wednesday involves R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris USA Inc. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. The deal resolves about 400 cases pending before a federal judge in Jacksonville, Florida, but does not affect thousands of other lawsuits pending in Florida state courts.

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Justices: Dentists unfair to limit teeth-bleaching providers

WASHINGTON (AP) The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a state regulatory board made up mostly of dentists violated federal law against unfair competition when it tried to prevent lower-cost competitors in other fields from offering teeth-whitening services.

By a 6-3 vote, the justices rejected arguments from the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners that it was acting in the best interests of consumers when it pressured nondentists to get out of the lucrative trade in teeth-whitening services.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion that the Federal Trade Commission was right to conclude that the state regulators also had a financial interest in the market for teeth-whitening.

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Justices appear to favor Muslim denied job over headscarf

WASHINGTON (AP) Have you heard the one about the Sikh, the Hasidic Jew, the Muslim and the nun who walked into a job interview?

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito channeled his inner stand-up comic Wednesday in indicating that he and most of the court would side with a Muslim woman who showed up for a job interview with Abercrombie & Fitch wearing a black headscarf. She didn't get hired.

Samantha Elauf, the woman at the center of the case about religious discrimination in hiring, was in the courtroom Wednesday. The case turns on how an employer is supposed to know that a worker or applicant has religious beliefs that need to be accommodated.

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Lawsuit filed against Purina claims food sickens, kills dogs

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) A dog owner has filed a lawsuit against a pet food company alleging that thousands of dogs have been sickened or died from eating a brand of dry dog food.

Pet owner Frank Lucido filed the suit on Feb. 5 in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California against Nestle Purina PetCare Co., saying he fed his three dogs Beneful "kibble" style dog food, and within a short period of time, two were sick and one was dead.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average ended up 15.38 points, or 0.1 percent, to 18,224.57. The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 1.62 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,113.86. The Nasdaq shed 1 point, or 0.02 percent, to 4,967.14. The three indexes are all up for the year.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.71 to close at $50.99 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose $2.97 to close at $61.63 in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 9.9 cents to close at $1.719 a gallon. Heating oil rose 7.5 cents to close at $2.104 a gallon. Natural gas fell 0.8 cents to close at $2.894 per 1,000 cubic feet.