Cap on high-skill visas will likely be reached

WASHINGTON - The Homeland Security Department expects applications for high-skilled immigration visas to outpace the available supply in a matter of days.

This marks one of the fastest runs on the much-sought-after work permits in years and is a sign of continued economic recovery amid new hiring by U.S. technology companies.

The urgent race for such visas - highly desired by Microsoft, Apple, Google and other leading technology companies - coincides with congressional plans to increase the number available to tech-savvy foreigners.

The race to secure one of the 85,000 so-called H-1B visas available for the 2014 budget year started Monday, and requests will be accepted through at least Friday.

If petitions outpace the availability in the first week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services - for the first time since 2008 - will use a lottery to pick which companies get visas to award to prospective employees.

Report: Updated iPhone may go on sale in summer

NEW YORK - Apple is set for a possible summer launch of the next iPhone, rather than a fall launch like the last two models, according to a report Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal.

Apple Inc. is also working on a cheaper iPhone model that could win it some market share in developing countries, the paper said.

Apple doesn't comment on future products before its launch events.

Penney's revamp focuses on home department

NEW YORK - J.C. Penney is homing in on its home department as part of a bigger plan to turn its stores into minimalls of sorts.

The struggling department-store chain is unveiling revamped home areas within its stores that feature 20 boutiques highlighting 50 new brands. The areas will include an eclectic mix of items, from $60 Michael Graves' stainless steel tea kettles to $1,850 Jonathan Adler "Happy Chic" sofas.

Penney's will begin to roll the plan out Friday at 500 of its 1,100 stores. The format has been popular at higher-end rivals like Macy's and Bloomingdale's for years.

No letup for auto sales; pickup demand strong

DETROIT - America is getting back to work, and it needs pickup trucks.

Strong truck demand in March drove U.S. auto sales to their highest monthly total since August 2007, as everyone from oil and gas producers to local homebuilders raced to replace the aging trucks they held onto during the recession. Overall auto sales rose 3.4 percent from March of last year.

March is typically a good month for the auto industry. Many car buyers put their tax refund checks toward a down payment. And Japanese automakers, whose fiscal year ends in March, often juice sales with big incentives to end the year on a high note.

2 win for devising ways to avoid 'robocalls'

WASHINGTON - There may one day soon be another way to fight those annoying prerecorded phone pitches known as robocalls.

The Federal Trade Commission announced two $25,000 winners Tuesday in its national contest to develop a blocking technology for illegal sales calls.

Aaron Foss, a freelance software developer, and Serdar Danis, a computer engineer, developed different technologies that involve software that could analyze and filter calls to screen out those being placed from a computer or from someone identified as an unwanted caller.

US factory orders up 3%; biggest gain in 5 months

WASHINGTON - Orders to U.S. factories rose sharply in February from January on a surge in volatile demand for commercial aircraft. The gain offset a drop in key orders that signal business investment.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that factory orders increased 3 percent in February. That's up from a 1 percent decline in January and the biggest gain in five months.

Fannie Mae rebounds; biggest yearly profit ever

WASHINGTON - Home prices are up. Foreclosures are down. Construction is up. And now comes the latest sign of the U.S. home market's revival: Fannie Mae, the mortgage giant that nearly collapsed five years ago, has earned its biggest yearly profit ever.

Fannie Mae earned $17.2 billion last year and said Tuesday that it expects to stay profitable for "the foreseeable future." It also paid $11.6 billion in dividends to the U.S. Treasury in 2012.

Appeals ruling favors Aereo's live TV service

NEW YORK - An Internet company offering inexpensive live broadcast television feeds to computers, tablets and smartphones doesn't violate U.S. copyright law, a divided federal appeals court said.

The ruling cleared the way for Aereo Inc.'s expansion of its $8-a-month service, which will spread from New York City to 22 other U.S. markets this year.

Broadcasters including Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC and others had sued, saying Aereo copies and retransmits their programs as they are first aired without permission.


Unemployment highest since euro was adopted

LONDON - The eurozone economy has passed another bleak milestone.

Official figures Tuesday showed that unemployment across the 17 European Union countries that use the euro has struck 12 percent for the first time since the currency was launched in 1999.

China gets apologies from foreign brands

BEIJING - Apple CEO Tim Cook apologized to Chinese consumers after two weeks of being lambasted by state-run media for arrogance and poor customer service. The company's offense? It failed to replace the back covers of iPhones after repairing electronics inside.

Corporate mea culpas have become a rite of passage for international companies criticized by China Central Television, including Volkswagen, Carrefour and Yum Brands.

"The state media has been picking on foreign companies really too much lately," said Shaun Rein, director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai.

This comes as China struggles to cope with poisonous food, air pollution, government corruption and thousands of dead pigs floating in Shanghai's drinking water.

Associated Press; Bloomberg News