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In quirky Hong Kong voting system, fishermen play key role

HONG KONG (AP) Since China took control of Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, the city's billionaires have played a leading role in hewing the Asian financial center to Beijing's priorities. So too have a dwindling band of fishermen and farmers.

The desire of China's communist leaders to enlist the tycoons' cooperation is understandable given the influence they have through their control of large swathes of the semiautonomous Chinese city's economy. Chinese President Xi Jinping last year summoned a group of them for an emergency meeting as political tensions in Hong Kong mounted.

Less known outside Hong Kong, however, is the political role of fishermen and farmers, remnant industries in Hong Kong that form a large slice of the 1,200-member committee that selects the southern Chinese city's pro-Beijing leader. They also have their own representative in the territory's legislature.

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Amazon shares jump on surprise 2Q profit

NEW YORK (AP) Amazon.com reported a surprise second-quarter profit Thursday on continued strength of its cloud-computing business and strong revenue both domestically and abroad.

Shares jumped 18 percent as the results bucked Amazon's long-time strategy of investing the money it earns back into the company, resulting in quarterly losses or thin profits.

Amazon got a boost in revenue from Amazon Web Services, a suite of products and services offered to businesses by way of the "cloud," or remote servers that enable users to access applications on any machine with an Internet connection. Revenue from that business climbed 81 percent to $1.82 billion. Amazon only began breaking out results from that business during the first quarter.

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Bailout talks back in Athens, as tough conditions approved

ATHENS, Greece (AP) Discussions over Greece's third bailout in five years are set to begin in Athens imminently after Greece's parliament approved Thursday tough new conditions set by European creditors.

Officials in Athens and at the European Union said negotiators are expected to start arriving on Friday, marking the first time high-level talks will be held in the Greek capital since Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' left-wing government assumed power in late January.

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Getting tested again: Municipal bond funds face more stress

NEW YORK (AP) Here we go again.

One worry after another has hit the municipal bond market in recent years, from a high-profile 2010 prediction for a wave of defaults to Detroit's 2013 bankruptcy filing, the largest in U.S. history.

The latest concern is actually an old one: The governor of Puerto Rico said last month that the island, whose economy and population have been shrinking for years, may not be able to repay its $72 billion in debt. That's significant because half of all muni-bond funds have some Puerto Rican bonds.

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Applications for US unemployment aid plummet to 42-year low

WASHINGTON (AP) Six years after a brutal recession that wiped out more than 8.5 million jobs, Americans are now enjoying a nearly unprecedented level of job security.

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid plunged last week to the lowest in nearly 42 years. Applications for jobless benefits are a proxy for layoffs, so the low level indicates that employers are keeping their staffs and likely hiring at a steady pace.

Weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 26,000 to 255,000, the fewest since November 1973, the Labor Department said Thursday. If the data were adjusted for the growth of the U.S. population since then, last week's figure would likely be an all-time low.

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Gauge of future health of economy up 0.6 percent in June

WASHINGTON (AP) An index designed to predict the future health of the U.S. economy posted another solid increase in June, providing further hope that the economy will gain momentum in the second half of this year.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading indicators rose 0.6 percent in June following healthy gains of 0.8 percent in May and 0.6 percent in April.

Conference Board economists said the string of solid increases point to continued economic strength for the rest of this year. The June advance was supported by favorable interest rates and strength in applications for home building permits.

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Average US rate on 30-year mortgage falls to 4.04 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates fell this week, retreating from highs for the year and amplifying the incentive for prospective home buyers.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage declined to 4.04 percent from 4.09 percent a week earlier. The rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages slipped to 3.21 percent from 3.25 percent.

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Pew: Chinese stay optimistic in an otherwise gloomy world

WASHINGTON (AP) Maybe someone should tell the Chinese their economy is slowing. They don't seem to buy it.

The Pew Research Center finds that a world-beating 90 percent of Chinese say their economy is good. And 84 percent expect things to be even better in 12 months.

According to the International Monetary Fund, China's economic growth will decelerate this year to the slowest pace since 1990: 6.8 percent, down from 7.4 percent in 2014. But Pew found that Chinese are feeling even sunnier about today's economy than they did in 2007 when growth surged 14.2 percent.

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As sales fall in US, McDonald's eyes variety of changes

NEW YORK (AP) McDonald's is looking at variety of changes to win back customers in the U.S.: A new value message to replace the Dollar Menu, breakfast all day, and nips and tucks to improve the taste of its burgers.

The remarks came after the company reported a 2 percent drop in sales at established U.S. stores for the three-month period ended June 30, marking the seventh straight quarterly decline in its flagship market.

McDonald's said customer visits slipped as promotions failed to live up to expectations. Among the offerings during the period were sirloin burgers, which were featured in ads with a revamped Hamburglar character.

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GM tops 2Q profit forecasts on trucks, SUVs

DETROIT (AP) Big profits from trucks and SUVs helped General Motors overcome a sales slowdown in China, economic problems in Venezuela and payments to ignition switch crash victims as the automaker's second-quarter net income rose sixfold to nearly $1.12 billion.

The Detroit company made 67 cents per share from April through June compared with 11 cents a year ago. The year-earlier quarter included $1.5 billion in expenses for a string of safety recalls. GM's $2.8 billion pretax profit in North America was a second-quarter record.

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Comcast adds Internet customers; box office pumps up revenue

NEW YORK (AP) Despite a slowdown in subscriber growth, the Internet is still propelling Comcast.

The movies and theme parks in its NBCUniversal entertainment unit also bolstered results in the quarter.

The country's largest cable company added 180,000 Internet customers in the April-June quarter, the smallest gain in at least two years. That brings its total Internet subscribers to 22.6 million.

Comcast's Internet customers surpassed its cable customers in the second quarter for the first time ever, underscoring that the future of the industry is broadband. The company finished June down 69,000 TV customers, to 22.3 million.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average slid 119.09 points, or 0.7 percent, to 17,731.92. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 12 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,102.15. The Nasdaq composite declined 25.36 points, or 0.5 percent, to 5,146.41.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 74 cents to close at $48.45 a barrel in New York. Crude has fallen 21 percent over the past month, from $61.01 on June 23. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell 86 cents Thursday to close at $55.27 in London. Wholesale gasoline fell 1.6 cents to close at $1.852 a gallon. Heating oil fell 1.7 cents to close at $1.655 a gallon. Natural gas fell 8.1 cents to close at $2.816 per 1,000 cubic feet.