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BUSINESS BRIEFLY

'Rite' has the right stuff at weekend box office

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Anthony Hopkins horror film "The Rite" topped the box office on a weekend notable for the bump many Oscar-nominated films received, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The Warner Bros. flick earned $15 million from just under 3,000 theaters. The PG-13 "Exorcist"-influenced movie drew most of its audience from the older-than-25 demographic.

In its 10th week of release, the Weinstein Company's "The King's Speech" earned $11.1 million while adding nearly 900 screens.

Now with a cumulative box-office haul of $72.2 million, the story of King George VI's triumph over his stammering affliction continues to build momentum as the Oscar favorite for best picture. It led with 12 Oscar nominations Tuesday, and its director, Tom Hooper, won best director from the Directors Guild on Saturday.

Last week's top film, the Natalie Portman romantic comedy "No Strings Attached," from Paramount, slipped to second with $13.7 million.

The other debut film over the weekend, CBS Films' action film "The Mechanic," which stars Jason Statham and Ben Foster, took in $11.5 million, tied for third with Sony's updated superhero film "The Green Hornet."

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released today.

1. "The Rite," $15 million.

2. "No Strings Attached," $13.7 million.

3. "The Green Hornet," $11.5 million.

(tie) "The Mechanic, $11.5 million.

5. "The King's Speech," $11.1 million.

6. "True Grit," $7.6 million.

7. "The Dilemma," $5.5 million.

8. "Black Swan," $5.1 million.

9. "The Fighter," $4.1 million.

10. "Yogi Bear," $3.2 million.

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Lowe's laying off 1,700

Home improvement giant Lowe's is laying off 1,700 middle managers, another sign the economic recovery remains precarious.

The company also will hire 8,000 to 10,000 part-time weekend sales workers, which it said is intended to boost customer service at peak sales times.

Like the rest of the economy, Mooresville, N.C.-based Lowe's has suffered through the housing downturn. The company says consumers are still hesitant to invest in their homes, buy major appliances or do big remodeling projects.

To a company that employs more than 238,000 workers, 1,700 layoffs is small change. The company will end up with more workers than before, though the new workers will probably be paid less and qualify for fewer benefits.

The job cuts are spread fairly evenly across the 1,725 Lowe's stores, spokeswoman Chris Ahearn said. Most stores will lose one manager and gain four to eight part-time weekend sales associates.

-- Charlotte Observer

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Baby gear prices rise

Sorry moms and dads out there, the cost of raising baby is about to go up.

Officials at baby gear giant Evenflo say they'll have to raise the price of every product in the company's lineup by 7 to 10 percent, thus joining a growing parade of companies starting to raise prices.

Along with Gerber and Playtex, the Miamisburg, Ohio-based Evenflo is one of the largest makers of baby gear. It sells everything from $5 packs of plastic baby bottles, to $150 car seats.

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Spain may help banks

MADRID (AP) -- Spain's government could step in early to provide funds for savings banks unable to raise enough private finance to comply with new recapitalization requirements.

The state could make money available as early as March by buying shares in struggling savings banks of "cajas," leading newspaper El Pais reported Sunday, citing unnamed sources close to the process.

Finance Minister Elena Salgado on Jan. 24 announced the government was to require cajas to raise core capital levels of between 9 and 10 percent by September, a hike from the 6 percent capital ratio requirement they have been operating on.

El Pais says Sunday that cajas could request funds once they present their 2010 audits on Feb. 28.

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