Good news raises hopes recovery won't fizzle
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A flurry of good news this week _ including falling jobless claims, stronger consumer spending and higher new-home sales _ suggests the economic rebound, modest though it is, might be here to stay.
The number of newly laid-off workers filing applications for unemployment aid fell by 35,000 last week to 466,000, the Labor Department said _ the fewest new filings since September of last year.
Another report showed that Americans stepped up their shopping in October in the best showing since August.
Meanwhile, sales of new homes rose last month to the highest level in more than a year.
AIG resolves all legal disputes with Greenberg
NEW YORK (AP) _ American International Group Inc. has agreed to settle all legal disputes with its former chairman Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, the company said late Wednesday.
AIG also settled all its legal disputes with former Chief Financial Officer Howard I. Smith. AIG, which is owned by U.S. taxpayers, said it will pay up to $150 million in past legal costs for Greenberg and Smith.
AIG has said that a Greenberg-controlled investment firm owed it $4.3 billion to cover stock taken from a retirement fund.
AIG had also claimed that Greenberg and Smith owe part of the $1.6 billion AIG has paid to settle a range of issues with regulators including the Securities and Exchange Commission, Justice Department and New York Attorney General.
Stocks rise following drop in jobless claims
NEW YORK (AP) _ Stocks climbed Wednesday following a drop in weekly unemployment claims to the lowest level of the year and a rise in new home sales.
The market's gains were modest on light trading volume ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The government said new claims for unemployment insurance fell by 35,000 last week to 466,000. That's the fewest claims since September last year, and better than the 500,000 that economists had expected.
Fed tightens conflict of interest rules
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Federal Reserve on Wednesday tightened the conflict of interest restrictions governing the boards of directors of its 12 regional banks.
The new rules were passed to deal with potential conflicts such as one that involved Stephen Friedman, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The requirements take effect immediately and spell out the obligations of directors with ties to financial institutions that change status while the official is serving on a Fed regional board.
Toyota to replace gas pedals on 4 million vehicles
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Toyota plans to replace the gas pedals on 4 million vehicles in the United States because the pedals can get stuck in the floor mats and cause sudden acceleration, a flaw that led to the sixth-largest recall ever in the U.S.
The repairs are a critical step to restoring the reputation of the world's biggest automaker, which suffered a blow when the recall was announced in September after years of making safe, reliable cars and trucks.
In plans outlined Wednesday, dealers will offer to shorten the length of the gas pedals by three-fourths of an inch beginning in January as a stopgap measure while the company develops replacement pedals.
AP Source: GM not talking to any new Saab suitors
DETROIT (AP) _ General Motors Co. has not talked with any other potential buyers for the Swedish Saab brand since a specialty car maker pulled out of a deal to buy it this week, a person briefed on GM's plans said Wednesday.
The development is another sign that GM's board may decide when it meets next week to let the storied brand go out of business, placing 4,500 jobs in jeopardy.
The person, who asked not to be identified because no final decision has been made on the brand, confirmed Wednesday that the board would discuss Saab's future on Dec. 1.
Stores look to basics to draw in holiday shoppers
NEW YORK (AP) _ As stores prepare for hordes of Black Friday shoppers and mark down high-definition TVs and hot toys, they're also pushing deals on something more mundane _ necessities like socks and diapers.
Toys R Us, Walmart and clothing stores in malls are responding to tough economic times by luring people who are making it a more practical holiday this year.
What should shoppers expect? Fewer sumptuous sweaters, $200 robotic toys and other flashy items. Everyday items like flannel shirts, blankets and underwear are the order of the day.
Dollar hits 15-month low; steepest drop since July
NEW YORK (AP) _ The safe-haven dollar slid to a 15-month low against the euro, was within striking distance of 14-year lows versus the yen and dipped below parity against the Swiss franc Wednesday as markets absorbed the Federal Reserve's indication that interest rates will remain at super-low levels for a while and it was not overly concerned by the U.S. currency's decline.
Against a basket of six currencies including the euro, yen and franc, the dollar fell as low as 74.245, its weakest point since August 2008 and its steepest one-day drop since July 31, said Joseph Trevisani, chief market analyst at FXSolutions.
The 16-nation euro climbed as high as $1.5142 Wednesday, its strongest level since August 2008. In late New York trading, it read $1.5139 from $1.4975 late Tuesday.
The break above $1.51 sets the dollar up for possible steep drops this weekend.
A stream of White House health care visits
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Barack Obama's top aides met frequently with lobbyists and health care industry heavyweights as his administration pieced together a national health care overhaul, according to White House visitor records obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
The records disclose visits by a broad cross-section of the people most involved in the health care debate, weighted heavily toward those who want to overhaul the system.
The list includes George Halvorson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Health Plans; Scott Serota, president and CEO of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association; Kenneth Kies, a Washington lobbyist who represents Blue Cross/Blue Shield, among other clients; Billy Tauzin, head of PhRMA, the drug industry lobby; Richard Umbdenstock, chief of the American Hospital Association, and numerous lobbyists.
Energy prices on the rise despite huge supply
The dollar's sway over energy markets was on full display Wednesday, with oil and gasoline futures rising sharply as the U.S. currency tumbled to 15-month lows.
Crude prices had been trading relatively flat, even after the government reported supplies grew by 1 million barrels last week.
At midday, however, the dollar began to slide against the euro, and crude prices jumped along with gasoline and other crude-based fuels.
Natural gas, which each week sets new records for the total amount held in storage, jumped more than 8 percent.
By The Associated Press
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 30.69, or 0.3 percent, to 10,464.40.
The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 4.98, or 0.5 percent, to 1,110.63, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 6.87, or 0.3 percent, to 2,176.05.
Benchmark crude for January delivery rose $1.94 to settle at $77.96 on the New York Mercantile Exchange, despite growing supply.
In other Nymex trading, gasoline for December delivery jumped 5.86 cents to settle at $1.9976 a gallon. Heating oil gained about 4 cents to settle at $1.9901 a gallon. Natural gas for December delivery rose nearly 40 cents to $5.163 per 1,000 cubic feet.
In London, Brent crude for January delivery rose $1.98 to settle at $78.44 on the ICE Futures exchange.