Last Update on December 12, 2013 18:34 GMT
NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks are lower in early afternoon trading on Wall Street.
Stocks have risen sharply this year, and some analysts have been saying buyers may be getting more choosy. Also, some are worried that a recovering U.S. economy suggests that the Federal Reserve may wind down its stimulus, which has helped lift stock prices.
Stocks posted their biggest declines in five weeks on Wednesday, but the Dow is still up 20 percent for the year, and the S&P 500 is up 24 percent.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 68,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 368,000, the largest increase in more than a year.
The surge could be a troubling sign if it lasts. But it likely reflects the difficulty adjusting for delays after the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Labor Department says the less volatile four-week average rose 6,000 to 328,750. That is close to pre-recession levels and generally a positive sign for job gains.
Applications for unemployment aid are a proxy for layoffs. A steady decline over the past year suggests that fewer Americans have lost their jobs. Economists will track the next few weeks closely to see if that trend is reversing, or if the surge is a temporary blip caused by seasonal adjustments.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumers ramped up spending in November on cars, appliances and furniture and made more purchases online, signaling growing confidence in the economy during the holiday shopping season.
The Commerce Department says retail sales rose 0.7 percent, the biggest gain in five months. October's figure was also revised higher to 0.6 percent.
Two straight months of healthy sales suggests steady hiring is encouraging Americans to spend more this holiday season, particularly on big-ticket items.
Auto sales jumped 1.8 percent and furniture purchases rose 1.2 percent. Excluding the volatile categories of autos, gas and building materials, sales rose a solid 0.5 percent in November.
Americans also are shifting more spending to online and catalog retailers. Online and catalog sales rose 2.2 percent last month, the most in nearly 18 months.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. companies boosted their stockpiles at the fastest rate in nine months as their sales grew. The gain in restocking indicates businesses anticipated a healthy holiday shopping season.
The Commerce Department says business inventories increased 0.7 percent in October, following a 0.6 percent gain in September. Sales rose 0.5 percent, above a 0.3 percent gain the previous month.
The increase could signal better growth in the October-December quarter than some economists had anticipated. Greater restocking boosts growth because it requires more factory production.
Growth is still likely to slow from the July-September quarter's robust 3.6 percent annual rate, half of which came from a jump in restocking.
But consumers appear to be spending more, a trend that will help keep the economy growing at solid pace.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages eased slightly this week, remaining near historically low levels.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the rate on the 30-year loan declined to 4.42 percent from 4.46 percent last week. The average on the 15-year fixed loan dipped to 3.43 percent from 3.47 percent.
Mortgage rates peaked at 4.6 percent in August and have stabilized since September, when the Federal Reserve surprised markets by taking no action. The Fed meets next week and could slow the bond purchases if the economy shows further improvement.
The bond purchases are designed to keep long-term rates low.
A government report issued Thursday signaled growing consumer confidence in the economy at the start of the holiday shopping season, as November retail sales marked the biggest gain in five months.
HEALTH OVERHAUL-PRE-EXISTING ANXIETY
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Technology problems with President Barack Obama's health care website are forcing the administration to extend a federal insurance plan for some of the sickest patients by a month.
The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan was supposed to disappear Jan. 1, because insurers will no longer be able to turn away patients with health issues next year.
But the website problems that have kept uninsured people from signing up for new coverage under Obama's law also created obstacles for patients in the federal high-risk insurance plan and similar programs run by states.
Addressing the anxiety, the Health and Human Services Department will keep the plan going through January. The decision was confirmed Thursday by a person who was briefed on it, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans are rallying behind a modest budget pact that promises to bring a temporary halt to budget brinkmanship in Washington and ease automatic budget cuts that would otherwise slam the Pentagon and domestic agencies for a second straight year.
President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats also are praising the measure negotiated with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who has morphed, however briefly, from an uncompromising small-government stalwart into a dealmaker eager to claim a partial victory on the budget.
The deal Ryan negotiated with Senate Democratic counterpart Patty Murray would preserve the bulk of tough agency spending cuts the GOP won in a 2011 showdown with Obama, while reducing the chances of a rerun of the partial government shutdown.
It's set for a vote Thursday.
CELLPHONES ON PLANES
WASHINGTON (AP) -- As one part of the federal government looks to remove restrictions on making phone calls from airplanes, another agency is apparently considering its own prohibition.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Thomas Wheeler told members of Congress Thursday that while his agency sees no technical reason to ban calls on planes, Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told him that the DOT will be moving forward with its own restrictions.
Wheeler called his proposal to rescind the ban "the responsible thing to do." Calls have been prohibited for 22 years over fears that they would interfere with cellular networks on the ground. Technological advances have resolved those concerns.
Wheeler told members of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, "When the rationale for a rule doesn't exist, the rule shouldn't exist."
Wheeler said he's called the CEOs of major airlines, telling them that the government isn't requiring them to allow calls. Ultimately, the decision will rest with individual airlines.
GAS MILEAGE RECORD
DETROIT (AP) -- The U.S. government says new cars and trucks sold last year averaged 23.6 miles per gallon of gasoline, a record.
Mazda led all auto companies with an average of 27.1 mpg, followed by Honda at 26.6. Chrysler-Fiat had the worst mileage at 20.1, followed by Daimler at 21.1 mpg. All the figures are for combined city and highway driving.
The Environmental Protection Agency says the overall increase for 2012 is 1.2 miles per gallon above 2011. That's the second-largest annual increase in 30 years.
The agency says automakers are increasing mileage by cutting weight and with more efficient engines and transmissions.
DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors says it has sold its 8.5 percent stake in Ally Financial for about $900 million.
The Detroit automaker said Thursday it expects to record a gain of $500 million from the deal in its fourth-quarter earnings.
It wouldn't say who bought the stake, which was sold in a private placement.
Ally is GM's former auto loan and mortgage arm. It had to be rescued by the U.S. government at the height of the financial crisis.
The Treasury Department still holds a 64 percent stake in Ally, with the rest held by a mix of institutional investors.
GM says the deal gives the company more financial flexibility. It says Ally will continue to make loans to GM dealers and customers.
BREAST CANCER PREVENTION
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Women at high risk of developing breast cancer because of family history or bad genes have a new option to help prevent the disease.
A study of 4,000 women found that a daily hormone-blocking pill cut the risk of developing breast cancer by more than half after five years of use.
The drug is anastrozole (uh-NASS'-truh-zole), sold as Arimidex (uh-RIM'-uh-dex) and in generic form. It can cause hot flashes, joint pain and other side effects, but these were nearly as common among women given dummy pills and are often due to menopause and aging.
Results were reported Thursday at a cancer conference in San Antonio.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- State prosecutors are asking the Food and Drug Administration to reconsider its approval of a powerful new painkiller called Zohydro, saying that the narcotic pill could add to the national epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
The FDA approved Zohydro in October, making it the first single-ingredient hydrocodone drug available in the U.S. The extended release pill is reportedly five to 10 times more potent than currently available hydrocodone combination pills, like Vicodin. The agency's decision surprised many doctors, since an FDA advisory panel voted overwhelmingly against the drug, citing its potential for abuse.
The letter from 28 state attorneys general asks the FDA to revoke the drug's approval or require manufacturer Zogenix to reformulate the drug so it is harder to abuse.
Zogenix did not immediately return calls for comment.