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'The Avengers' fends off challengers to stay No. 1

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- "The Avengers" continues to muscle out everything else Hollywood throws at it, easily sinking naval rival "Battleship" and other new releases.

With $55.1 million domestically, Disney's superhero sensation remained No. 1 for a third-straight weekend and took in more than the three big newcomers combined. Overseas, "The Avengers" added an additional $56 million.

The film is approaching the $1.2 billion mark worldwide, totaling $457.1 million domestically and $723.3 million internationally.

" 'The Avengers' is dominating the marketplace so profoundly that the newcomers are having a tough time breaking in now," said Paul Dergarabedian, analyst for box-office tracker

Universal's "Battleship" opened a distant No. 2 with $25.4 million domestically, well below industry expectations.

But the board-game adaptation starring Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna already has grossed $226.8 million overseas since launching in April, giving it a worldwide total of $252.1 million.

Sacha Baron Cohen's comedy "The Dictator," in which he plays a tyrannical third-world leader, debuted in third place with $17.4 million for the weekend. Since opening Wednesday, the Paramount release has taken in $24.5 million.

"The Dictator" opened with $30.3 million in 29 overseas markets, giving it a worldwide haul of $54.8 million.

Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's vampire romp "Dark Shadows," which opened in second place a week earlier, slipped to No. 4 with $12.8 million.

Lionsgate's pregnancy comedy "What to Expect When You're Expecting," featuring Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez, premiered at No. 5 with $10.5 million.


Economists' outlook mixed

NEW YORK (AP) -- A new survey shows economists are growing slightly more optimistic about recovery in the job and housing markets but expect other pillars of the economy to remain weak.

The National Association for Business Economists says in a report issued today that its forecasters expect modest growth for the remainder of the year, with the pace picking up in 2013.

Still, the 54 economists NABE surveyed expect consumer spending, business investment and gross domestic product to remain below historic norms.

The quarterly survey compiles expectations for indicators such as hiring, home construction and spending from economists at industry groups, government agencies, banks and consultancies.

The panel now expects average monthly job growth for 2012 of 188,000 and says the unemployment rate will fall to 8 percent by the end of 2012.


Growth in China pushed

BEIJING (AP) -- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has called for more priority to be given to boosting slowing economic growth.

The official Xinhua News Agency said Sunday that Wen also promised to keep inflation in check.

Xinhua said Wen called during a visit to the central city of Wuhan for "more priority to maintaining growth," but he gave no details of possible new measures to spur the economy.

China's economic growth has slowed abruptly. Factory output in April fell to its lowest level since the 2008 financial crisis, and consumer spending and home sales were unexpectedly weak. That jarred hopes the country can achieve a "soft landing" with growth rebounding next year.


Yahoo nearing Alibaba sale

NEW YORK (AP) -- Yahoo Inc. may finally be nearing a deal to sell a part of its prized stake in the major Chinese e-commerce provider Alibaba.

Bloomberg Businessweek is citing unnamed sources in reporting that the struggling U.S. Internet company could announce soon that it has reached an agreement to sell half of its 40 percent stake in Alibaba.

The transaction could bring Yahoo $7 billion.

Representatives for Yahoo and Alibaba declined to comment Sunday.