Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Sep 06, 2012 6:46 PM
Business Highlights

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Rally lifts stocks back to pre-recession levels

NEW YORK (AP) — The last time the stock market was this high, the Great Recession had just started, and stocks were tumbling into a headlong descent.

On Thursday the market moved swiftly in the other direction. The Dow Jones industrial average hit its highest mark since December 2007, and the Standard & Poor's 500 index soared to its highest level since January 2008 in a rally that seemed destined to mark a milestone: American stocks have come almost all the way back.

A long-anticipated plan to support struggling countries in the European Union provided the necessary jolt, and the gains were extraordinarily broad. All but 13 stocks in the S&P index were up. European markets surged, too.

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US jobs outlook improves as campaign heats up

WASHINGTON (AP) — The jobs outlook in the U.S. brightened a bit Thursday just before President Barack Obama was to make his case for re-election to the American people.

Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, the government reported. And companies boosted hiring in August, according to a private survey.

A far more consequential report politically — the government's unemployment and hiring figures for August — will come out Friday, just as the presidential race enters its stretch run. Jobs are the core issue in the race, and that report could sway some undecided voters.

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ECB unveils aggressive bond plan to save euro

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The European Central Bank unveiled its most ambitious plan yet to ease Europe's financial crisis with a plan to buy unlimited amounts of government bonds to help lower borrowing costs for countries struggling to manage their debts.

Large-scale purchases of short-term government bonds would drive up their prices and push down their interest rates, or yields, taking some pressure off of financially stressed governments such as Spain and Italy.

After the ECB plan was announced, the yields on government bonds across Europe fell and stock markets rallied.

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Amazon takes on iPad with larger Kindle Fire

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) — Amazon unveiled four new Kindle Fire tablet computers on Thursday, including some with larger color screens, as the online retailer steps up competition with Apple ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Amazon.com Inc. showed off the larger Kindle Fire with a high-definition display amid expectations that Apple Inc. will introduce a smaller iPad as early as next week.

The larger Fires will have screens that measure 8.9 inches diagonally, compared with 9.7 inches for the iPad. The original Fire had a 7-inch screen. The basic version of the larger Fire will sell for $299, or $100 less than the cheapest iPad.

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Food co-ops brace for arrival of giant rivals

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Boise Co-op eliminated thousands of slow-selling items, sweeping away the claustrophobic effect that accompanied too many offerings. The Wheatsvile Food Co-op in Texas is opening its second store after 40 years.

And in California, the Davis Food Co-op turned to a designer to revamp its look.

It's no coincidence food cooperatives across the U.S. are making big changes. Many are preparing for the arrival of a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, two organic- and specialty-food industry giants that are opening new stores nationwide.

Some co-ops are even dispatching camera-toting, intelligence-gathering crews to poach ideas from the big guys.

With demand for organic, natural and specialty food continuing to outpace other segments in the grocery industry, co-ops say they must improve their stores, identify trends and appeal to a changing audience as the competition moves in.

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Ford unveils 15 fresh models for European market

MILAN (AP) — Ford Motor Co. on Thursday unveiled 15 new or restyled vehicles that it will launch in the European market over five years to revive slumping sales there.

While other carmakers are holding back on new car launches due to tanking European demand, Ford executives announced that the Detroit carmaker will accelerate new car launches in Europe, expanding its lineup of SUVs, restyling the hot-selling Fiesta, redesigning its commercial vehicles and bringing the iconic Mustang across the Atlantic.

Ford Europe CEO Stephen Odell said improvements in the "brutal" European market are not expected soon. Ford's first-half European sales dropped 10 percent to 517,094 units, a 7.8 percent market share for the fifth-largest carmaker in Europe.

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EU: Anti-dumping probe into China solar panels

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union launched an anti-dumping probe into Chinese solar panels on Thursday after an industry association claimed the products were being exported for less than it costs to make them.

The complaint, filed in July by a group of 25 producers of solar gear, including companies from Germany, Italy and Spain, is the biggest-ever anti-dumping claim filed with the EU.

China, the world's largest producer of solar panels, accounts for about two-thirds of global production. It exported solar panels and associated key components worth around €21 billion ($26.5 billion) to the 27-nation bloc in 2011, the EU said in a statement.

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Microsoft adding staff, R&D in China mobile push

BEIJING (AP) — Microsoft Corp. will hire more than 1,000 additional employees in China this year and boost research and development spending by 15 percent as it tries to catch up with Apple and Google in the fast-growing mobile Internet market, executives said Thursday.

The announcement adds to intensifying competition in wireless Internet in China, where nearly 400 million people surf the Web using mobile phones and other devices. Microsoft is promoting its Windows 8 mobile operating system but came late to the market and trails Apple Inc. and Google Inc., whose Android system is widely used in China.

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US service firms grew at faster pace in August

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. service companies expanded at a faster pace in August than July, helped by stronger hiring. The growth at firms that employ roughly 90 percent of the workforce suggests the economy is slowly improving.

The Institute for Supply Management said Thursday that its index of non-manufacturing activity increased in August to 53.7, up from a July reading of 52.6. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.

Service companies include everything from retail and construction companies to health care and financial services firms. The sector has grown for 32 straight months.

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Average on 30-year US mortgage slips to 3.55 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages changed little this week and remained slightly above record lows reached earlier this year. The low rates are aiding the modest housing recovery.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan slipped to 3.55 percent, down from 3.59 percent last week. Six weeks ago, the rate fell to 3.49 percent, the lowest since long-term mortgages began in the 1950s.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage, a popular refinancing option, was unchanged at 2.86 percent. The record low was 2.80 percent reached six weeks ago.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average surged 244.52 points to 13,292. The S&P 500 index jumped 28.68 points to 1,432.12. The Nasdaq composite index gained 66.55 points to close at 3,135.81.

Benchmark U.S. crude ended the day at $95.53, up 17 cents. The price of Brent crude, priced in London, rose 40 cents to end at $113.49.

Wholesale gasoline futures rose 4.12 cents to end at $2.9910 per gallon. Heating oil rose 2.49 cents to finish at $3.1425 per gallon. Natural gas fell 1.9 cents to end at $2.7760 per 1,000 cubic feet.