Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Dec 04, 2009 6:02 PM

Unexpected drop in jobless rate sparks optimism

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A surprising drop in the unemployment rate and far fewer job losses last month raised hopes Friday for a sustained economic recovery.

The rate unexpectedly fell to 10 percent, from 10.2 percent in October, as employers cut the fewest number of jobs since the recession began. The government also said 159,000 fewer jobs were lost in September and October than first reported.

If part-time workers who want full time jobs and laid-off workers who have given up looking for jobs are included, the so-called underemployment rate also fell, to 17.2 percent from 17.5 percent in October.

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Stocks edge higher as employers cut fewer jobs

NEW YORK (AP) _ Investors grew more confident about the economy but also worried that a brighter employment picture will mean rising interest rates.

Stocks closed higher Friday but only after giving up much of their earlier gains. Indexes touched new highs for year in the morning following news that job cuts fell sharply in November, but that report also brought expectations that the Federal Reserve could hike rates or remove other supports from the economy. Treasurys and gold fell as demand for safe-haven investments eased.

Jitters about interest rates left the Dow Jones industrial average ended with a gain of just 23 points to 10,388.90, having been up as much as 151 points earlier. Stocks posted gains for the week.

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GM CEO shuffles managers, seeks culture change

DETROIT (AP) _ General Motors Co. Chairman Ed Whitacre Jr. urged the troubled automaker's employees to forget their old bureaucratic culture, telling them Friday not to fear being fired for taking risks.

Whitacre, who also announced key management changes, wants to speed up the automaker's shift to an entrepreneurial culture where decisions are made quickly.

In a 45-minute presentation that was broadcast to employees on internal television networks and over the Internet, Whitacre also unveiled a mission statement to design, build and sell the world's best vehicles.

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Drugmakers, FDA move to curb painkiller abuse

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Pharmaceutical executives laid out plans Friday to prevent the misuse of prescription painkillers, under pressure from regulators trying to stop hundreds of fatal overdoses each year.

But Food and Drug Administration officials said industry's proposals were short on specifics and that more work is needed before any measures are put in place.

Johnson & Johnson, King Pharmaceuticals and other drugmakers proposed using patient medication guides, letters to doctors and additional physician training to curb inappropriate use and prescribing of painkillers.

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Govt: Some $600M to go to energy plants

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) _ The federal government is speeding up plans to produce more renewable fuels, announcing Friday it will spend nearly $600 million to help build plants that turn wood chips, cornstalks and algae into fuel.

The government will team up with private companies to create 19 biorefinery projects in 15 states. The government's $564 million share will come from stimulus funds and will be combined with $700 million in private investments.

The ideas range from scooping up algae from ponds in New Mexico and converting it to jet fuel to using wood waste from a wall panel company in Michigan to make ethanol.

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Obama: Jobs plan will 'jump-start' hiring

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) _ Even as he trumpeted a slowdown in the nation's job losses Friday, President Barack Obama put finishing touches on a proposal he'll unveil next week to "jump-start" business hiring across America.

In a speech from Washington on Tuesday, Obama plans to send Congress an initial list of ideas he supports for a new jobs bill. Among the ideas he will likely endorse is the expansion of a program that gives people cash incentives to fix up their homes with energy-saving materials, two senior administration officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the package, and Obama's speech, are still being crafted and could change through the weekend and beyond.

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Factory orders rise unexpectedly in October

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Orders to U.S. factories unexpectedly rose in October, the sixth gain in the past seven months. It was further evidence that the manufacturing sector is beginning to recover, which will help support the overall economy.

Orders rose 0.6 percent in October, the Commerce Department said Friday, much better than the flat reading that economists had expected. A jump in demand for commercial aircraft and petroleum products led the gain.

Orders for durable goods, items expected to last three years, rose 0.6 percent, unchanged from a preliminary estimate last week. Orders for nondurable goods rose 1.6 percent, propelled by gains in demand for petroleum, chemicals, plastics and food.

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Kraft takes $16.3B offer to Cadbury shareholders

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Kraft Foods Inc. took its $16.3 billion hostile takeover offer for Cadbury PLC straight to shareholders of the British candy company on Friday.

The deal is nearly unchanged from an earlier offer that was rejected by Cadbury. But by putting it directly in shareholder hands, Kraft starts the clock on a series of regulatory deadlines to get the majority support it needs and may flush out rival bids.

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Kraft announced in September that it proposed a takeover of Cadbury and formally issued the bid in November. Cadbury immediately rejected the offer, saying it undervalued the company.

The offer includes 300 pence in cash and 0.2589 new Kraft shares for each Cadbury share.

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Dollar soars after unemployment rate drops

NEW YORK (AP) _ The dollar leaped higher Friday after the government said the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 10 percent in November, leading traders to weigh chances that the Federal Reserve might begin raising interest rates sooner than they had expected.

The 16-nation euro dropped to $1.4827 in late New York trading from $1.5092 late Thursday. Before the government's release at 8:30 a.m. in New York, the euro had traded above $1.50.

The British pound slid to $1.6429 from $1.6566, while the dollar leapt to 90.70 Japanese yen from 88.21 yen.

Against a basket of six currencies, the dollar was up 1.6 percent since the government's jobs report.

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State regulator: Jury still out on SEC post-Madoff

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Securities and Exchange Commission culture that allowed the Madoff fraud scandal to go undetected for nearly two decades may not change and the agency isn't doing enough to support investor protection proposals in Congress, according to a top state regulator.

Denise Voigt Crawford, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, blasted the SEC for what she said has been too-weak support for provisions in financial overhaul legislation aimed at bolstering investor protection.

By The Associated Press

The Dow ended with a gain of 22.75, or 0.2 percent, to 10,388.90 after reaching a 2009 high of 10,516.70 in early trading.

The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 6.06, or 0.6 percent, to 1,105.98, after setting a 2009 high of 1,119.13.

The Nasdaq composite index rose 21.21, or 1 percent, to 2,194.35, reaching a high for the year of 2,214.39.

Benchmark crude for January delivery lost 99 cents to settle at $75.47 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract slumped as low as $74.85 earlier in the day.

In London, Brent crude for January delivery gave up 84 cents to settle at $77.52 on the ICE Futures exchange.

In other Nymex trading in January contracts, heating oil fell 2.27 cents to settle at $2.0268 a gallon, and gasoline lost 1.8 cents to settle at $1.975 a gallon. Natural gas rose 12.7 cents to settle at $4.586 per 1,000 cubic feet.