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Stocks rise... 2 vessels OKed through Houston channel ... Ships to undergo surprise inspections

Tuesday - 3/25/2014, 3:09pm  ET

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks are moving higher today. Investors are assessing the health of the economy and company earnings, shrugging off a two-day decline. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 0.8 percent, while the S&P 500 rose 0.5 percent. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.3 percent. The stock market has struggled to advance this year after a series of economic reports suggested the economy is slowing. A report released today shows fewer people bought homes in February, but another report indicates consumer confidence has risen to the highest level in six years.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court seems divided over whether employers' religious beliefs can free them from a part of the new health care law requiring them to prove birth control coverage for employees at no extra charge. The Obama administration and its supporters say a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the family-owned businesses pressing the case also could undermine laws governing immunizations, Social Security taxes and minimum wages.

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) -- The Coast Guard has authorized two vessels to move through the Houston Ship Channel as a test to see whether it can re-open to traffic after an oil spill. Coast Guard Lt. Sam Danus says the Carnival Magic cruise ship and a boat operated by the Houston Pilots association are sailing out of South Texas into Galveston Bay, four days after a barge spilled as much as 170,000 gallons of oil. Cleanup is underway.

MIAMI (AP) -- Cruise ships with patterns of safety problems will be subject to unannounced Coast Guard inspections at U.S. ports. Coast Guard officers described the new program today at the National Transportation Safety Board's first forum on cruise ship safety. The hearing follows last year's fire aboard the Carnival Triumph that left the ship adrift for days in the Gulf of Mexico. Some 3,000 passengers onboard had to cope with squalid conditions. In 2012, the Costa Concordia ship capsized off Italy, killing 32 people.

NEW YORK (AP) -- An investment fund is taking issue with Coca-Cola's pay plan for management, saying it's particularly excessive in light of the beverage maker's slowing growth. Wintergreen Advisers' CEO Dave Winters sent a letter to Coca-Cola's board members noting the equity plan would transfer roughly $13 billion shares at the current stock price to management over the next four years. Winters sent a similar letter longtime shareholder Warren Buffet, urging him to vote against the plan. Coca-Cola Co. says Winters is misinformed.

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