Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Dec 31, 2009 5:25 PM

20 million-plus collect unemployment checks in '09

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A record 20 million-plus people collected unemployment benefits at some point in 2009, a year that ended with the jobless rate at 10 percent.

As the pace of layoffs slows, the number of new applicants visiting unemployment offices has been on the decline in recent months. But limited hiring means the ranks of the long-term unemployed continues to grow, with more than 5.8 million people out of work for more than six months.

The number of new claims for jobless benefits dropped last week to 432,000, the Labor Department said Thursday, down sharply from its late March peak of 674,000. The decline signals that the economy could begin adding a small number of jobs in January, several economists said.

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Stocks fall sharply as investors close out 2009

NEW YORK (AP) _ The stock market has closed out a remarkable 2009 with a loss as investors bet the improving economy will lead the government to pull back on its stimulus measures. But stocks still managed their best year since 2003 as they recovered from the financial crisis and recession.

Thursday's trading, which came on extremely light pre-holiday volume, was a fitting end to a tumultuous year. Stocks fell to 12-year lows by early March on investors' increasing pessimism, then rallied on growing signs of recovery in what turned out to be Wall Street's biggest comeback since the Great Depression.

The thin volume exaggerated the market's moves. According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 120.46, or 1.1 percent, to 10,428.05. For the year, the Dow rose 1,651.66, or 18.8 percent.

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Treasury winds down bank bailouts with $29M outlay

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Treasury Department said Thursday it has pumped $29.3 million into 10 banks, which will be the last to receive investments as part of the taxpayer-funded program to shore up the financial system.

The aid comes from a $700 billion financial bailout program created last year during the height of the financial crisis.

The investments in the 10 banks are the last under Treasury's so-called Capital Purchase Program, Treasury officials said. By law, the Treasury must report the transactions _ which occurred on Tuesday _ within two business days.

Although the government anticipated winding down support for banks, Treasury Secretary Geithner recently extended the publicly derided bailout program, saying it will now focus on helping homeowners avoid foreclosures and small businesses get loans.

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AT&T is latest to end Tiger Woods sponsorship

NEW YORK (AP) _ AT&T Inc. said Thursday it would no longer sponsor Tiger Woods, joining Accenture in dropping support for the world's top golfer, who's taking a break from the sport to focus on his marriage after his admitted infidelity.

The phone company hasn't used Woods' image extensively in advertising, but its logo appeared on his golf bag. That deal had been billed as a "multiyear" agreement when it was signed early in 2009, after Buick ended its endorsement one year early because of its financial woes.

Woods has also been the host of the AT&T National PGA Tour event since it started in 2007. Tour spokesman Ty Votaw said that since Woods is on indefinite leave from professional golf, he will not serve as host for the 2010 event. However, his Tiger Woods Foundation will continue to be the beneficiary of the AT&T National, under a contract that runs through 2014.

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Customers back ammonia-treated beef after report

Restaurant chains and beef processors defended their products' safety Thursday after a report that an ammonia treatment thought to kill harmful germs in meat isn't as effective as the industry and regulators believed.

The New York Times reported Thursday, citing government and industry records, that E. coli and salmonella were found dozens of times in testing for the federal school lunch program on ammonia-treated beef from Beef Products Inc. The meat was not served.

Fast-food chains McDonald's Corp. and Burger King Holdings Inc. and agricultural conglomerate Cargill Inc. all use the meat in their hamburgers. All said they'll keep using the meat and that their products are safe.

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YRC Worldwide completes critical debt swap deal

NEW YORK (AP) _ YRC Worldwide Inc., one of the nation's largest trucking companies, said Thursday it has cleared a critical hurdle in its effort to avoid filing for bankruptcy protection by completing a debt-for-equity exchange with its bondholders.

The company, which operates trucks under the Yellow, Roadway and New Penn brands, said $470 million of its outstanding debt was tendered by holders, which it will exchange with 37 million common shares and about 4.3 million convertible shares. Together that will make the stakes of current shareholders virtually worthless.

Now that the debt-to-equity swap is completed, the company will be able to defer approximately $19 million in lender interest and fees that had been due Thursday and will have access to a $159.8 million credit line.

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Wells Fargo executives denied cash bonuses in 2009

BOSTON (AP) _ Wells Fargo & Co.'s four top executives won't get cash bonuses for 2009, but are receiving performance-based stock awards currently worth a combined $25 million that are designed to keep them from being lured away by rival banks.

Wells Fargo announced the compensation moves on Thursday a week after saying it had repaid $25 billion it received under a government financial rescue program that imposes restrictions on executive pay.

The so-called "retention" shares would be forfeited if CEO John Stumpf or three other high-ranking executives leave San Francisco-based Wells Fargo for a competitor. They vest after three years if the nation's fourth-largest bank meets certain performance goals.

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Washington Times slashes staff; sports section out

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Washington Times slashed its staff by more than 40 percent and will eliminate its sports section and most local coverage in 2010, shifting its focus to politics, business and investigative reporting.

The 27-year-old newspaper announced the latest round of layoffs in its Thursday edition and said the last sports section would appear Friday. Among those let go was the newsroom leader, Managing Editor David Jones. Another round of cuts was made earlier in December, and the newspaper published its last Sunday edition last weekend.

The paper will publish a new weekday print edition starting Monday. It will focus on the newspaper's core strengths, including politics and cultural issues, President and Publisher Jonathan Slevin said Wednesday in a statement.

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FCC urges Fox, Time Warner Cable to settle

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The nation's top broadcast regulator is urging Time Warner Cable and Fox to agree to a temporary deal to keep football games on cable TV through the New Year's long weekend.

The dispute concerns how much Time Warner Cable Inc. pays Fox owner News Corp. to retransmit signals from 14 TV stations. They are in markets such as Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and Orlando, Fla.

A midnight Thursday deadline looms, and Fox has threatened to pull its signal for about 6 million cable subscribers. That could jeopardize viewers' ability to catch Friday's college football Sugar Bowl on TV.

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Mortgage rates end the year above 5 percent

McLEAN, Va. (AP) _ Mortgage rates rose for the fourth straight week, ending the year above 5 percent.

The average fixed rate on a 30-year mortgage was 5.14 percent this week, up from 5.05 percent last week, Freddie Mac said Thursday.

Mortgage rates are closely tied to yields on long-term government debt. The average fixed rate on 30-year mortgages has steadily risen since hitting a record low of 4.71 percent the week of Dec. 3.

The Federal Reserve is pouring $1.25 trillion into mortgage-backed securities to keep rates low this year. The program, aimed at making home buying more affordable, is set to end next spring. Still, qualifying for a loan is hard because lenders have severely tightened requirements. The best rates are available to those with good credit and a 20 percent down payment.

By The Associated Press

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 120.46, or 1.1 percent, to 10,428.05. For the year, the Dow rose 1,651.66, or 18.8 percent.

The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index, considered by professionals to be the market's best barometer, fell 11.32, or 1 percent, to 1,115.10. The S&P ended the year with a gain of 211.85, or 23.5 percent. Meanwhile, the Nasdaq composite index fell 22.13, or 1 percent, to 2,269.15. Powered by the recovery in high-tech stocks, the Nasdaq ended 2009 with a gain of 696.12, 43.9 percent.

Benchmark crude for February delivery added 8 cents to settle at $79.36 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude barrels, which touched $80 earlier in the day, are 71 percent more expensive than they were at the beginning of the year.

In other Nymex trading in January contracts, heating oil rose less than a penny to settle at $2.1188 a gallon and gasoline advanced 1.19 cents to settle at $2.0525 a gallon. The February contract for natural gas gave up 13.7 cents to settle at $5.572 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude for February delivery lost 10 cents to settle at $77.93 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.