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March 19, 2013 at 8:06 PM
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Dow posts a slight gain

NEW YORK, March 19 (UPI) -- Early gains in U.S. markets faded on Wall Street, but the Dow Jones industrial average avoided closing in the red with a last-minute rally.

The Department of Commerce said building starts rose in February, rising sharply compared to a year ago, adding to the data showing the housing market making a comeback.

In Cyprus members of Parliament considered a bill that would raise less than the $5.8 billion required for the country to qualify for a $13 billion European Commission bailout. The uncertainty over what comes next hung over markets in Europe Tuesday.

By close of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average added 3.76 points or 0.03 percent to 14,455.82.

The Nasdaq shed 8.50 points or 0.26 percent to 3,229.10.

The Standard and Poor's 500 dropped 3.76 points or 0.24 percent to 1,548.34.

On the New York Stock Exchange, 1,299 stocks advanced and 1,741 declined on a volume of 3.7 billion shares traded.

Ten-year U.S. treasury bonds rose 15/32 to yield 1.908 percent.

Against the dollar, the euro was at $1.287 from Monday's $1.2956. Against the yen, the dollar was lower at 95.08 yen from 95.21 yen.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 rose 2.03 percent, adding 247.60 points to 12,468.23.

In London, the FTSE 100 index lost 0.26 percent, 16.60 points, to 6,441.32.

Major oil find made in Gulf of Mexico

DALLAS, March 19 (UPI) -- Venari Resources LLC said Tuesday it had made a major oil discovery at its Shenandoah prospect in the Gulf of Mexico.

The deepwater oil exploration and production company said its Shenandoah-2 well was drilled in about 5,800 feet of water to a total depth of 31,405 feet.

Venari said in a release that it and its partners -- Anadarko Petroleum Corp., ConocoPhillips, Cobalt International Energy and Marathon Oil Corp. -- are evaluating the results and assessing its production potential.

"The Shenandoah appraisal well has confirmed the field to be a major discovery with excellent-quality reservoir and fluid properties, and significant resource potential," Venari Chief Executive Officer Brian Reinsborough said. "This well has the potential of becoming one of the largest oil discoveries ever made in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and demonstrates Venari's capability to explore for significant resources in the emerging areas of the deepwater gulf."

The announcement came the day before the U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was to hold a lease sale in New Orleans that will make nearly 39 million offshore acres available for oil and gas development.

The sale follows one for more than 20 million acres in November and one of nearly 39 million acres last June.

HSBC accused of money laundering again

BUENOS AIRES, March 19 (UPI) -- Argentina on Tuesday filed charges accusing British bank HSBC with helping clients launder money and evade taxes, court papers say.

Prosecutors said the bank used "fake receipts" in order to launder $77 million, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

"On the basis of what's been investigated so far, in six months we've recorded 392 million pesos ($77 million) in fraudulent transactions, generated by evasion and money laundering," said the head of the country's tax agency Ricardo Echegaray.

"We hope to recover what is due and see the courts apply an appropriate penalty," he said.

The bank, which was fined $1.9 billion by the U.S. government to settle money laundering accusations in 2012, said it was cooperating with authorities.

"We are committed to working cooperatively with authorities to ensure a thorough review and appropriate resolution of the matter," in Argentina, Lyssette Bravo, a bank spokeswoman, said.

U.S. probes bribery claims at Microsoft

SEATTLE, March 19 (UPI) -- U.S. software giant Microsoft Corp. is the subject of federal investigations into possible bribery and kickback schemes, sources told The Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have both opened investigations into alleged bribes of kickbacks offered to officials in China, Romania and Italy, The New York Times and the Journal reported Tuesday.

People close to the investigations said a former Microsoft employee has alleged he was instructed by an executive at a Microsoft subsidiary to offer kickbacks to secure software contracts in China.

The whistle-blower informed U.S. officials of the alleged scheme in 2012. In 2010, Microsoft completed its own internal investigation into the matter with help from an outside counsel, which concluded that there was no wrongdoing, the Journal reported.

Spokesmen for the Justice Department and the SEC declined to comment and Microsoft said it would not comment on an ongoing investigation.

In an online posting that appeared Tuesday, however, Microsoft vice president and deputy general counsel John Frank said, "We take all allegations brought to our attention seriously and we cooperate fully in any government inquiries."

"Like other large companies with operations around the world, we sometimes receive allegations about potential misconduct by employees or business partners and we investigate them fully regardless of the source," Frank said.

Microsoft has about 94,000 full-time employees and approximately 640,000 business partners operating in more than 100 countries.

Companies frequently investigate allegations themselves and can be expected to spend about $2 million to look into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, the Journal said.

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