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Today in business: 5 things you need to know
Alcoa starts earnings season on a positive note, Apple works on a cheaper iPhone, and more in our roundup of the business stories that are making news and driving opinion
An Alcoa aluminum factory in Szekesefehervar, Hungary.
An Alcoa aluminum factory in Szekesefehervar, Hungary. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

1. ALCOA BEATS ESTIMATES, LIFTS MARKETS
Stocks got a boost early Wednesday after aluminum maker Alcoa kicked off earnings season by reporting stronger than expected sales at the end of 2012 and an optimistic forecast for 2013. Still, the company — and investors — remain cautious over concerns that the looming battle in Congress over raising the debt ceiling could be a drag on the economy. And the outlook overall isn't entirely positive as U.S. corporations prepare to release their fourth-quarter results. Analysts believe profits will be better than the third quarter, which was slow, but not good enough to signal strong growth. "Clearly no one is expecting a stellar earnings season," says investment strategist Kate Warne of Edward Jones. "However, based on the fact that many companies have lowered guidance, that means they've put the bar so low they could crawl over it." [Reuters]
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2. APPLE CONSIDERS OFFERING CHEAPER IPHONE
Apple, its smartphone dominance slipping, is developing a cheaper iPhone in hopes of winning over new customers, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, citing people briefed on the project. The lower-end version of Apple's flagship mobile device would have similar capabilities to the standard version, but a less expensive body. The budget iPhone, something Apple has been considering since 2009, could be available later this year, according to one of the Journal's sources. [Wall Street Journal]
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3. DREAMLINER TROUBLES STING BOEING
Boeing shares dipped further on Wednesday after falling by 2.6 percent on Tuesday, due to a string of problems on several of the company's long-delayed 787 Dreamliner jumbo jets. On Monday, a fire broke out on an empty Japan Airlines 787 in Boston; on Tuesday, a flight at the same airport was canceled after a fuel leak was discovered on another Japan Airlines 787; and, on Wednesday, an All Nippon Airways 787 flight was canceled in Japan after the crew got an error message regarding their braking system. Boeing said it was looking into what caused the fire, but offered no comment on the other incidents. Industry analysts said Boeing should recover from these relatively minor "teething problems," which they said were common with new aircraft. [CNN]
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4. MORGAN STANLEY SLASHES JOBS
In the latest sign of cost-cutting on Wall Street, Morgan Stanley is eliminating 1,600 jobs — half of them in the U.S. — to reduce expenses as economic uncertainty and new regulations reduce its revenue. The cuts amount to about 6 percent of the staff at the bank's institutional securities group, which raises money for corporate lending, and big mergers and acquisitions. Morgan Stanley, the nation's sixth-largest bank by assets, already slashed its total workforce (which stood at 57,726 as of September) last year. Its stock has climbed 22 percent in the last 12 months. [Wall Street Journal]
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5. CELL PHONES ARRIVE IN THE DUGOUT
T-Mobile is breaking into the Big Leagues this season, as the official wireless partner of Major League Baseball. Under the deal, T-Mobile is installing an encrypted On-Field Communication System that will allow coaches in the dugout to use their cell phones to summon relief pitchers out of the bullpen. The mobile provider will block fans from hacking their way in using geofencing, preventing the network from working even on authorized phones if they're taken out of the clubhouse and into the stands. [ESPN]

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