Stocks move higher after unemployment claims ease
NEW YORK (AP) — Stock prices are rising amid news of a decrease in claims for unemployment benefits and some positive earnings reports.
The Labor Department said applications for unemployment benefits fell last week to the second-lowest number in more than five years.
Dow Chemical's profits rose even as revenue slipped because the company cut costs and paid down debt. The stock increased 4 percent.
Royal Caribbean rose 7 percent as more people booked vacations compared with the same period a year ago.
UPDATE: Options exchange reopens after half-day outage
NEW YORK (AP) — Trading on the biggest exchange for financial options has resumed following an outage caused by software problems.
The Chicago Board of Options Exchange failed to open at its regular time of 9:30 a.m. Eastern, then reopened at 12:50 p.m. with trading of options on the Standard & Poor's 500 index, according to CBOE spokesperson Gail Osten.
Trading of other options resumed 10 minutes later, according to the CBOE's Twitter feed.
Options give the holder the right, but not the obligation, to buy and sell stocks or other financial assets.
The CBOE is the largest U.S. options exchange. Many of the most frequently-traded stock options are bought and sold on its exchange.
US unemployment aid applications drop to 339K
WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to a seasonally adjusted 339,000, the second-lowest level in more than five years. The decline suggests hiring is improving from last month's sluggish pace.
The Labor Department says applications for unemployment aid dropped by 16,000. The four-week average declined 4,500 to 357,500.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Declines in applications signal that companies are cutting fewer jobs. Still, layoffs are only half of the equation. Businesses also need to be confident enough in the economic outlook to step up hiring.
In March, employers added only 88,000 jobs. That was a sharp drop from the previous four months, when hiring averaged 220,000 per month.
CORRECTION: 15-year rate at record low 2.61 pct
WASHINGTON (AP) — The average U.S. rate on the 30-year mortgage fell closer this week to its historic low and the 15-year rate marked a new record low. Low rates are increasing the affordability of buying homes and refinancing.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate for the 30-year fixed loan slipped to 3.40 percent from 3.41 percent last week. That's near the 3.31 percent rate reached in November, which was the lowest on records dating back to 1971.
The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage fell to 2.61 percent from 2.64 percent last week. That's below the previous record low of 2.63 percent in November, the lowest since the 1990s.
Low mortgage rates are helping drive a housing recovery that began last year. Home prices and construction are increasing.
FAA order formally lifts Boeing 787 grounding
WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal regulators are telling airlines they can fly Boeing's 787 Dreamliners again as soon as they replace its problematic lithium ion batteries with a revamped battery system.
A Federal Aviation Administration safety order posted online Thursday applies to all U.S. airlines, but only one airline — United — currently has 787s in their fleet. They have six. The FAA estimated the repair costs for those planes at $2.8 million.
The planes have been grounded since mid-January, following a battery fire on a 787 parked at Boston's Logan International Airport, and a smoking battery that led to an emergency landing by another 787 in Japan.
There are 50 of the planes in service worldwide, but Boeing has purchase orders 840 more planes. Newly delivered will come with the revamped system.
Top Dems back measure to ease FAA furloughs
WASHINGTON (AP) — Top Democrats in Congress are voicing support for a measure to roll back budget cuts that led to delays for airline passengers because of air traffic controller furloughs.
The measure would erase about $200 million in cuts to the Federal Aviation Administration.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says she prefers to roll back all $85 billion in budget cuts. But Pelosi says she could back a bill just for the FAA if the details are satisfactory.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York says he's also open to the bill.
The Democrats spoke after White House press secretary Jay Carney made similar comments Wednesday. Until then, the White House had mostly opposed measures to stop cuts to individual agencies or programs, though congressional Democrats have supported it.
EU lawmakers support free trade deal with US
BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union lawmakers have voted in favor of starting talks on a wide-ranging free trade agreement with the United States.
A parliamentary committee on Thursday voted 23-5 to endorse the negotiation mandate for the European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-country bloc.
Lawmakers also voted an amendment calling for the exclusion of cultural services. The vote is non-binding at this stage but any agreement ultimately needs Parliament's approval.
Experts say a deal can foster growth and jobs by lowering tariffs and removing other trade barriers for most industries. Together the EU and the U.S. account for almost half the world economy.
The negotiations are expected to be arduous, not least because of disagreements over agriculture.
EU officials hope to reach a deal before the end of next year.
Britain dodges recession after growing in Q1
LONDON (AP) — Britain dodged recession after official figures showed the economy grew in the first quarter.
The Office for National Statistics said the economy grew by 0.3 percent in the first quarter compared with the previous three-month period.
Economists on average were expecting growth of 0.1 percent compared with the previous quarter. But with growth so anemic, even a statistical blip could have put the number in negative territory and push Britain into its third recession since 2008.
A recession is typically defined as two quarters of economic contraction.
Economic indicators ahead of Thursday's release were not promising for Britain, which has the third-largest economy in the 27-country EU. Britain's government desperately wanted a robust number to justify its austerity policies.
Spain's jobless above 6 million for first time
MADRID (AP) — With over 6 million unemployed for the first time ever, Spain's jobless rate shot up to a record 27.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013, the National Statistics Institute said Thursday, in another grim picture of the recession-wracked country.
The agency said the number of people unemployed rose by 237,400 people in the first three months of the year, a 1.1 percent increase from the previous quarter. The total out of work stood at 6.2 million people, the first time the number has breached the 6-million mark.
The number of people considered long-term unemployed — out of a job for more than a year — increased to 3.5 million while the unemployment rate for those aged under 25 was a staggering 57 percent. The government body also said its survey found the number of households without any one working had risen by 72,400 to a 1.91 million.
Spain has been in recession for much of the past four years as it struggles to deal with the collapse of its once-booming real estate sector in 2008. In the previous decade its economy was thriving, generating millions of jobs.
Google makes concessions to EU antitrust body
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's antitrust body says Google is offering concessions on how it displays search results in Europe to appease concerns the company might be abusing its dominant market position.
The EU Commission said Thursday the U.S. internet giant proposes a clearer labeling of results, allowing users to distinguish between natural search results and others promoted by Google.
It says Google also agreed to display some links to services offered by its competitors next to those for its own offerings such as YouTube, Google Maps or its shopping search function.
The Commission, the 27-nation bloc's executive arm, has investigated Google since 2010. It is now proposing a so-called market test of the legally binding concession offered by Google, giving competitors the chance to say whether they deem them sufficient.
Facebook: Audit finds privacy practices sufficient
NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook says that an independent audit found its privacy practices sufficient during a six-month assessment period that was part of a settlement with federal regulators.
Facebook Inc. said it submitted the findings to the Federal Trade Commission on Monday. The audit was required as part of the social networking company's settlement with the FTC last summer. The settlement resolved charges that Facebook exposed information about users without getting the required legal consent.
Facebook provided a copy of its letter to the FTC along with a redacted copy of the auditor's letter, to The Associated Press. Facebook says the redacted portion contains trade secret information and does not alter the auditor's findings. The name of the accounting firm is also redacted.
The audit covered written policies as well as its data.