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Sep 25, 6:00 PM EDT

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Prices at the pump head below $3 in much of US

NEW YORK (AP) - The price of a gallon of gasoline may soon start with a "2" across much the country.

Gasoline prices typically decline in autumn, and this year they are being pulled even lower by falling global oil prices. By the end of the year, up to 30 states could have an average gasoline price of less than $3 a gallon.

The average in Springfield, Missouri, is already below $3, according to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service and GasBuddy.com. Several other cities are on the brink.

At the current national average of $3.35 a gallon, gas is a dime cheaper than a year ago at this time. The gap is 20 cents or more in seven states, including California, Kansas, South Dakota and Connecticut, according to AAA.

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Mexican cartels steal billions from oil industry

CIUDAD MIER, Mexico (AP) - Mexico overcame 75 years of nationalist pride to reform its flagging, state-owned oil industry. But as it prepares to develop rich shale fields along the Gulf Coast, and attract foreign investors, another challenge awaits: taming the brutal drug cartels that rule the region and are stealing billions of dollars' worth of oil from pipelines.

Figures released by Petroleos Mexicanos last week show the gangs are becoming more prolific and sophisticated. So far this year, thieves across Mexico have drilled 2,481 illegal taps into state-owned pipelines, up more than one-third from the same period of 2013. Pemex estimates it's lost some 7.5 million barrels worth $1.15 billion.

Pemex director Emilio Lozoya called the trend "worrisome."

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`Eau de Revolution': Cuba scents honor Che, Chavez

HAVANA (AP) - Call it "Eau de Revolution."

Cuba's biggest producer of natural products has come up with a pair of colognes for the discerning supporter of international socialism who wants something more than just the iconic "Che" T-shirt.

A woodsy and refreshing citric scent with notes of talcum powder called "Ernesto" honors guerrilla leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara. For those seeking something softer and fruitier, there's a blend with hints of mango and papaya called "Hugo," for the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Formulated by a French company and produced in Cuba, the men's colognes are being presented this week at a Labiofam convention in Havana. The two scents so far have generic bottles and simple printed labels bearing only their names. But Labiofam is developing more attractive bottles and labels with hopes of putting the colognes on sale in Cuba and internationally0.

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Applications for US unemployment rise 12K to 293K

WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits increased last week after falling sharply two weeks ago. Despite the rise, the level of applications remains near pre-recession levels, a sign that hiring will likely remain healthy.

Weekly unemployment benefit applications rose 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 293,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. Yet the four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell for the second straight week to 298,500.

Two weeks ago, applications had plummeted to 281,000, near a 14-year low first reached in July. Over the past year, the four-week average for applications has fallen 7.1 percent. They climbed above 650,000 during the recession in 2009.

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US durable goods fell 18.2 percent in August

WASHINGTON (AP) - Orders for long-lasting manufactured goods slumped in August as demand for commercial aircraft descended from record highs, but investment plans by businesses posted promising gains.

Durable goods orders fell 18.2 percent in August following a 22.5 percent jump in July, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Both the big increase and the big drop were records. They reflected sharp swings in demand for commercial aircraft, an extremely volatile category that can skew overall results. Airplane orders fell 74.3 percent in August.

More importantly, however, a key category that serves as a proxy for business spending plans rose 0.6 percent.

The figure offers further evidence that manufacturing is a key source of strength for the economy this year. Economists expect businesses to boost spending as they expand and modernize their operations.

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Average US 30-year mortgage rate at 4.20 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) - Average long-term U.S. mortgage rates declined slightly this week, after marking their largest one-week gain of the year the previous week.

Mortgage company Freddie Mac said Thursday that the nationwide average for a 30-year loan eased to 4.20 percent from 4.23 percent last week. The average for a 15-year mortgage, a popular choice for people who are refinancing, slipped to 3.36 percent from 3.37 percent.

At 4.20 percent, the rate on a 30-year mortgage is down from 4.53 percent at the start of the year. Rates have fallen even though the Federal Reserve has been trimming its monthly bond purchases, which are intended to keep long-term borrowing rates low. The purchases are set to end next month.

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Valeant pitches potential eye drug, research focus

Valeant Pharmaceuticals is drawing attention to a potential glaucoma treatment and its focus on product development, as the Canadian drugmaker continues to build its case to investors for a takeover of Botox-maker Allergan.

Irvine, California-based Allergan Inc. has rejected several acquisition bids from Valeant, the latest amounting to about $53 billion. Its executives have said Valeant would slash research and development funding too much if it took over. They've also said the offers undervalue their company.

But Valeant Chairman and CEO Michael Pearson said Thursday that his company is committed to health care innovation and funding important research.

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Illinois high court to hear cigarette appeal

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to review a lower court's reinstatement of a decade-old $10.1 billion class-action verdict against Phillip Morris USA over the nation's biggest cigarette maker's marketing of "light" and "low tar" designations.

The high court, which has thrown out the verdict at least once, decided Wednesday it would hear arguments involving the April opinion by the Mount Vernon-based 5th District Appellate Court, Supreme Court spokesman Joe Tybor confirmed Thursday.

The appellate court ruling restored a 2003 verdict in southwestern Illinois' Madison County that found Philip Morris broke state law by marketing "light" and "low tar" cigarettes as safer than other cigarettes. The lawsuit was the nation's first to accuse a tobacco company of consumer fraud.

The April ruling has been stayed, pending appeals.

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Drones for moviemaking win US approval

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. government granted six movie and television production companies permission to use drones for filming, an important step toward greater use of the technology by commercial operators, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced Thursday.

Dozens of other industries are lined up to follow Hollywood's lead. Until now, the Federal Aviation Administration, which is part of the Transportation Department, had banned commercial drone operations with the exception of a lone oil company in Alaska.

The FAA permits come with limitations, including that the unmanned aircraft be used only in a restricted area, that they be flown under 400 feet in altitude and that flights last no more than 30 minutes at a time. Nighttime flights are prohibited, and reality television shows or other unscripted events won't qualify for the permits.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones Industrial average slumped 264.26 points, or 1.5 percent, to close at 16,945.80. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 32.31 points, or 1.6 percent, to close at 1,965.99. The Nasdaq composite, which is dominated by technology companies, dropped 88.47 points, or 1.9 percent, to 4,466.75.

Benchmark U.S. crude fell 27 cents to close at $92.53 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose 5 cents to close at $97.00 on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Wholesale gasoline rose 5.4 cents to close at $2.718 a gallon. Heating oil rose 0.7 cent to close at $2.696 a gallon. Natural gas rose 6 cents to close at $3.971 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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