Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Dec 29, 2011 6:01 PM
Business Highlights

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US job market ends year in better shape

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The long-suffering job market is ending the year better off than it began.

The number of people applying for unemployment benefits each week has dropped by 10 percent since January. The unemployment rate, 8.6 percent in November, is at its lowest level in nearly three years.

Factory output is rising, business owners say they're more optimistic about hiring and consumer confidence has jumped to its highest level since April. Even the beleaguered housing market is looking slightly better.

On Thursday, the Labor Department said the number of people applying for unemployment benefits last week rose 15,000 to 381,000. But the four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped to 375,000 _ the lowest level since June 2008.

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Contract signings for US homes up in November

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes in November rose to the highest level in a year and a half.

The best reading on pending homes sales since a federal home-buying tax credit expired appeared to encourage traders on Wall Street.

Still, the National Association of Realtors cautioned that a growing number of buyers are canceling their contracts at the last minute, making the gauge less reliable.

The Realtors group said Thursday that its index of sales agreements jumped 7.3 percent last month to a reading of 100.1.

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Fixed mortgage rates end year above record lows

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Fixed mortgage rates rose slightly this week off their record lows. The year ends much like it began, with few people able to take advantage of the best rates in history.

Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average on the 30-year home loan increased to 3.95 percent from 3.91 percent. Last week's rate was the lowest average on records dating to the 1950s.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage rose to 3.24 percent. That's up from 3.21 percent, also a record low.

Rates have been below 5 percent for all but two weeks in 2011. Even so, this year is shaping up to be one of the worst ever for home sales.

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Eurozone faces tough hurdles early in 2012

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ After a turbulent 2011, the 17 countries that use the euro will be quickly confronted in the new year with major hurdles to solving their government debt crisis, just as the eurozone economy is expected to sink back into recession.

With government finances under pressure as growth wanes, the eurozone will find it even more difficult to shore up shaky banks and reduce the high borrowing costs that threaten Italy and Spain with financial ruin.

As early as the second full week of January, bond auctions in which Italy and Spain need to borrow big chunks of cash will start showing whether the eurozone is finally getting a grip on the 2-year-old crisis that has seen Greece, Ireland and Portugal bailed out.

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BP money buys sports towels, Xmas lights, jingles

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Sports towels and fleece blankets. A poker tournament. A $1 million Christmas display. A prom for senior citizens. BP gas card giveaways. A "most deserving mom" contest. And advertising, lots of advertising.

Florida Panhandle officials made the mix of eyebrow-raising purchases with $30 million BP gave them earlier this year to help tourism recover from 2010's disastrous Gulf oil spill.

The money allowed seven area tourism bureaus to try promotions they could never have afforded otherwise, and it has propelled the Panhandle's visitor counts to record numbers this year following a disastrous season right after the spill. The question now is what happens when the BP money dries up, most likely next April. The grants doubled and tripled the tourism-promotion budgets in these Panhandle counties, and officials worry the boost in visitors may prove fleeting.

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Amazon says 2011 `best holiday ever' for Kindle

SEATTLE (AP) _ Online retailer Amazon says 2011 was the best holiday ever for its Kindle-brand e-readers and tablet computers.

Amazon.com Inc. said Thursday that people bought more than 1 million Kindles each week in December.

The company has never released specific sales figures for the Kindle. Since the launch of the first Kindle in 2007, this franchise has grown to include several e-readers and the Kindle Fire tablet.

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Verizon Wireless to charge $2 for one-time payment

NEW YORK (AP) _ Verizon Wireless, the country's largest cellphone company, said Thursday that it will start charging $2 for every payment subscribers make over the phone or online with their credit cards.

The company said this "convenience fee" will be introduced Jan. 15.

The fee won't apply to electronic check payments or to automatic credit card payments set up through Verizon's AutoPay system. Paying by credit card in a Verizon store will also be free, as will mailing a check.

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AMR shares to be dropped from NYSE trading

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ American Airlines' parent company, now in bankruptcy protection, says its stock will be dropped from the New York Stock Exchange.

Shares are sinking 18 cents, or 35 percent, to 34 cents in after-hours trading.

AMR Corp. said Thursday that the NYSE notified the Fort Worth, Texas, company of the move after the average closing price of AMR shares fell below $1 for 30 straight trading days.

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J&J seeks OK for new use for anticlotting drug

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ Health care giant Johnson & Johnson is seeking U.S. approval for a third use for its new anticlotting pill, Xarelto.

The company's Janssen Research & Development LLC unit said Thursday that it has asked the Food and Drug Administration to approve the clot-preventing drug for patients with acute coronary syndrome. That's a condition in which narrowing or blockage of a blood vessel suddenly reduces blood flow to the heart muscle, causing unstable chest pain or a heart attack.

Xarelto, known chemically as rivaroxaban, was approved eight weeks ago for use in patients who have an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve problem. More than 2 million Americans have the condition, in which the heart's upper chambers flutter chaotically, reducing blood flow through the heart and increasing the risk of clots and stroke.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average closed at 12,287.04, a gain of 135.63 points, or 1.1 percent. The S&P 500 rose 13.38 points, or 1.07 percent, to 1,263.02. The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite rose 23.76 points, or 0.92 percent, to 2,613.74.

Benchmark U.S. crude added 29 cents to end the day at $99.65 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price foreign oil varieties that are imported by U.S. refineries, increased by 45 cents to finish at $108.01 per barrel in London.

In other energy trading, heating oil rose by 2.41 cents to finish at $2.9175 per gallon, and gasoline futures added 2.88 cents to finish at $2.6801 per gallon. Natural gas prices fell by 9.4 cents, or 3 percent, to end at $3.027 per 1,000 cubic feet.