Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Nov 20, 2009 5:43 PM

More states add jobs, but many for temporary staff

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a sharp improvement, more than half of U.S. states added jobs in October, though economists said many of the gains likely occurred in temporary employment.

That's customarily a positive a sign. Employers usually hire temporary workers before they add full-time jobs. But in this case, the temporary hiring may be inflated by the auto sector, which has boosted production to replace depleted inventories. As a result, the increase might not be sustainable.

Some of last month's job gains also were in sectors such as education, health care and government, which have fared relatively well during the recession. By contrast, there's little evidence that companies in hard-hit industries are hiring permanent staff.

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D.R. Horton sees 26 perecent spike in 4Q orders

Homebuilder D.R. Horton Inc., saw new home orders spike 26 percent from a year ago in the latest quarter as buyers raced to close deals and take advantage of a federal tax credit. But a wider-than-anticipated loss fueled by write-downs sent shares tumbling more than 15 percent Friday.

The surge in orders came as many first-time homebuyers sought to qualify for an $8,000 tax credit that was set to expire at the end of this month before Congress extended it into next year.

D.R. Horton, which caters primarily to first-time buyers, and other builders have seen home orders improve thanks to the incentive. But the tax credit also has raised concerns that it has merely pulled sales forward.

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Stocks fall for 3rd day as dollar strengthens

NEW YORK (AP) _ The stock market ended a down week with light selling as investors grew uneasy about a rising dollar and spiking demand for the safest government debt.

After two strong weeks, investors tried unsuccessfully to extend the market's rally after major stock indexes closed at 13-month highs on Tuesday. Disappointing reports on housing and worries about flagging demand at technology companies sapped strength from the market's eight-month rally.

The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 14.28 to 10,318.16 and ended the week with a 0.5 percent gain but broader indexes slid.

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J.M. Smucker 2nd-quarter profit soars on coffee

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ J.M. Smucker Co. nearly tripled its profit in the second quarter as the addition of Folgers coffee gave a jolt to its lineup and lower commodity prices fattened its profit margins.

The company also raised its outlook for the year, sending its shares soaring Friday.

Smucker _ which makes products such as Jif peanut butter, Pillsbury frosting and its namesake jams and jellies _ said it continues to benefit during tough times as consumers are eating at home more and placing greater emphasis on value.

The company, based in Orrville, Ohio, earned $140 million, or $1.18 per share, for the quarter, up sharply from $51.5 million, or 94 cents per share, earned last year.

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Chase drops arbitration from card contracts

BOSTON (AP) _ JPMorgan Chase & Co. said Friday it is dropping a clause from its credit card contracts that required disputes with customers to be handled through binding arbitration, a move that could lead to consumers filing class-action and other lawsuits.

A spokesman for the New York-based bank's Chase Card Services unit confirmed the change after a law firm that sued banks over arbitration clauses announced a tentative settlement with JPMorgan Chase.

Chase decided to stop sending credit-card disputes to arbitration in July, and now is removing the arbitration clause, spokesman Paul Hartwick said.

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Natural gas plunges 12 percent this month

NEW YORK (AP) _ Natural gas prices have dropped by more than 12 percent in the past month as the country continues to sip at its energy reserves and a balmy November allowed homeowners to leave the heat off.

Retail prices for natural gas, or what many consumers will pay to heat their homes, are expected to be substantially lower this year.

Spot prices for natural gas have dropped to almost half of what they were last year, though they've increased slightly this month, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The recession has kept natural gas demand low most of the year. With manufacturers shuttering factories and closing offices, the country is using less electricity and power plants are burning less natural gas.

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EU extends Oracle/Sun review deadline until Jan 27

BRUSSELS (AP) _ European Union regulators said Friday that they have extended until Jan. 27 a deadline to wrap up their antitrust review of Oracle Corp.'s planned $7.4 billion takeover of Sun Microsystems Inc.

The European Commission said Oracle had asked for more time "in order to have the opportunity to further develop its arguments in response to the Commission's concerns."

The EU executive gave them an extra six working days.

Regulators sent a formal charge sheet to Oracle earlier this month laying out competition problems that they see with the deal, claiming Oracle's purchase of open-source database software MySQL could eliminate a crucial rival and hike prices.

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GE, Vivendi talks over NBC Universal stretch on

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A deal for Comcast Corp. to buy a controlling stake in NBC Universal and create one of the most powerful media companies in the world is taking longer than expected as the current owners tussle over price.

Comcast, the largest cable TV operator in the United States, wants NBC Universal largely for its lucrative cable channels, but it isn't likely to raise its offer to General Electric Co., which first needs Vivendi SA to sell its minority stake.

If GE had to pay Vivendi more for that stake, it would have to absorb the additional cost because Comcast's agreement with GE is "set" and separate from the Vivendi talks, according to a person familiar with the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person is not authorized to disclose private negotiations.

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Sony hopes online service will build brand loyalty

TOKYO (AP) _ Sony's new online service connecting the whole range of its gadgets to downloadable content like movies and games should help build brand loyalty, a top executive said Friday.

Executive Vice President Kazuo Hirai said the service, set for launch next year, highlights an advantage that Sony has over rivals like Samsung Electronics Co. and other manufacturers that don't produce their own content. Sony's business empire spans gaming, electronics, movies and music.

The online service will include games, movie downloads and other interactive entertainment, which will be accessible on Sony products, such as Bravia TVs, Cyber-shot digital cameras and Reader electronic books.

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Flurry of IPOs signals IPO rebound to continue

NEW YORK (AP) _ The flurry of initial public offerings this week is confirmation that this fall's rebound in the market wasn't a fluke and sets the stage for more companies to raise money through IPOs in 2010. But the response to two of the newly public companies shows that investors continue to be careful about where they place their bets.

This week was the second-biggest for new issues _ with five IPOs _ since the market began heating up in mid-September. There have been 22 new offerings so far this quarter, compared to just one in the final three months of last year. There are more than 90 companies in the 2010 IPO pipeline.

By The Associated Press

The Dow slipped 14.28, or 0.1 percent, to 10,318.16.

The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3.52, or 0.3 percent, to 1,091.38, while the Nasdaq fell 10.78, or 0.5 percent, to 2,146.04.

Benchmark crude also dropped Friday, giving up 74 cents to settle at $76.72 a barrel on the last trading day for the December contract. Crude prices for January delivery lost 58 cents to settle at $77.47.

In other Nymex trading, heating oil fell 2.08 cents to settle at $1.9756 a gallon. Gasoline for December delivery added 1.11 cents to settle at $1.9806 a gallon. Natural gas added 8.2 cents to settle at 4.424 cents per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude for December delivery fell 42 cents to $77.22 on the ICE Futures exchange.