Americans bet nearly $1.5B to win record jackpot

CHICAGO (AP) — Across the country, Americans plunked down an estimated $1.5 billion on the longest of long shots: an infinitesimally small chance to win what could end up being the single biggest lottery payout the world has ever seen.
But forget about how the $640 million Mega Millions jackpot could change the life of the winner. It's a collective wager that could fund a presidential campaign several times over, make a dent in struggling state budgets or take away the gas worries and grocery bills for thousands of middle-class citizens.
And it's a cheap investment for the chance of a big reward, no matter how long the odds — 1 in 176 million.

"Twenty to thirty dollars won't hurt," said Elvira Bakken of Las Vegas. "I think it just gives us a chance of maybe winning our dream."
So what exactly would happen if the country spent that $1.5 billion on something other than a distant dream?
For starters, it could cure the everyday worries of hundreds of thousands of American families hit by the Great Recession. It costs an average of $6,129 to feed the typical family for a year — meaning the cash spent on tickets could fill up the plates of 238,000 households.
As gas prices climb faster than stations can change the numbers on the signs, the money spent on tickets could fill the tanks of 685,000 households annually.
Or it could play politics. So far in this campaign, Republicans and President Barack Obama have spent $348.5 million. The amount spent on Mega Millions tickets could cover that tab four times over.
Could the money dig governments out of debt? That's a problem that even staggering ticket sales can't solve. It could trim this year's expected $1.3 trillion federal deficit by just over a tenth of 1 percent. In Illinois, the money would disappear just as fast into that state's $8 billion deficit.
On a personal level, that much money staggers. Giving $1.46 billion to a broker could purchase 2.4 million shares of Apple stock. (It would also be enough to buy about 2.4 million iPads at the starting price of $499. That's almost as many as the 3 million new iPads that Apple has already sold.)
Or consider the whimsical: A family of up to 12 could live for more than a century at Musha Cay, magician David Copperfield's $37,000-a-night private island resort in the Exuma Cays of the Caribbean.
For a more celestial vacation, the nearly $1.5 billion wagered could purchase about 7,300 tourist tickets for a ride into space aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. And it would pay for 26 rides for U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
It would even buy a stake in pop culture. Want to influence the next winner of American Idol? If it costs a quarter to text in a vote to Ryan Seacrest, and it takes 122 million votes to win as it did last season, the money could control the outcome of the next 47 seasons.
For the states that participate, the money spent on lotto tickets is hardly a waste. It doesn't all end up as the winner's personal fortune — much of it is used by states to fund education and other social service programs, which is why advocates promote the lottery.
Though the specifics vary among the 42 participating states and the District of Columbia, only about half of ticket sales go into the actual jackpot. Another 35 percent goes to support government services and programs, while the rest funds lottery operating costs.
On Friday, the lottery estimated that total ticket sales for this jackpot, which has been building up since Jan. 28, will be about $1.46 billion, said Kelly Cripe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Lottery Commission.
You're about 20,000 times more likely to die in a car crash than win the lottery, but that doesn't matter to most people.
"Part of it is hope. ... The average person basically has no chance of making it really big, and buying alottery ticket is a way of raising the ceiling on what could possibly happen to you, however unlikely it may be," said George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University who has studied how rich and poor consumers make a choice to buy lottery tickets.
The odds are much better that someone will begin their weekend a winner. Aaron Abrams, a mathematician at Emory University, said he calculated that there was only a 6 percent chance that no one would hold the winning numbers.
"Every time the jackpot gets higher, more and more people buy tickets, which makes it more and more likely that someone will win," Abrams said. "So the chance that it rolls over this many times in a row is very small. It's quite a rare event."
The estimated jackpot dwarfs the previous $390 million record, which was split in 2007 by two winners who bought tickets in Georgia and New Jersey.
The rarity of Friday's jackpot was fueling the fervor. Lines formed at grocery stores, gas stations, liquor stops and other venues across the country.
In Arizona, a café worker reported selling $2,600 worth of tickets to one buyer. In Indiana, hundreds lined up for a giveaway of free tickets. Hundreds from Utah and Las Vegas streamed in to neighboring California or Arizona to buy tickets because their states don't participate.
Accountant Ray Lousteau, who bought 55 Mega Millions tickets Friday in New Orleans, knows buying that many tickets doesn't mathematically increase his odds, and that his $55 could have gone elsewhere. He spent it anyway.
"Mathematically, it doesn't make a difference, and intellectually we know that. But for some reason buying more tickets makes you feel more lucky," Lousteau said. "Even people who know better are apt to feel that way."
In Chicago, Peter Muiznieks bought a ticket at a liquor store. He knows his chance of winning is a long shot, and that the money the country is spending on tickets could go elsewhere. He still couldn't help himself, and laughed as the apparent contradiction of his opinion and his actions.
"Lottery and games of chance are a stupidity tax and the more we all buy into this, the less rational we are as a society," he said.

Obama sets stage for tough new sanctions targeting Iran’s oil

President Barack Obama moved Friday to tighten the economic vise on Iran over its suspect nuclear program, taking a big step toward tough new sanctions aimed at crippling the Islamic republic's ability to export oil.
Obama announced in an official memorandum that he had determined that there is enough oil on world markets to go ahead with measures designed to push countries that buy Iranian crude—including key U.S. allies like Japan, South Korea and India—to get their petroleum elsewhere.

"There is a sufficient supply of petroleum and petroleum products from countries other than Iran to permit a significant reduction in the volume of petroleum and petroleum products purchased from Iran by or through foreign financial institutions," the president said in a message to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
"I will closely monitor this situation to assure that the market can continue to accommodate a reduction in purchases of petroleum and petroleum products from Iran," Obama said.
Under a law he signed in December, the president had until Friday to make a determination about whether countries that import Iranian oil could "significantly" reduce their purchases without sowing chaos in world markets.
The law permits Obama after June 28 to effectively cut off banks still doing business with Iran from the U.S. financial system. He could also decide to exempt institutions in countries that he formally designates as having made sufficient progress on cutting imports of Iranian oil.Washington and its allies say they suspect Tehran wants to develop the ability to build a nuclear weapon. The Islamic republic, which relies on oil exports as its major source of income, denies the allegation. The president has repeatedly said that there is still time for a diplomatic end to the tense standoff over Iran's nuclear program, even as Israel has reportedly taken steps toward preparing for a military strike.
Obama's Friday decision could send already soaring gasoline prices—a political liability for him heading toward the November elections—still higher, though media reports suggest that the administration has been working with key allies like Britain and France to release emergency oil reserves to offset any major disruption in supply.

Stocks rise, extending best start since 1998

Rising consumer spending boosted stocks on Friday, and Wall Street closed its best first quarter since 1998.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 66.22 points to close at 13,212.04. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 5.19 points to close at 1,408.47. The Nasdaq composite barely moved, falling 3.79 points to close at 3,091.57.
For the quarter, the Dow posted an 8 percent gain and the S&P a 12 percent gain, the best for those indexes in 14 years. The gain was 19 percent for the Nasdaq, its best since 1991.

The Commerce Department said consumer spending rose in February at the fastest rate in seven months. Strong hiring over the past three months has added up to the best jobs growth in two years, putting more people back to work.
Americans spent more even though their income has stagnated for two months after taxes and inflation. Some of the increased spending has gone to gasoline, which is the most expensive on record for this time of year. Oil prices rose again on Friday, up 23 cents in New York to $103.02 per barrel.
Nine out of 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 rose. The biggest-gaining category was energy stocks, although refiners fell because of the higher oil prices. Health care stocks rose, too, with two of the biggest gainers being health insurers UnitedHealth Group Inc. and WellPoint Inc. Technology stocksfell slightly.
Some of the buying could be driven by end-of-the-quarter efforts by fund managers to get into stocks now that they have become popular again, said Jim Russell, a regional investment director for US Bank Wealth Management. And individual investors who have been relying on bonds appear to be getting back into the market, too, he said.
"We are very heartened to see the retail investor stop playing one key on the piano — that is, all bonds, all the time," he said.
Apple fell 1.7 percent after a company that makes its iPhones and iPads said it would effectively raise per-hour wages at its factories in China, suggesting that manufacturing prices could rise.
Shares of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. rose 6.6 percent a day after the Canadian company said it would return to focusing on corporate customers and shake up its management to try to get profits growing again.
Corn prices surged 6.6 percent on news that suppliers are tighter than previously thought. Higher corn plus higher oil prices points toward higher food prices. Grocer stocks fell: Supervalu Inc. was down 3.7 percent, and Safeway Inc. fell 1.3 percent.
Best Buy closed down 4.4 percent as investors continued to digest its plan to cut stores and staff as it shifts toward smaller stores in an effort to compete with online retailers. Best Buy stock lost almost 7 percent on Thursday.
Sports apparel maker Finish Line Inc. fell 16 percent after it predicted a lower-than-expected first-quarter profit.
European markets bounced back after a rocky week that included a national strike in Spain. On Friday, the country unveiled a draft 2012 budget that seeks to cut the deficit by $36 billion through spending cuts and a tax hike on large companies. But Spain also plans to cut government ministry spending by an average of nearly 17 percent.
Germany's DAX closed up 1 percent at 6,947, while the CAC-40 in France rose 1.3 percent to 3,424. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.5 percent to 5,768. The euro rose half a penny against the dollar, to $1.3334.
Asian markets took a hit after some poor factory production numbers from Japan.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose to 2.22 percent from 2.16 percent late Thursday. Treasury yields have risen two months in a row as investors feel more comfortable moving out of bonds and into riskier assets like stocks.

Apple pledge likely to boost China factory wages

BEIJING (AP) — Consumers probably won't have to pay more for iPads, iPhones and other popular consumer electronics despite a Chinese company's pledge to trim work hours and raise wages for its hardscrabble assembly workers.
The paychecks have already been steadily growing even before this week's pledge, and labor expenses remain a small portion of the total bill for most gadgets made in China.

At most, the cumulative wage increases could crimp the profits of major technology companies. Manufacturers have a bigger worry in finding ways to save money on the parts that power the devices.
Nonetheless, assembly costs are likely to escalate because ofFoxconn Technology Group, which assembles an estimated 40 percent of the world's electronics, including the hot-selling iPhone and iPad.
Foxconn, owned by Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., promised to limit hours while keeping total pay the same. That commitment will translate into higher hourly wages.
The pledge came after Apple Inc., the world's most valuable company, hired a labor auditor to review the practices and conditions in Chinese factories run by Foxconn. A report on the audit, released Thursday, evoked images of a sweatshop and said Foxconn routinely violated overtime laws by assigning its assembly-line workers to toil for more than 60 hours per week.
Foxconn's concession is expected to have ripple effects not only because it involves Apple, one of the world's most scrutinized companies, but also a major Chinese employer that cuts a broad swath.
Foxconn has about 1.2 million workers and either currently or has assembled products for a long list of technology companies including Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc. Those companies' smartphones, computers, video game consoles and other devices have become household staples around the world.
"I think whatever Foxconn did will have an impact, certainly, on all Chinese workers in all trades," said Willy Lin, managing director of Hong Kong-based Milo's Knitwear, which makes clothing in three factories in China for European clients.
Japan's Toshiba Group, which employs 32,000 workers in China to make products such as refrigerators and TVs, said it already plans similar changes to reduce overtime work and improve working conditions at its factories.
China has long been a low-cost manufacturing center for goods stamped with some of the world's best-known brands.
But wages there have been steadily rising for years as companies compete for workers.
IHS iSuppli analyst Thomas Dinges believes China's communist leadership also realizes that the country's economic evolution requires raising the standards of living so more factory workers assembling the devices will eventually be able to buy them.
After the 2008 global financial crisis triggered a freeze in the minimum wage to help exporters compete, Chinese workers have received big pay increase over the past two years, though salaries remain paltry by Western standards.
Foxconn responded to a spate of suicides by employees in 2010 by more than doubling its basic monthly salary to 1,800 yuan ($290). That year, Toyota Motor Corp. and other Japanese automakers also granted pay hikes following a wave of strikes that had tacit government support.
China's leaders have already promised to double the country's minimum wage from 2010 levels by 2015.
The minimum wage in Shanghai, one of the world's most expensive cities, is about 1,200 yuan ($200) a month after an increase of more than 10 percent last year. The northern city of Tianjin raised its minimum wage to 1,070 yuan ($175).
Beijing has tightened enforcement of wage and hour rules "because there has been a general lack of compliance — greater than in other countries," said K. Lesli Ligorner, head of the China employment group for the law firm Simmons & Simmons. "China is trying to make sure that at least at the lowest level of unskilled workers, there are greater protections in place for them."
The higher wages in China haven't resulted in higher prices for electronics so far, nor have they seriously dented the profit margins of technology companies, Dinges said.
That's largely because the labor bill typically represents less than 10 percent of the total cost for most gadgets. It's even less significant for Apple, which has used its clout and high demand for its products to negotiate extremely favorable deals with its suppliers and contractors.
ISuppli estimates that Apple pays less than $8 for the assembly of a 16-gigabyte iPhone 4S and $188 for its components. The phone sells in the U.S. for $649, though wireless carriers offer them at a subsidized $199 with a two-year service contract.
The estimates suggest that if Apple were to absorb a Foxconn wage increase to keep pay the same and cut the work week from 60 hours to 49, it would pay about $2 more to have an iPhone made. Dinges expects Apple to offset any higher labor expense by wringing out savings elsewhere.
Not that $2 will make much of a difference. Apple's regulatory filings imply that it makes hundreds of dollars in profits per phone.
Apple's latest iPad costs slightly more to make even though the tablet computer is less expensive to assemble than the iPhone, according to iSuppli. The firm estimates parts cost $325. Labor adds just $4 more to the bill.
Other technology companies might have a tougher time dealing with potentially higher labor costsbecause their profit margins are far thinner than Apple's.
Even so, higher prices for parts remain a bigger worry than rising labor costs. For instance, the labor costs for Microsoft's Xbox 360 are less than $10 while all the parts cost nearly $210, according to iSuppli. The video game console retails for about $300. Inc. may already be selling its $199 tablet computer, the Kindle Fire, at a loss after marketing expenses and distribution costs are factored in. ISuppli estimates the Kindle Fire's parts cost about $173 while labor expenses add another $14.
Personal computer makers such as HP and Dell already have had to deal with higher prices for disk drives after massive flooding closed key factories in Thailand last fall. Now, prices for an important memory chip called DRAM could rise because a major Japanese supplier, Elpida Memory Inc., recently filed for bankruptcy protection.
Wages, workplace conditions and the environmental impact are sensitive for many U.S. and European companies after years of scathing criticism from human-rights groups. Nike Inc., Gap Inc. and The Walt Disney Co. are among the companies that have spelled out labor standards with the foreign factories that make shoes, clothing, toys and other goods sold under their brands.
Now it's the technology industry's turn to crack down, even if it means higher assembly costs.
Veteran technology analyst Rob Enderle believes U.S. technology firms will be able to pressure Foxconn and other Chinese manufacturers into absorbing the higher labor costs on their own. As leverage, the U.S. firms can threaten to move the assembly work elsewhere, such as Mexico or Taiwan.
Higher costs in China already have prompted some companies in labor-intensive industries such as shoes and textiles to migrate to Vietnam and other lower-wage economies.
"It's too early to tell how this is going to work out," Enderle said. "My expectation is that a lot of these Foxconn workers who are getting higher salaries are going to be unemployed a year from now because they were quietly let go or the work moved elsewhere."

Whole Foods to stop sale of unsustainable seafood

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Whole Foods Market said Friday that it will stop selling fish caught from depleted waters or through ecologically damaging methods, a move that comes as supermarkets nationwide try to make their seafood selections more sustainable.
Starting Earth Day, April 22, the natural and organic supermarket chain will no longer carry wild-caught seafood that is "red-rated," a color code that indicates it is either overfished or caught in a way that harms other species. The ratings are determined by the Blue Ocean Institute, an advocacy group, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

Among the seafood disappearing from Whole Foods shelves will be octopus, gray sole, skate, Atlantic halibut and Atlantic cod caught by trawls, which can destroy habitats. The company will stock sustainable replacements like cod caught on lines and halibut from the Pacific.
"In the long term, what we're really looking to do is help reverse trends of overfishing and bi-catch, so that really we can move the industry as a whole toward greater sustainability," said seafood quality standards coordinator Carrie Brownstein. She added that Whole Foods is making the shift a year ahead of its internal deadline.
Retail prices could be higher in some cases in which sustainable suppliers have lower yields.
Whole Foods, which has been strengthening its buying practices for years, is among a number of supermarket chains responding as consumers become more concerned about the sources of their seafood.
In the past month, BJ's Wholesale Club announced a policy to ensure its seafood is sustainable or on track to meet sustainability standards by 2014, and Supervalu announced a comprehensive policy to ensure its farm-raised seafood is sustainable. Supervalu, which operates Albertsons, Shop 'n Save and seven other retail brands, also stopped selling six wild-caught species because of sustainability concerns.
The changes have come fast. In 2008, when Greenpeace first published its seafood sustainabilityscorecard of supermarkets, all 20 of the major chains surveyed failed. Last year, 15 of 20 companies had passing scores, said John Hocevar, the environmental group's oceans campaign director.
"It's pretty impressive to see that it was an issue that really wasn't on most of these companies' radar," Hocevar said, "and with encouragement from us and many others, they really did for the most part step up."
Greenpeace is among a number of private groups that certify or offer guidelines for seafood, meaning consumers sometimes must sort out multiple ratings.
For instance, some Whole Foods seafood will continue to feature labels from the Marine Stewardship Council, which maintains a widely used system that certifies seafood from sustainable fisheries. But Brownstein said the council doesn't assess every fishery, so Whole Foods relies on the color coding for seafood from fisheries not covered by the council. Whole Foods will now only sell green- and yellow-rated seafood, which is more sustainable.
Shrimp, salmon and other seafood grown on farms have yet another separate labeling system.
Hocevar said the profusion of ratings can confuse customers, which is why Greenpeace urges supermarkets to only sell sustainable products.

Entangled gray whale off Calif. freed after chase

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A migrating gray whale with debris wrapped around its tail was finally freed after rescuers in a small boat chased it along the Southern California coast so they could cut away the fishing traps and lines.
The whale was spotted near Redondo Beach on Thursday morning. The disentanglement team would speed up, position its boat directly behind the whale, and then try to catch the tangle with a long rod with a blade on top.

The first half dozen attempts failed, said Kelli Lewis, education director of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, who watched the rescue from a trailing Los Angeles County Lifeguard boat.
"As soon as he got the blade in and cut through it, the net and the drag from the buoy, everything popped off and the whale dove. Everybody cheered," Lewis said.
The team was able to recover the tangled mass and identified it as gear used in lobster or crab traps, with a long line attached and a flotation device at the top.
It was impossible to tell how long the whale had been tangled in the gear, Lewis said. The whale was a sub-adult, she said, somewhere between a first-year calf and a full-grown adult.
Grays are migrating north after wintering in Baja California lagoons.
The ensnared animal was initially spotted late Wednesday. Despite growing darkness and choppy seas, rescue workers were able to attach two orange buoys so the whale could be found Thursday.
Rescue crews cut mounds of gill nets off the tail of another gray whale over the weekend. There were sightings of a dead whale outside Long Beach Harbor on Wednesday, and rescue workers fear it may have been the weekend whale, Lewis said.
"That's something that happens with animals that get tangled in gear," Lewis said. "Their movements and ability to see are so inhibited they get malnourished, and the netting chaffs their skin, and they get infections. By the time we find them, they have been suffering for some time. It's not uncommon for them to die as a result of entanglement."
But sometimes they survive. "We have seen animals with scars from entanglement," Lewis said.
She was optimistic about Thursday's whale.
It was much healthier in its behavior than the weekend whale, she said.
"The one over the weekend was more lethargic and was not using its tail to move through the water," Lewis said. "Today's was showing quick movements and using its body properly. It didn't look too emaciated. We are hoping for the best on this one."

U.S. may accept less stringent controls for Taliban detainees

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration has signaled a willingness to accept less-stringent controls on former Talibanleaders who could be transferred to Qatar as part of a deal between the United States and the Afghan militants to kick-start Afghan peace talks, U.S. officials said.
The administration, in negotiations led by the Defense Department, has indicated to Qatar that it would be willing to transfer five Taliban detainees now at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison to the Gulf emirate on condition that Qatari authorities provide assurances the men would not be allowed to leave Qatar, the officials said.

In indicating that it would expect Qatar to restrict the travel of the Taliban leaders, the United States has also signaled that it is willing to forgo tighter restrictions which it had originally discussed with the Qataris, such as imprisonment, house arrest or continuous monitoring by security forces.
Administration officials insist, however, that they will only agree even to the less onerous restrictions on the transferred prisoners if they believe the arrangements will serve U.S. counterterrorism objectives adequately. "The goal is for detainees not to have the option to return to the fight," a U.S. official said.
While the restrictions the Obama administration is willing to accept are less than it first demanded, a U.S. official familiar with the issue said that Qatar is nonetheless balking at agreeing to restrict the Taliban detainees' travel. U.S. officials say the Taliban are also rejecting the notion that detainees transferred from Guantanamo to Qatar should be subjected to any restrictive conditions.
These diplomatic complications, U.S. officials said, are causing temporary deadlock in negotiations between Washington and Qatar, as well as stalling broader peace discussions between U.S. and Taliban negotiators.
"The prospect of detainees returning to the fight is problematic - it's a very strong concern," the official said.
The hoped-for peace talks between the U.S.-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban have emerged as a key part of President Barack Obama's strategy for stabilizing the country. Most foreign troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2014.
U.S. officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing a sensitive topic, said that despite the hiccups, negotiations with Qatar are continuing, as is the broader peace effort. George Little, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment.
However, Obama's political opponents, who have questioned his efforts to negotiate any kind of accommodation with Afghan Taliban, are expected to step up their criticism if Taliban detainees are moved to Qatar under conditions of minimal control.
Officials said U.S. intelligence agencies, in non-public reports, have already criticized Qatar for loosely and ineffectively keeping tabs on militant ex-detainees transferred to them by U.S. authorities.
U.S. officials said the conditions under which the Taliban detainees would be transferred to Qatar is the sole remaining stumbling block in a larger diplomatic package that the United States has been discussing with authorities in Doha regarding the possible Taliban transfer.
Some officials said that in initial discussions with Qatar, the U.S. government had discussed tighter restrictions which might be placed on Taliban detainees who could be transferred to the country. The officials said the U.S. position subsequently changed. A spokesman for the Qatari Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who must personally vouch for the transfer, is taking a personal interest in both the Taliban transfer plan and details of the negotiations with Qatar, officials said.
By law, the administration must provide formal notification to U.S. lawmakers 30 days in advance of any detainee transfers such as the proposed Taliban deal. So far no such notification has been given.
Under current law, lawmakers have no power to block any prisoner transfers. The only legal means Congress would have to halt proposed transfers would be to pass new legislation banning them, which would be subject to a possible presidential veto.
Nonetheless, in an election year, a detainee transfer deal in which former prisoners would not be under tight supervision could provide Obama's political rivals with fodder for criticizing his counterterrorism policies.
Some congressional critics have already raised questions about the publicly known details of the proposed transfer of Taliban detainees. Previously classified Pentagon dossiers on the detainees which were made public by WikiLeaks suggested that some of the five detainees have histories of particularly violent or anti-American activity.
Official sources indicate that one of the detainees, Mullah Mohammed Fazl, is alleged to have been responsible, as a top Taliban military commander, for killing thousands of Afghanistan's minority Shiites.
(Reporting by Missy Ryan and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Warren Strobel and Eric Beech)

Apple assembly line gets pay raise, fewer hours

NEW YORK (AP) — Chinese workers who often spend more than 60 hours per week assembling iPhones and iPads will have their overtime hours curbed and their pay increased after a labor auditor hired by Apple Inc. inspected their factories.
The Fair Labor Association says Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., the Taiwanese company that runs the factories in China, is committing to a reduction of weekly work time to 49 hours, the legal Chinese maximum.

That limit is routinely ignored in factories throughout China. Auret van Heerden, the CEO of the FLA, said Hon Hai, also known asFoxconn, is the first company to commit to following the legal standard.
Apple's and FLA's own guidelines call for work weeks of 60 hours or less.
Foxconn's moves are likely to have an impact across the global technology industry. The company employs 1.2 million workers in China to assemble products not just for Apple, but for Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and other pillars of U.S. technology.
Foxconn's factories are the last step in the process of manufacturing iPhones and other Apple devices, most of which have hundreds of components. Research firm IHS iSuppli estimates that Apple pays $8 for the assembly of a 16-gigabyte iPhone 4S and $188 for its components. It sells the phone wholesale for about $600 to phone companies, which then subsidize it to be able to sell it for $200 with a two-year service contract.
Ricardo Ernst, a professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, said companies play a risky game when they raise their manufacturing costs. U.S. consumers have shown little inclination to pay more for products that are made in the U.S. as opposed to China.
But iSuppli's figures suggest that if Apple were to absorb a Foxconn wage increase that keeps salaries level while cutting average working hours from 60 to 49 per week, it would pay less than $2 extra to have an iPhone made.
Other electronics companies, particularly PC makers such as Dell and HP, earn less profit on what they sell and could see a deeper impact.
Thomas Dinges, an analyst at iSuppli, said Apple's competitors will probably have to accept the price increase too, since it's framed as a moral issue.
"At this point, it's politics. It's not really economics," he said, adding that there are few alternatives to Chinese factories for most of these products.
The FLA auditors visited three Foxconn complexes in February and March: Guanlan and Longhua near the coastal manufacturing hub of Shenzhen, and Chengdu in the inland province of Sichuan. They employ a total of 178,000 workers, with an average age of 23.
Average monthly salaries at the factories ranged from $360 to $455. Foxconn recently raised salaries by up to 25 percent in the second major salary hike in less than two years.
Apple enormous profits — $13 billion in October-to-December quarter — have made it the world's most valuable company, worth more than $570 billion. It's also put the spotlight on the way its products are made.
In one-man Broadway play, actor Mike Daisey told of visiting China and talking to underage and injured Foxconn workers. Public radio program "This American Life" used Daisey's monologue in a show about Foxconn on Jan. 6, but retracted it two weeks ago, saying that Daisey had fabricated key parts of it, including him meeting 13-year-old workers.
The FLA said it didn't find instances of child or forced labor.
Apple has kept a close watch on its suppliers for years, and in January took the further step of joining the FLA. The organization has audited overseas suppliers for clothing manufacturers, but Apple was the first electronics company to join. It also commissioned the FLA to produce a special audit of Foxconn's factories.
"Our team has been working for years to educate workers, improve conditions and make Apple's supply chain a model for the industry, which is why we asked the FLA to conduct these audits," Apple said in a statement.
Apple CEO Tim Cook visited a Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, China, on Wednesday.
The Washington-based FLA has its roots in a 1996 meeting of multinational companies and nonprofits convened by President Clinton, who challenged industry to improve conditions for garment and shoe workers. Its 19-member board is composed equally of representatives from member companies, universities and nonprofits like the Global Fairness Initiative. The organization is funded by participating companies.
Labor unions have criticized Apple's use of the FLA, insisting that audits are a "top-down" approach. Foxconn's workers would be better served, they believe, by being able to organize.
"The report will include new promises by Apple that stand to be just as empty as the ones made over the past 5 years," said, a coalition of trade unions and consumer groups, ahead of the release of the report.
The FLA found few safety violations, noting that the company had already dealt with problems like blocked fire exits and defective protective gear. It's also taken step to reduce the amount of aluminum dust in the air, after the metal created an explosion at a Foxconn factory in Chengdu last year, killing four workers.
The FLA said Foxconn has been recording only accidents that caused work stoppage but is now committing to recording and addressing all accidents that result in an injury.
Heerden said his auditors found Foxconn workers are the happiest with their jobs when they work 52 hours a week, well below the amount they often put in. Reducing their hours to 49 hours should help Foxconn retain workers in the long run, he said.
The FLA found that many workers at the Foxconn factories want to work even more overtime, so they can make more money. Foxconn told the FLA that it will raise hourly salaries to compensate workers for the reduced hours.
Heerden said that it's common to find workers in developing countries looking for more overtime, rather than less.
"They're often single, they're young, and there's not much to do, so frankly they'd just rather work and save," he said.
The auditors examined one years' worth of payroll and time records at each factory, conducted interviews with some workers and had 35,000 of them fill out anonymous surveys.
Apple has started tracking the working hours of half a million workers in its supply chain, and said that 89 percent of them worked 60 hours or less in February, even though the company was ramping up production of the new iPad. Workers averaged 48 hours per week.

Latest buzz on bee decline: Maybe it's pesticides

WASHINGTON (AP) — A common class of pesticide is causing problems for honeybees and bumblebees, important species already in trouble, two studies suggest.
But the findings don't explain all the reasons behind a long-runningbee decline, and other experts found one of the studies less than convincing.

The new research suggests the chemicals used in the pesticide — designed to attack the central nervous system of insects — reduces the weight and number of queens in bumblebee hives. These pesticides also cause honeybees to become disoriented and fail to return to their hives, the researchers concluded.
The two studies were published online Thursday in the journal Science.
Just last week activists filed a petition with more than a million signatures asking the government to ban the class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agencysaid it is re-evaluating the chemicals and is seeking scientific help.
For more than a decade, pollinators of all types have been in decline, mostly because of habitat loss and perhaps some pesticide use. In the past five years, a new mysterious honeybee problem, colony collapse disorder, has further attacked hives. But over the last couple of years, that problem has been observed a bit less, said Jeff Pettis, lead bee researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's lab in Beltsville, Md.
Other studies have also found problems with the pesticide class singled out in the new research. These "strengthen the case for more thorough re-assessing," said University of Illinois entomology professor May Berenbaum, who wasn't involved in the new studies. "But this is not a slam-dunk indictment that could compel a ban. It's complicated."
In the honeybee study, French scientists glued tiny radio transmitters to the bees managed for orchard pollination. The bees were tracked when they came and left the hive. Those that were dosed with neonicotinoids were two to three times more likely not to return.
"Where'd they go? We have no clue about that actually," said study author Mickael Henry, a bee ecologist for the French national agriculture institute. His study said the pesticide likely contributes to colony collapse.
In the bumblebee study, British researchers dosed bees with the pesticide and moved their hives out into the field. After six weeks, they found the pesticide-treated hives were 10 percent lighter than those that weren't treated. And more important, the hives that had pesticides lost about 85 percent of their queens.
"Queen production is in some sense the be all and end all," study author David Goulson of the University of Stirling in Scotland said.
Bayer Crop Sciences, which is the leading producer of neonicotinoids, says it is used on 90 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. and is safe. Bayer eco-toxicologist David Fischer said the honeybee study used unrealistically high doses of the chemicals, amounts that would not be used on crops bees normally pollinate.
Berenbaum, Pettis and a third outside scientist said the bumblebee study was more convincing than the honeybee research because it used lower doses and didn't make as many assumptions.
Bayer's Fischer said perhaps bumblebees are more sensitive to the pesticide and that issue is worthy of more study. But he said his company is one of the biggest canola growers in Canada and it uses the pesticide. The honeybees that pollinate Bayer's fields are "some of the healthiest bees in Canada," he said.
But environmental activists and some beekeepers are convinced the pesticide is a problem.
"The simple fact is, we know enough to take decisive action on this class of pesticides which covers well over 143 million acres of U.S. countryside," said Heather Pilatic, co-director of the Pesticide Action Network North America.
The EPA, in a prepared statement said the decline in bee health, is due to "complex interactions" that involve inadequate food sources, diseases caused by parasites and viruses, habitat loss and bee management practices, as well as pesticides.
Bees are needed to pollinate fruit, vegetables and nuts. Without them experts say our diets would be very bland. Honeybees, which aren't native to America, are managed by professional beekeepers, carted from farm to orchard and raised to produce honey. Bumblebees, native to this country, are wild pollinators.
Without bees, Berenbaum said, "we'd be a scurvy-ridden society."