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BUSINESS BRIEFLY

'No Strings Attached' tops box office

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Audiences weren't afraid of committing to "No Strings Attached," making it the No. 1 movie at the box office in its opening weekend.

The Paramount Pictures release earned an estimated $20.3 million, according to studio estimates released Sunday.

Last week's No. 1 movie, Columbia Pictures' action comedy "The Green Hornet," dropped to second place with $18.1 million. It has now made $63.4 million total.

"No Strings Attached" was marketed as the perfect date movie, with its slogan: "Can sex friends stay best friends?", said Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

"It's a so-called 'chick flick' because of the subject matter, but it had appeal for both men and women with the whole idea of being 'friends with benefits,' " Dergarabedian said. "For it to do $20 million is fairly impressive, considering it's rated R and January's not a hotbed of huge grosses, unless you're 'Avatar' and you're holding over."

It was the 11th weekend in a row that was down from the same time the previous year.

While Dergarabedian expected 2011 could be a record year at the box office, with total grosses surpassing $11 billion for the first time ever, "the huge year hasn't kicked in yet."

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com.

1. "No Strings Attached," $20.3 million.

2. "The Green Hornet," $18.1 million.

3. "The Dilemma," $9.7 million.

4. "The King's Speech," $9.2 million.

5. "True Grit," $8 million.

6. "Black Swan," $6.2 million.

7. "The Fighter," $4.5 million.

8. "Little Fockers," $4.4 million.

9. "Yogi Bear," $4.1 million.

10. "Tron: Legacy," $3.7 million.

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Apple sales still strong

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) -- Strong sales are delighting Washington apple growers and shippers.

Apple shipments for November set a record, which was promptly broken in December. Sales have remained healthy so far this year.

"Everything looks good at this point," observed Dan Kelly, assistant manager of the Washington Growers Clearing House in Wenatchee, which tracks prices on behalf of its 2,200 members.

"We should be sailing along with movement and price. I don't see anything changing that."

Marketers say smaller crops of apples in competing states and countries and damage to other fruit and citrus crops are fueling the strong season. There also is more retail shelf space, an economy that is beginning to recover and a growing interest in health and nutrition. On top of that, export demand is up more than 11 percent this year.

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Ex-Merrill CEO dies

PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) -- William Schreyer, a former chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch who led its transition from a stock brokerage to a diversified global investment bank, has died. He was 83.

Schreyer, who also gained recognition for donating millions of dollars to his alma mater, Penn State University, died Saturday at his home in Princeton, N.J. The school and Merrill Lynch announced his passing Sunday but did not say how he died.

Schreyer had a 45-year career at Merrill Lynch and led the firm from 1985-1993. He became a familiar face in TV commercials after the 1987 stock market crash, telling viewers: "At Merrill Lynch, we're still bullish on America."

"He was a generous mentor to all of us who succeeded him," said Daniel P. Tully, chairman emeritus of Merrill Lynch.

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Gas prices jump

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) -- A new survey finds the average price of regular gasoline in the United States has jumped 2.99 cents in the last two weeks.

The Lundberg Survey of fuel prices released Sunday says the price of a gallon of regular is $3.11.

Analyst Trilby Lundberg says the average price for a gallon of mid-grade was $3.25, and premium was at $3.36.

Salt Lake City had the lowest average price at $2.74 a gallon for regular. San Francisco was highest at $3.37.

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