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Mueller confirms FBI probe of JPMorgan

WASHINGTON (AP) -- FBI Director Robert Mueller said Wednesday the bureau has launched a preliminary investigation of JPMorgan Chase & Co. after a $2 billion trading loss at the bank.

Mueller's comment at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was the first on-the-record confirmation of the probe.

Tuesday, a law enforcement official said the FBI's New York office is heading an inquiry into the JPMorgan loss.

"All I can say is we've opened up a preliminary investigation," Mueller told the Senate panel.

Mueller said that opening a preliminary investigation "depends on a number of factors," which he did not enumerate.

Under attorney general guidelines for FBI operations, a preliminary investigation may be initiated on the basis of any allegation or information indicative of possible criminal activity. Time limits are set for completion of preliminary investigations -- usually six months, though six-month extensions can be granted. Extensions of preliminary investigations beyond a year must be approved by FBI headquarters.

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Vermont bans 'fracking'

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Vermont's governor has signed into law the nation's first ban on a hotly debated natural gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

No fracking is happening in Vermont, which is believed to have little to no reserves of oil or natural gas.

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin signed the law Wednesday in a ceremony at the Statehouse in Montpelier. He said Vermont may set an example for other states.

Fracking involves the high-pressure injection of water and chemicals into the ground to split rock apart and release natural gas or oil.

The process is being used extensively in the rapidly expanding natural gas industry. Critics say fracking chemicals have polluted water supplies, but supporters say there is no proof of that.

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Support for Mercy workers

The Communications Workers of America is putting up four billboards near Catholic Health System hospitals in the region to show support for unionized workers at Mercy Hospital, as talks continue between CWA Local 1133 and Mercy Hospital of Buffalo.

The union would not disclose the cost of the billboards, which are expected to remain up for at least one month. The union plans to hold membership meetings today to discuss proposals made by the hospital.

The talks involve more than 2,000 workers at Mercy Hospital, including nurses, technologists and other health care workers. The contract expires June 3.

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Credit payments improve

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- U.S. credit card users are getting better about making more timely payments, even as banks are increasingly issuing cards to borrowers with less-than-stellar credit.

The rate of payments at least 90 days overdue dipped in the first three months of the year to 0.73 percent, credit reporting agency TransUnion said Thursday.

That's down from 0.78 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 and 0.74 percent in the first quarter of last year.

While the rate increased in the second half of last year, the broader trend has seen delinquency rates decline steadily since the last recession started toward the end of 2007, said Charlie Wise, TransUnion's director of research and consulting.

"We are now seeing that, when given a choice, consumers are overwhelmingly paying their bankcards before they're paying their mortgages," Wise said.

Between 1999 and 2007, the average quarterly credit card delinquency rate was 1.30 percent, said TransUnion, which culled data from a random sampling of about 27 million credit reports.