Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Dec 03, 2009 6:11 PM

Comcast aims to reshape entertainment with NBC

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Comcast Corp. announced Thursday it plans to buy a majority stake in NBC Universal for $13.75 billion, giving the nation's largest cable TV operator control of the Peacock network, an array of cable channels and a major movie studio.

Although the deal could mean that movies could reach cable more quickly after showing in theaters, and that TV shows could appear faster on cell phones and other devices, it was already raising concerns that Comcast would wield too much power over entertainment.

Indeed, if the deal clears regulatory and other hurdles, Comcast would rival the heft of The Walt Disney Co. _ which Comcast CEO Brian Roberts already tried to buy.

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Service sector activity, retail sales disappoint

NEW YORK(AP) _ Further evidence that the economic recovery will be a slow and bumpy one emerged Thursday with reports that service sector activity and retail sales unexpectedly shrank in November as consumers held back on purchases.

The government did report one positive sign: New jobless claims dropped for a fifth straight week. But productivity gains in the third quarter showed that employers are managing to squeeze more work out of fewer workers. That's an ominous sign for the nearly 16 million Americans looking for jobs _ and for many others who fear losing theirs.

The government is expected to report Friday that employers shed 130,000 jobs in November and that the unemployment rate will remain at 10.2 percent.

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Late-day slide hits stocks ahead of jobs report

NEW YORK (AP) _ A late-day slide pulled stocks lower ahead of the government's report on November unemployment.

Stocks began falling in the final half-hour of trading Thursday and the drop intensified in the last 20 minutes. The Labor Department's November unemployment report is due before the start of trading Friday.

Worries about the economy had been dogging investors following a weak snapshot of the service industry early Thursday. The Institute for Supply Management said its index of activity in the service industry fell to 48.7 in November from 50.6 in October. That was below what analysts had been expecting and signaled contraction.

The market drew some support from a Labor Department report that new claims for unemployment benefits fell unexpectedly for the fifth straight week.

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Exec pleads guilty to bribing NY pension officials

NEW YORK (AP) _ A California venture capitalist pleaded guilty Thursday to charges that he helped his company land a quarter-billion dollar deal with New York's giant public pension fund by making nearly $1 million in illegal gifts to state officials.

Markstone Capital Partners chairman Elliott Broidy entered the plea in a Manhattan courtroom Thursday morning. He admitted to a felony charge of rewarding official misconduct.

Broidy is the latest in a string of private equity executives and investment advisers charged in connection with New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigation of a pay-to-play scandal in the office of former state comptroller Alan Hevesi.

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Congress grills Bernanke, but second term likely

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senators took aim Thursday at Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, linking him to rising unemployment, regulatory lapses that led to the financial crisis and the corporate bailouts that followed.

And some warned that the Fed's record-low interest rates could feed a new speculative bubble.

Bernanke remained stoic during the roughly five-hour hearing by the Senate Banking Committee, which is weighing his nomination to a second four-year term. He acknowledged some mistakes but defended his record, saying that without the Fed's bold action, the crisis would have been "markedly worse."

And by day's end, despite the verbal swipes and a move by one senator to block Bernanke's nomination, his confirmation didn't appear in doubt.

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Obama calls for new ideas for creating jobs

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Barack Obama on Thursday said he'd heard many "exciting ideas and proposals" from participants at a White House sponsored jobs forum and said he hoped some could be put into action quickly.

"This has been a tough year, with a lot of uncertainty," Obama said as he wrapped up a half-day brainstorming session with some of the nation's top CEOs, small business and union leaders and economists.

He said he welcomed the suggestions as well as some "good, hardheaded feedback" from some people who don't always share his views, including the former top economic adviser to 2008 Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who also addressed a rival GOP jobs forum earlier in the day.

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Rates on 30-year mortgages set new record low

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The average interest rate for a 30-year mortgage dropped to a record low of 4.71 percent this week, pushed down by an aggressive government campaign to reduce borrowing costs.

The rate, published Thursday by Freddie Mac, is the lowest since the mortgage finance company began tracking the data in 1971. The previous record of 4.78 percent was set during the week ending April 30 and matched last week.

The Federal Reserve is pumping $1.25 trillion into mortgage-backed securities to try to bring down mortgage rates, but that money is set to run out next spring. The goal of the program is to make home buying more affordable and prop up the housing market.

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Toll Bros. loses $111 million in Q4

Toll Brothers Inc.'s stock tumbled Thursday after the luxury homebuilder reported a disappointing year-end loss and said it expects its sales in fiscal 2010 to decline at least 7 percent.

CEO Robert Toll said homebuyer demand was strong from March through August, but has been "choppy" since then. He also said he expects to see the usual holiday slowdown in prospective shoppers, and little help from the expanded federal tax credit for homebuyers.

The cautious outlook from Toll, which builds in 21 states, runs counter to wider industry trends. Sales of new homes have increased six out of the past seven months, according to government data. They dipped in September, but surged in October to the highest level in more than a year.

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ECB to end some liquidity support measures

FRANKFURT (AP) _ The European Central Bank left its main interest rate unchanged at a historic low of 1 percent on Thursday and took the first steps to withdraw some of its extraordinary liquidity support now that recovery is under way.

Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet told reporters at his regular news conference that the economy of the 16 countries that use the euro will grow at a moderate pace next year, but that the recovery would be "uneven and subject to risks" as firms try to shore up their finances in the wake of the most savage recession in generations.

Trichet said the current rate was "appropriate" _ an indication that interest rates won't change anytime soon _ and the decision to keep borrowing costs unchanged was unanimously agreed by all members on the governing council.

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GM, Chrysler agree to reconsider dealer closings

WASHINGTON (AP) _ General Motors and Chrysler will reconsider decisions to close thousands of dealerships as part of a compromise meant to stave off federal legislation that would require them to keep showrooms open.

The decision by the two automakers, announced Thursday, raises the prospect of new life for some of the more than 3,000 dealerships that were slated to close. The shutdowns are part of a broad industry restructuring. Dealers have loudly protested the decisions, saying they are unfair.

The plans call for face-to-face reviews with dealerships and offer binding arbitration with those who face closure of their showrooms.

By The Associated Press

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 86.53, or 0.8 percent, to 10,366.15.

The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 9.32, or 0.8 percent, to 1,099.92, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 11.89, or 0.5 percent, to 2,173.14.

Benchmark crude for January delivery gave up 14 cents to settle at $76.46 a barrel on Nymex. In London, Brent crude for January delivery rose 48 cents to settle at $78.36 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

In other Nymex trading in January contracts, heating oil increased 1.31 cents to settle at $2.0495 a gallon and gasoline added less than a penny to settle at $1.993 a gallon. Natural gas gave up 7.1 cents to settle at $4.459 per 1,000 cubic feet.