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FEDERAL RESERVE

Early end considered for bond-buying plan

A Federal Reserve official on Friday called on the central bank to consider ending its $600 billion Treasury bond-purchase program, fearing it could lead to higher inflation.

Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, told a group of business journalists in Dallas that the economy is stronger now and no longer needs the support of the stimulus program. The program is slated to end in June.

Mr. Fisher also raised concerns that pumping billions into the economy through the bond-purchase program could lead to higher prices. Inflation is rising, pushed up mostly by higher costs for energy, food and other commodities.

The Fed’s bond-buying program was announced in early November, a time when the economy was fragile and some feared it was in danger of slipping back into recession. The program aims to invigorate the economy by spurring Americans to spend more.

GASOLINE

Price up 91 cents in year, premium tops $4

CAMARILLO, Calif. | The average U.S. price of a gallon of gasoline has jumped 19 cents over the past three weeks.

The Lundberg Survey of fuel prices now puts the average price for a gallon of regular at $3.76. That price is 91 cents higher than it was this time last year, analyst Trilby Lundberg said Sunday.

The national average for a gallon of mid-grade is $3.90. For premium, it is $4.01 a gallon. Lundberg says diesel prices rose 11 cents a gallon over the past three weeks, to $4.09.

Tucson, Ariz., had the nation’s lowest average price for gas at $3.41. San Francisco had the highest at $4.13.

AUTO

Toyota: Production halted for several days

LOUISVILLE, Ky. | Toyota Motor Corp. said Friday that it will suspend production at its North American plants in a series of one-day shutdowns this month as a result of parts shortages caused by the earthquake in Japan.

The temporary shutdowns will affect 25,000 workers, but there will be no layoffs, the world’s No. 1 automaker said. A March 11 earthquake and tsunami damaged auto parts plants in northeastern Japan.

All 13 of its North American plants will have down time, though the duration may vary at a few plants, Toyota spokesman Mike Goss said. For most plants, the one-day shutdowns will begin April 15 and end April 25, the company said. Toyota said future production plans will be determined later.

The North American plants have been using parts in their inventory or relying on those that were shipped before the earthquake.

FARMING

U.S. corn reserves falling to 15-year low

ST. LOUIS | Rising demand for corn from ethanol producers is pushing U.S. reserves to the lowest point in 15 years, a trend that could lead to higher grain and food prices this year.

The Agriculture Department on Friday left its estimate for corn reserves unchanged from the previous month. The reserves are projected to fall to 675 million bushels in late August, when the harvest begins, or roughly 5 percent of all corn consumed in the U.S. That would be the lowest surplus level since 1996.

The limited supply is chiefly because of increasing demand from ethanol makers, which rose 1 percent to 5 billion bushels. That’s about 40 percent of the total crop.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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