Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Dec 22, 2011 6:02 PM
Business Highlights

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Claims lowest since 2008 as job market improves

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In in the latest sign that the economy is surging at year's end, unemployment claims have dropped to the lowest level since April 2008, long before anyone realized that the nation was in a recession.

Claims fell by 4,000 last week to 364,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the third straight weekly drop. The four-week average of claims, a less volatile gauge, fell for the 11th time in 13 weeks and stands at the lowest since June 2008.

While the economy remains vulnerable to threats, particularly a recession in Europe, the steady improvement in the job market is unquestionable.

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North Korea reforms may languish amid leader transition

SHANGHAI (AP) _ Tentative economic reforms in North Korea may languish as its next leader focuses on consolidating support in the wake of Kim Jong Il's death, experts said.

North Koreans are turning inward as they observe an 11-day mourning period following Kim's death Saturday, with business and commerce largely at a standstill, according to reports from Pyongyang. The transition to a new era of leadership under son and successor Kim Jong Un could last longer if he extends his official period of mourning as his father did when his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, died in 1994.

North Korea has inched toward reform in recent years, particularly since making the economy a priority in 2009 as part of a goal to build a "great and prosperous nation" befitting the April 2012 centenary of Kim Il Sung's birth.

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Rise in economic gauge suggests brighter outlook

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A gauge of future economic activity posted a solid increase in November, providing further evidence that the economy is gaining strength.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading economic indicators rose 0.5 percent in November following a 0.9 percent gain in October, which had been the strongest showing in eight months.

Economists said the two months of solid gains in the index signaled that the economy was gaining momentum and the risks of a recession were receding.

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Average 30-year mortgage rate a record 3.91 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage fell to a record 3.91 percent this week, the third time this year that rates have hit new lows.

Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average on the 30-year home loan fell from 3.94 percent the previous week. The 3.91 percent rate is the lowest average for long-term fixed mortgages on records dating to the 1950s

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage was unchanged this week at 3.21 percent. That's also a record.

Low rates offer a historic opportunity for those who can afford to buy a home or refinance. But many Americans either can't take advantage of the rates or have already done so.

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Justice to require sale before NYSE merger

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Justice Department announced Thursday that it will allow the creation of the world's largest stock exchange operator after the German conglomerate that wants to buy the New York Stock Exchange sells its stake in a third, smaller American stock exchange operator.

Justice Department lawyers filed papers in U.S. District Court in Washington that would allow the merger of NYSE Euronext and Deutsche Boerse AG after the German company orders one of its subsidiaries to sell its 31.5 percent stake in Direct Edge Holdings LLC, which is the United States' fourth largest stock exchange operator. In addition to the sale of Direct Edge, the proposed settlement between Justice and the two companies prohibits them from participating in the business or running of Direct Edge.

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Judge rules Stanford competent to stand trial

HOUSTON (AP) _ Jailed Texas financier R. Allen Stanford is mentally competent to stand trial on charges he bilked investors out of $7 billion in a massive Ponzi scheme, a judge ruled Thursday

U.S. District Judge David Hittner's decision came after a nearly three-day competency hearing for the disgraced financier. The trial is set for Jan. 23. Hittner said he will rule next week on a request from Stanford's attorneys to delay the trial until April.

Stanford had been declared incompetent in January due to an anti-anxiety drug addiction he developed while jailed in Houston. He spent more than eight months at a federal prison hospital in Butner, N.C., getting treatment for his addiction and being evaluated to determine if he had any long-term effects from being injured in a September 2009 jail fight.

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Wal-Mart pulls formula after baby dies in Missouri

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) _ Wal-Mart and health officials awaited tests Thursday on a batch of powdered infant formula that was removed from more than 3,000 stores nationwide after a Missouri newborn who consumed it apparently died from a rare infection.

The source of the bacteria that caused the infection has not been determined, but it occurs naturally in the environment and in plants such as wheat and rice. The most worrisome appearances have been in dried milk and powdered formula, which is why manufacturers routinely test for the germs.

Wal-Mart pulled the Enfamil Newborn formula from shelves as a precaution following the death of little Avery Cornett in the southern Missouri town of Lebanon.

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Toyota aims to sell 8.48 million vehicles in 2012

TOKYO (AP) _ Toyota is aiming for a comeback, targeting record global sales of 8.48 million vehicles in 2012 and an even bigger number in 2013, after being battered this year by the March disaster in Japan and flooding in Thailand.

Toyota Motor Corp., Japan's top automaker, relinquished its title as the world's biggest in global vehicle sales for the first half of this year, sinking to No. 3 behind U.S. rival General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG of Germany.

Toyota's global vehicle sales for this year totaled 7.9 million vehicles, including group companies, down 6 percent from the previous year, it said in a statement Thursday.

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Best Buy cancels some online orders

ATLANTA (AP) _ Best Buy has alerted some customers that it will not be able to fill their online orders, just days before Christmas.

The largest U.S. specialty electronics retailer said late Wednesday that "overwhelming demand for some products from Bestbuy.com has led to a problem redeeming online orders made in November and December.

The Minneapolis company declined Thursday to specify how many orders are affected or which products are out of stock.

The shortages are a black eye for Best Buy, which has beefed up its online campaign to fight off intense competition from online retailers and discount stores. And the holiday season is crucial for retailers like Best Buy because it can make up to 40 percent of annual sales.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

Dow Jones industrial average rose 61.91 points, or 0.51 percent, to close at 12,169.65. The S&P 500 index gained 10.28 points, or 0.83 percent, to 1,254. The Nasdaq composite index rose 21.48, or 0.83 percent, to 2,599.45.

The price of benchmark crude rose 86 cents to finish at $99.53 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price crude produced in many foreign countries and is important for U.S. gasoline producers, rose 18 cents to end at $107.89 per barrel in London.

In other energy trading, heating oil was virtually unchanged at $2.9076 per gallon, and gasoline futures rose 2 cents to finish at $2.6398 per gallon. Natural gas rose 1 cent to end at $3.1690 per 1,000 cubic feet.