Business Highlights

AP News
Posted: May 12, 2011 5:58 PM
Business Highlights


Fewer people apply for unemployment benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The number of people applying for unemployment benefits plummeted last week, reversing nearly all the sharp rise reported the previous week.

The number of laid-off workers seeking benefits dropped 44,000 to a seasonally adjusted 434,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That is the steepest weekly fall since February 2010.

The drop suggests that the increase of 47,000 reported last week was mostly due to temporary factors. The state of New York reported that applications jumped by more than 24,000 two weeks ago, because more school systems had spring break than usual. That led to a spike in temporary layoffs. A new extended benefits program in Oregon had caused applications to rise in that state.


AP-GfK poll: Americans more upbeat about economy

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Americans are growing more optimistic about the U.S. economy, a sentiment that is benefiting President Barack Obama despite public disenchantment with his handling of rising gasoline prices and swollen government budget deficits.

An Associated Press-GfK poll shows that more than 2 out of 5 people believe the U.S. economy will get better, while a third think it will stay the same and nearly a fourth think it will get worse, a rebound from last month's more pessimistic attitude. And, for the first time since the 100-day mark of his presidency, slightly more than half approve of Obama's stewardship of the economy.

Both findings represent a boost for Obama, though he still must overcome ill will over government red ink and the price of gas at the pump, now hovering around $4 a gallon.


How the oil industry saves $4.4B a year on taxes

Motorists are paying nearly $4 for a gallon of gasoline as the oil industry reaps pre-tax profits that could hit $200 billion this year.

This makes another big number hard to take: $4.4 billion. That's how much the industry saves every year through special tax breaks intended to promote domestic drilling.

President Barack Obama is increasing pressure on Congress to eliminate these tax breaks _ including one that is nearly a century old _ at a time of record budget deficits. The President and congressional Democrats say eliminating the tax breaks will also lower gas prices by making alternative energy sources more competitive.


Retail sales up for 10th straight month in April

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Consumers spent more on gasoline, clothing and autos in April, pushing retail sales up for a 10th straight month. But much of the gain came from a surge in gasoline and food prices.

Retail sales rose 0.5 percent in April after a 0.9 percent increase in March, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Excluding a 2.7 percent jump in gasoline sales, the increase was a much smaller 0.2 percent.

Pump prices have been surging in recent months. The nationwide average has hovered slightly below $4 per gallon. Economists are worried that higher fuel costs will leave motorists with less money to spend on other discretionary goods and that will slow economic growth.


Wholesale prices rise due to costlier gas and food

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Companies paid more for raw materials and factory goods in April, mostly because energy prices jumped for the seventh straight month.

The Producer Price Index, which measures price changes before they reach the consumer, rose 0.8 percent last month, the Labor Department said. That's slightly above the 0.7 percent gain in March. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, the core index increased 0.3 percent, the same as in the previous month.

Over the past 12 months, the index has increased 6.8 percent, the biggest gain in nearly three years. Outside of food and energy, prices rose 2.1 percent, up from a 1.9 percent gain in March.


Fixed mortgage rates hit lowest levels for 2011

NEW YORK (AP) _ Fixed mortgage rates have fallen to their lowest levels of the year, giving Americans more incentive to buy homes or refinance their loans.

Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on the 30-year loan fell to 4.63 percent from 4.71. The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage slipped to 3.82 percent from 3.89 percent. Both are at their lowest points since December. It marked the fourth straight weekly decline.

Rates track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which fell close to its lowest level of the year this week.


GM CEO invests more of his money in the company

DETROIT (AP) _ General Motors CEO Dan Akerson has invested more of his own money in the company.

The company says in a regulatory filing that Akerson bought 30,000 GM shares for $31.33 each. That means he spent $940,000.

The purchase increases his personal holdings of GM stock to 50,000 shares. The stock debuted in November. But it has slumped since hitting a high of $38.98 on Jan. 7. GM has closed below its $33 initial public offering price since May 4. Investors have pushed down the price because they're worried about the government selling its 500 million shares of GM. They're also concerned about the effect of high gas prices and rising costs on profits.


Pace of foreclosures slowed further in April

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Fewer Americans had their homes repossessed by banks or were put on notice for being behind on their mortgage payments in April compared to a year ago.

That would ordinarily suggest improving fortunes for U.S. homeowners, but the decline had less to do with any turnaround in the housing market than with foreclosure processing delays that appear to be getting worse. That is threatening to drag out a housing recovery, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

Banks repossessed 69,532 homes last month, down 5 percent from March and down 25 percent compared with April of last year, according to RealtyTrac, which tracks warnings sent to homeowners throughout the foreclosure process.

The number of properties receiving an initial notice of default fell to 63,422, down 14 percent from March and down 39 percent from April, 2010.

Homes scheduled for auction for the first time also declined in April, falling to 86,304. That's down 7 percent from March and 37 percent below April of last year.


Kohl's 1Q profit climbs, lifts full-year outlook

NEW YORK (AP) _ Kohl's Corp.'s first-quarter net income climbed 6 percent as its move to control expenses like inventory and strength in its store-label brands made up for a more modest revenue increase overall.

The company also raised its full-year earnings outlook Thursday, partly on optimism it will be able to pass on higher costs for raw materials like cotton.

Lingering cool temperatures in the Northeast and Midwest chilled sales of seasonal items like clothing. But the department store retailer said it expects clothing sales to improve as the weather warms up.

Kohl's net income rose to $211 million, or 73 cents per share, for the period ended April 30 from $199 million, or 64 cents per share, a year earlier. Earnings met the expectations of analysts surveyed by FactSet.


Nordstrom 1Q net income up 25 percent

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Upscale retailer Nordstrom Inc. reported Thursday that its first-quarter net income rose 25 percent as its revenue improved.

But the company lowered its full-year outlook to reflect the impact of an acquisition, and its shares fell in after-hours trading.

The company, based in Seattle, said it earned $145 million, or 65 cents per share, for the quarter that ended April 30. That's up from $116 million, or 52 cents per share, in the same quarter last year.


By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 65.89 points, or 0.5 percent, to 12,695.92. The S&P 500 added 6.57, or 0.5 percent, to 1,348.65. The Nasdaq composite rose 17.98, or 0.6 percent, to 2,863.04.

Benchmark crude for June delivery gained 76 cents to settle at $98.97 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Natural gas for June delivery added 1.5 cents to settle at $4.256 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In other Nymex trading for June contracts, gasoline fell 5.89 cents to settle at $3.0639 per gallon and heating oil gained 1.54 cents to settle at $2.9137 per gallon.

In London, Brent crude rose 19 cents to settle at $112.98 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.