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Dec. 23, 2010 at 5:59 PM
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Markets close flat before holiday

NEW YORK, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- U.S. markets were flat Thursday, the day before a holiday break, as the Commerce Department said durable goods orders were weaker than expected in November.

New orders for goods expected to last three years or more -- cars, refrigerators, riding lawn mowers and the like -- dropped 1.3 percent to $193.7 billion. Economists had expected a drop of 0.5 percent.

By close of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average added 14.00 points or 0.12 percent to 11,573.49. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 2.07 or 0.16 percent to 1,256.77. The Nasdaq composite index of tech-dominated stock shed 5.88 or 0.22 percent to 2,665.60.

On the New York Stock Exchange, 1,422 stocks advanced and 1,529 stocks declined on a volume of 3.3 billion shares traded.

The benchmark 10-year treasury note lost 13/32 to yield 3.397 percent.

The euro rose to $1.3116 from Wednesday's $1.3099. Against the yen, the dollar fell to 82.94 yen from Wednesday's 83.54 yen.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 index shed 0.23 percent, 24.05, to 10,346.48.

In London, the FTSE 100 index added 0.21 pecent, 12.58, to 5,996.07.

Expedia puts American Airlines in coach

NEW YORK, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Online airline ticket seller Expedia said it had retaliated against a U.S. carrier that had severed ties with a rival firm.

Expedia changed its Web site to make American Airlines flights harder to find, a move that was made "in light of … American Arline's recent decision to prevent Orbitz from selling its inventory," Expedia said in a statement quoted by ABC Thursday.

Expedia also said it feared AA would cut it off from sales when its current contract with the airline expires.

Industry analysts said airlines are wrestling for control of ticket sales, less happy than they were in the past to share the roughly 10 percent of ticket prices that goes to the seller.

Southwest Airlines controls 80 percent of its ticket sales and other airlines are looking to emulate its success, said airline consultant Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Co.

Airlines are also envious of the ancillary sales that travel Web sites generate from hotel bookings and car rentals, analysts said.

AA's move followed Delta Air Lines, which cut ties to smaller ticket sellers recently.

With every dropped airline, it makes it harder for ticket sellers to advertise their services as a way to compare prices. Orbitz lost a revenue source and a marketing angle, as it is no longer able to say to consumers they can compare prices with all major airlines on its Web site.

Expedia said it is customers who lose.

A software program AA tried to get Orbitz to adopt is "anti-consumer and anti-choice," Expedia said.

Keystone pipeline meets resistance

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Environmentalists said the Keystone oil pipeline project under consideration by the U.S. government would be be a huge environmental setback.

The pipeline system that now ends in Oklahoma would extend the pipes to allow Canadian crude oil extracted from oil sands to flow to the Gulf of Mexico, CNNMoney.com reported Thursday.

The U.S. State Department is expected to submit an environmental impact statement on the project early next year.

The oil sands areas of Canada are about the size of Texas, but the heavy oil requires heating to allow it to flow through standard drilling procedures or it can be mined, like coal.

The mining system also requires heat to separate the oil from the sand, adding up to an increase of carbon dioxide emissions of 5 percent to 30 percent compared to most oil production.

The pit required to mine oil in oil sands areas could also be the size of Rhode Island, CNNMoney.com reported.

"We see this as a disaster on many levels," said Ryan Salmon, energy policy adviser at the World Wildlife Fund.

"At the site itself, you're looking at basically wholesale destruction of the ecosystem," he said.

Environmental groups recently concluded a $500,000 advertising effort opposing the project.

But some reason that extraction would continue, anyway, as China is willing to purchase the oil if the United States does not.

Caesars takes online gambling to Italy

LAS VEGAS, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp. says it has expanded its online gambling presence in Europe with a deal with an Italian company.

Caesar's subsidiary, Caesars Interactive Entertainment Inc., said it had reached agreement with Microgame, which operates the largest Internet poker network in the newly regulated Italian market, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

"There is plenty of upside to this deal if we execute it properly," said Seth Palansky, a spokesman with Caesars Interactive.

The new site will carry Caesar's World Series of Poker brand.

The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, opened the Italian online gambling market to offshore firms following a ruling in May.

Until the law was changed, the Italian Olympic Committee and the National Horse Breeders Enhancement Society had the exclusive right to organize sports betting, including online gambling.

"This agreement is a logical step in our European and global expansion strategy," said Caesars Interactive Chief Executive Officer Mitch Garber.

Microgame has a network of more than 120 sites and will serve as the online hub for poker in the Italian market.

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