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Weekly US jobless claims hit 9-month high of 379K

Updated: Friday, December 20, 2013 |
Weekly US jobless claims hit 9-month high of 379K story image
WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 379,000, the highest since March. The increase may reflect volatility around the Thanksgiving holidays.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average jumped 13,250 to 343,250, the second straight increase.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Last month, they fell to nearly the lowest level in six years, as companies cut fewer jobs. But two weeks ago, they surged 64,000 to 369,000.

Economists dismissed that spike, saying it likely reflected a Thanksgiving holiday that fell later in the month. That can distort the government's seasonal adjustments. But if the trend continues it would be a troubling sign of rising layoffs.

The number of people receiving benefits rose sharply. More than 4.4 million people received unemployment benefits in the week ended Nov. 30, the latest data available. That was 600,000 more than the previous week. Those figures aren't adjusted for seasonal patterns.

Still, most other recent job market data has been positive and economists generally expect unemployment benefits applications will soon fall back.

"We are inclined to ignore the recent claims data," said Joseph LaVorgna, an economist at Deutsche Bank. "We see little evidence to suggest that the labor market trend of the past few months has meaningfully changed."

Hiring has been healthy for the past four months. The economy added an average of 204,000 jobs a month from August through November, a solid improvement from earlier in the year. The unemployment rate fell in November to a five-year low of 7 percent.

The unemployment rate remains above the historic averages of 5 percent to 6 percent that are associated with strong job markets.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday that he expects the robust job gains to continue. Americans are spending more and the economy is less restrained by higher taxes and government spending cuts, he said.

Those trends have "increased our confidence that the job market gains will continue," Bernanke said at a press conference.

The Fed said Wednesday that it would scale back its monthly bond purchases to $75 billion from $85 billion. The purchases are intended to lower long-term interest rates and encourage more spending. The cut suggests that Fed policymakers think the job market and economy will continue to improve even with less help from the Fed.
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Business News

Last Update on November 21, 2014 18:31 GMT

CHINA-ECONOMY

BEIJING (AP) -- China's central bank unexpectedly slashed interest rates on Friday to re-energize the world's No. 2 economy, joining a growing list of major economies that are trying to encourage growth in the face of a global slowdown.

On top of the rate cut, Chinese authorities promised to inject credit into the financial system if needed.

The People's Bank of China said it is trying to address "financing difficulties" caused by a shortage of credit. It also said the move was not a change in monetary policy and economic conditions are within an "appropriate range."

China's economic growth fell to a five-year low of 7.3 percent in the latest quarter and manufacturing and other indicators are declining. That has prompted suggestions Beijing might intervene to prop up growth.

EUROPE-ECONOMY

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) -- European Central Bank head Mario Draghi says the chief monetary authority for the eurozone is willing to "step up the pressure" and broaden its stimulus efforts to help the struggling economy.

Draghi said Friday at a banking congress in Frankfurt, Germany that if current efforts do not achieve the desired effect the ECB could "broaden even more the channels through which we intervene."

The ECB has already lowered its benchmark interest rate to near zero and started purchasing bonds made up of bank loans to companies -- an effort to boost lending and economic activity.

Some economists think the bank could widen the bond purchases to include corporate or government bonds in an effort to pump newly created money into the financial system -- so-called quantitative easing, or QE.

STATE UNEMPLOYMENT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Unemployment rates fell in 34 U.S. states in October, a sign that steady hiring this year has been broadly dispersed through most of the country.

The Labor Department says unemployment rates rose in just 5 states, the fewest since April. Rates were unchanged in 11 states.

Nationwide, employers added 214,000 jobs in October, the ninth straight month of gains above 200,000. That's the longest such stretch since 1995. The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent, a six-year low, from 5.9 percent. Steady economic growth has prompted more companies to add jobs, though the additional hiring hasn't yet boosted wages.

Georgia had the highest unemployment rate, at 7.7 percent, though that was down from 7.9 percent in September. North Dakota continued to have the lowest rate, at 2.8 percent.

LEXUS RECALL

DETROIT (AP) -- Toyota is recalling nearly 423,000 Lexus luxury brand cars in the U.S. to fix fuel leaks that can cause fires.

The recalls affect the 2006 to 2011 GS, 2007 to 2010 LS and the 2006 to 2011 IS models.

Toyota says the cars' fuel lines have nickel phosphate plating to protect against corrosion. Some lines could have been built with particles coming in contact with a gasket. That can cause the sealing property to deteriorate and cause fuel leaks.

Toyota says it's not aware of any fires or injuries caused by the problem. The company found it after getting complaints of fuel odors.

Dealers will repair the gasket seating surface at no cost to owners.

Some of the Lexuses were recalled in 2009 to fix leaks in aluminum fuel pipes.

JAPAN-US-AIR BAGS

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's transport ministry has told air bag maker Takata to conduct an internal investigation after cases of its air bags exploding triggered safety concerns in the U.S. and other countries.

Transport Minister Akihiro Ohta said Friday that the ministry ordered Takata Corp. to conduct its own investigation into the air bags and report back. The ministry's direct instruction to an auto parts maker is considered rare.

The ministry also ordered Takata and Japanese automakers to study whether additional recalls are needed at home following a U.S. decision to expand recalls nationwide from an earlier measure limited to high-humidity zones.

Takata air bags can inflate with excessive force, sending metal shrapnel toward the driver and passengers. The problems have caused six deaths and dozens of injuries.

FORD PICKUP-FUEL ECONOMY

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- Ford says its new aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup will get up to 26 mpg on the highway, making it the most fuel efficient gas-powered full-size pickup.

The Ram truck is the current leader among pickups, getting up to 25 mpg on the highway with a gas engine.

Fuel economy is a key data point for the new F-150, which is arriving at dealerships this week. Ford shaved 700 pounds off the weight of the truck by switching the body from steel to lightweight aluminum, a dramatic change for the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.

The F-150 will get 26 mpg on the highway with a 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine, which is a $495 option. That is 13 percent better than the outgoing truck's 23 mpg.

ETHANOL IN GASOLINE

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration is delaying a decision on whether to reduce the amount of ethanol in the nation's fuel supply.

Last year the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to reduce the amount of ethanol in fuel for the first time. The decision angered corn growers and ethanol companies who have since lobbied the government to reverse the decision.

The EPA said Friday it expects to make a final decision next year.

The ethanol targets are required by a 2007 law that tried to address global warming, reduce dependence on foreign oil and boost the rural economy by requiring oil companies to blend billions of gallons of biofuels into gasoline annually.

Lawmakers did not anticipate fuel economy would improve as much as it has in recent years, reducing overall demand for gasoline.

IMMIGRATION-ECONOMICS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House says President Barack Obama's immigration executive actions would boost the economy by expanding the U.S. labor force and increasing worker productivity. It says average wages would rise over a 10 year period, a claim that Obama critics and even some labor allies dispute.

The report by Obama's Council of Economic Advisers estimates the administrative actions would increase the gross domestic product by $90 billion, or 0.4 percent, over 10 years. It says wages for native workers will rise by 0.3 percent by 2024

The report aims to counter critics such as Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, who say the executive measures would reduce wages and cost American workers' jobs. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also says Obama's moves to provide access to temporary visas could suppress wages in the tech sector.

Obama's actions could spare nearly 5 million immigrants illegally in the U.S. from deportation and make them eligible for work permits.

AEREO-BANKRUPTCY

NEW YORK (AP) -- Online streaming service Aereo says that it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, saying an unfavorable ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court was too difficult to overcome.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Aereo operates much like a cable TV company. As a result, the court said the service violates copyright law unless Aereo pays broadcasters licensing fees for offering TV station programs to customers' tablets, phones and other gadgets.

CEO Chet Kanojia said in a statement Friday on the company's website that the Supreme Court decision "effectively changed the laws that had governed Aereo's technology, creating regulatory and legal uncertainty."

Kanojia said that the Chapter 11 filing will allow Aereo Inc. to maximize the value of its business while avoiding the cost and distraction of litigation.

FRANCE-HSBC

PARIS (AP) -- HSBC says it has been placed under formal investigation in France over services it offered to clients required to pay taxes in France.

In a statement Friday, Switzerland-based HSBC Private Bank said French investigators demanded a 50 million euro ($62 million) bond.

France's government is increasingly cracking down on tax dodgers, including establishing an office dedicated solely to investigating financial crimes.

HSBC said the investigation involves the bank's actions from 2006-2007.

RUSSIA-SAUDI ARABIA

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's foreign minister says there should be no intervention in global energy production, even as the country's economy takes a hit from rapidly falling oil prices.

After a meeting with his Saudi counterpart in Moscow, Sergei Lavrov said both Russia and Saudi Arabia did not want oil production targets to be affected by "political or geopolitical designs."

The theory that the United States has manipulated global oil production to bring down prices is a popular theme on state-owned television in Russia, where the economy and state budget are heavily dependent on oil exports.

Also on Monday, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told Russian news agencies that the government was reviewing the possibility of lowering oil production, but still wasn't sure whether such a move would be feasible.

GULF PLATFORM-EXPLOSION

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A drilling company says a worker killed in an offshore explosion was cleaning a piece of equipment during routine maintenance at its oil-and-gas platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

Houston-based Fieldwood Energy LLC says another worker suffered "visible injury" and two other workers reported ringing in their ears. The company says the three injured workers have been released from the hospital.

Fieldwood says the worker who was killed Thursday was cleaning a piece of equipment that separates oil from water liquids when an "isolated pressure event" occurred. The company says the victim was employed by the Louisiana company Turnkey Cleaning Services, which specializes in cleaning offshore facilities.

The explosion happened on the Echo Platform, which is about 12 miles offshore near the mouth of the Mississippi River.

DOW CHEMICAL-THIRD POINT

NEW YORK (AP) -- Dow Chemical Co. says it will add four new members to its board of directors after pressure from hedge fund activist Daniel Loeb's Third Point.

Shares of the specialty chemicals maker rose 2.6 percent to $52.82 in morning trading Friday.

The new additions are Mark Loughridge, Raymond Milchovich, Robert Miller, who will join the board in January. Richard Davis will join in May.

Dow has also agreed to include the group in its nominees for election at the 2015 annual meeting nominate.

In January, Third Point disclosed that it bought a stake in Dow, but did not disclose how many shares it bought. Third Point says Dow is its biggest investment.

As recently as last week, Third Point published a website and video pushing Dow to shake up its board and increase shareholder value.

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