Business Highlights

AP News
|
Posted: Mar 31, 2011 6:12 PM
Business Highlights

___

Fewer people sought unemployment aid last week

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, a sign that layoffs are dropping and companies may be stepping up hiring.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the number of people seeking benefits dipped by 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 388,000 for the week that ended March 26. That's the second decline in three weeks.

Applications near 375,000 or below are consistent with a sustained increase in hiring. Applications peaked during the recession at 659,000.

___

Bigger corn crop not likely to ease food inflation

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ The government predicts U.S. farmers will increase this year's corn crop, but it won't likely be enough to stem the rise in food prices.

Farmers intend to plant 92.2 million acres of corn this spring, 5 percent more than last year, the Agriculture Department estimated Thursday. That would be the second-biggest corn crop since 1944, after a record-setting planting in 2007. Yet the additional supply isn't expected to keep up with growing global demand.

Prices of corn and soybeans rose after the report as analysts warned that even with the increase in corn acreage, grain prices won't drop back to their lower levels of six months ago. Prices will likely stay elevated, in part because of rising demand for grain from the U.S. ethanol industry and exports to an expanding Asian middle class.

___

Factory orders dip 0.1 percent in February

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. factories orders fell in February, as the government cut demand for military planes and communications equipment while businesses bought fewer computers, turbines and power generators.

Orders to U.S. factories slipped 0.1 percent in February after three straight monthly gains, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

When excluding transportation, orders rose 0.1 percent. That's the seventh straight increase for that category. Still, a key measure of what businesses spent on capital goods fell for the second straight month.

___

Microsoft skewers Google in EU antitrust complaint

BRUSSELS (AP) _ Microsoft Corp. escalated its attack on Google Inc. by complaining to European regulators Thursday that its fiercest rival is an Internet bully that abuses its dominance of online search and advertising.

The allegations against Google crystallize the piecemeal gripes that Microsoft has been making about Google's business practices for the past few years. It's also an ironic twist for Microsoft, whose control over how software operates on most personal computers has made it a frequent target of the types of complaints it's now making against Google.

___

Ireland: Banks need 24B euros more, will be overhauled

DUBLIN (AP) _ Ireland's ailing banks need another 24 billion euros ($34 billion) in cash in a move that will leave all of them under state control and facing a complete overhaul, officials announced Thursday in a long-awaited effort to cap a 3-year banking crisis.

The Central Bank of Ireland made that recommendation as it published pessimistic results for stress tests on four banks. The banks, whose losses the government insured early during the financial crisis, caused Ireland to need a bailout in the first place, so their fate is closely tied with that of the wider country.

___

Eurozone inflation jump bolsters rate hike view

LONDON (AP) ) _ Inflation in the 17 euro countries spiked to the highest level in nearly two and a half years in March, official figures showed Thursday _ cementing market expectations that the European Central Bank will raise interest rates next week.

Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, said consumer prices in the eurozone were 2.6 percent higher in March than the year before. That's the highest rate since October 2008 and is way above the central bank's target of keeping inflation at "close to, but below 2 percent."

___

Portugal to choose new govt as debt woes worsen

LISBON, Portugal (AP) _ Portugal's financial plight deepened Thursday when official figures showed the debt-stressed country's budget deficit last year was 8.6 percent of gross domestic product _ way above the government target of 7.3 percent that was intended to allay market fears.

The estimate by the National Statistics Institute was another setback for Portugal's struggle to avoid taking a bailout, like those Greece and Ireland accepted last year, as it faces two months without a government before a June 5 general election and debt repayments it can't afford.

___

WTO rules US aid to Boeing is illegal

GENEVA (AP) _ The World Trade Organization has ruled that Boeing Co. received at least $5.3 billion in illegal U.S. subsidies to develop and build new planes, according to a finding of a report first issued in January but made public on Thursday.

The WTO trade panel's report came in response to EU complaints, which had alleged that Boeing received almost $24 billion in illegal state subsidies between 1989 and 2006.

The public release of the ruling Thursday is the latest development in a six-year contest and will likely next go to a WTO appeals panel.

___

Rate on 30-year fixed mortgage rises to 4.86 pct.

NEW YORK (AP) _ Fixed mortgage rates rose slightly this week, but the average rate on the 30-year loan remained below 5 percent.

Freddie Mac says the average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage rose to 4.86 percent from 4.81 percent the previous week. It hit a 40-year low of 4.17 percent in November.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage increased to 4.09 percent from 4.04 percent. It reached 3.57 percent in November, the lowest level on records dating back to 1991.

___

By The Associated Press

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 30.88 points, or 0.3 percent, to 12,319.73. That's just 72 points shy of its Feb. 18 high for the year.

The Standard & Poor's 500 fell 2.43, or 0.2 percent, to 1,325.83. The Nasdaq composite rose 4.28, or 0.2 percent, to 2,781.07.

The S&P 500 rose 5.4 percent during the first quarter, the Nasdaq 4.8 percent.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude rose $2.45, more than 2 percent, to settle at $106.72 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. At one point it hit $106.83, the highest it's been since September, 2008. In London, Brent crude rose $2.25 to settle at $117.20 per barrel.

Natural gas contracts rose 3.4 cents to settle at $4.389 per 1,000 cubic feet. In other Nymex trading, heating oil added 5.91 cents to settle at $3.1125 per gallon, and gasoline futures gained 5.04 cents to settle at $3.1077 per gallon.