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Update on the latest business

Sep 26, 2013 1:05pm

WALL STREET

Better economic news boosts stock market

NEW YORK (AP) — Upbeat news on employment is lifting stocks today.

The government reports unemployment claims fell close to their lowest level in six years last week.

The Dow and S&P 500 have fallen five consecutive days, spooked by the prospect of a government shutdown and word from Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew that the Treasury's ability to borrow funds will be exhausted Oct. 17.

In afternoon trading, the Dow was up about 45 points, while the S&P was up close to 5 and the Nasdaq was around 25 points ahead.

Among the big movers is Bed Bath & Beyond, which rose $ 4 percent after reporting its quarterly profit increased 11 percent.

BUDGET BATTLE

Boehner: Funding bill must include GOP priorities

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker John Boehner says he has "no interest in a government shutdown," but House Republicans won't simply pass a temporary spending bill from the Democratic Senate that's been shorn of a tea party plan to "defund Obamacare."

The Senate is expected to pass a bill this weekend that would fund the government beyond Monday, the last day of the budget year. House Republicans previously passed a bill to fund the government that also stripped funding for President Barack Obama's health care law, but the Senate is expected to remove those provisions.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama vows he won't let Republicans undercut the health care law. Obama says congressional critics have become more irresponsible in their attempts to kill it the closer the law comes to full implementation.

Obama is promoting the benefits of the law known as "Obamacare," five days before the start of a six-month sign-up period for millions of uninsured Americans.

HEALTH OVERHAUL-ONLINE GLITCHES

Deadline glitches: health overhaul online sign-up delayed for small firms and Spanish-speakers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Administration officials are quietly telling key interest groups to expect initial glitches signing up online for coverage under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Two sources tell The Associated Press that small businesses will not be able to enroll online starting Oct. 1 when new health insurance markets go live. Instead, one of the sources, a person who was briefed on the situation, said business owners will initially have to mail or fax their information so that they can enroll.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement hasn't yet been made.

Separately, the administration told Hispanic groups that the Spanish-language version of its healthcare.gov website will be not be ready to handle enrollments for a few weeks. An estimated 10 million Latinos are eligible for coverage.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

US unemployment aid applications near 6-year low

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 5,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 305,000, the second-lowest level in six years. Steady declines in applications show that very few companies are laying off workers.

The Labor Department says the less volatile four-week average declined 7,000 to 308,000, the lowest since June 2007.

All states reported their first-time applications on time, a department spokesman said. Applications plummeted three weeks ago because computer upgrades in California and Nevada prevented them from fully reporting their data. Those states have cleared their backlogs, the spokesman said.

Applications are a proxy for layoffs. Fewer layoffs suggest employers are confident enough to maintain their staffing levels. But companies have been reluctant to take the next step and ramp up hiring.

ECONOMY-GDP

US economy grew at 2.5 percent rate in spring

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy grew at a 2.5 percent annual rate from April through June, an improvement from the first three months of the year. But economists are worried that growth may now be slowing.

The Commerce Department says its final look at economic growth in the spring was unchanged from a prior estimate made last month. However, the components of growth were altered slightly.

Businesses added a bit less to their stockpiles and exports did not grow as fast as previously thought. These downward revisions were balanced by slightly stronger spending by state and local governments.

Many analysts believe growth is slowing to a sluggish rate at or below 2 percent in the current quarter. Economists had initially hoped growth would improve in the second half of the year.

PENDING HOMES SALES

US pending home sales fall for 3rd straight month

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer Americans signed contracts to buy U.S. homes in August, the third straight decline. The drop could mean that higher mortgage rates are starting to deter buyers.

The National Association of Realtors says its seasonally adjusted index for pending home sales declined 1.6 percent to 107.7 last month. The index has fallen for three straight months after reaching a 6 ½-year high in May.

Mortgage rates have risen more than a full percentage point since May. That caused many buyers to speed up purchases this summer, pushing sales of previously owned homes to the highest level in over six years in August.

MORTGAGE RATES

Average US 30-year mortgage rate down to 4.32 pct.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell this week to their lowest point in two months. The decline follows the Federal Reserve's decision last week to hold off slowing its monthly bond purchases.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average rate on the 30-year loan dropped to 4.32 percent from 4.50 percent last week. The average on the 15-year fixed loan declined to 3.37 percent from 3.54 percent.

Both are the lowest averages since July 25.

Mortgage rates are nearly a full percentage point higher than in May, when the Fed first signaled it might slow its $85-billion-a-month in bond buys. But last week the Fed kept the pace steady after lowering its outlook for economic growth.

The bond purchases are intended to lower long-term interest rates, including mortgage rates.

AGRICULTURE-LABOR SHORTAGES

Farmers face labor shortages in the fields

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — With the harvest in full swing throughout the West Coast, farmers in California and other states say they can't find enough people to pick high value crops such as grapes, peppers, apples and pears.

In some cases, workers have walked off fields in the middle of harvest, lured by offers of better pay or easier work elsewhere.

The shortage and competition for workers mean labor expenses have climbed, harvests are getting delayed and less fruit and vegetable products are being picked, prompting some growers to say their income is suffering.

But farmworkers have seen their pay jump several dollars over the minimum wage.

Experts say the shortages are due to the recession, more security and drug violence on the border, as well as a plunging fertility rate in Mexico.

GENERAL MOTORS-GOVERNMENT STOCK

Gov't sells more GM shares, cuts stake to 7 pct.

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. government says it's starting another phase of selling General Motors stock after cutting its stake to just over 7 percent.

The Treasury Department says it still owns 101.3 million GM shares. It got 912 million GM shares in exchange for a $49.5 billion bailout of GM in 2009. So far taxpayers have recovered about $35.4 billion. That means they're still $14.1 billion in the hole on the bailout.

To break even, the remaining shares would have to sell for nearly $140 each. At the current price of $37.19, the government would get nearly $3.8 billion more. So taxpayers are likely to lose around $10 billion on the deal.

The Treasury plans to sell all of its shares by the first of April.

AG HOLDER-JPMORGAN

AG Holder meeting with JPMorgan chief

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder met with J.P. Morgan's chief executive at the Justice Department this morning, but he's not saying much about it.

Holder confirms he met with Jamie Dimon (DY'-muhn) and other bank representatives but would only say that there are matter under investigation and there would be further announcements in the coming months.

A government official familiar with the ongoing negotiations says an $11 billion settlement is under review to resolve claims against JPMorgan related to the company's handling of mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the recession.

The mortgage-backed securities lost value after a bubble in the housing market burst, helping to spur the financial crisis.

Before and after the meeting, Dimon declined to answer when asked about the state of the discussions.

UN-LIVESTOCK EMISSIONS

UN: Better livestock handling curbs greenhouse gas

ROME (AP) — A U.N. report says improved livestock breeding and feeding practices could trim greenhouse gas emissions in the industry by up to 30 percent.

Livestock emissions account for 14.5 percent of all heat-trapping gasses attributed to human activities. Of that, cattle production for milk and meat is the worst offender, representing 65 percent of all livestock emissions.

The Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said in a report Thursday that breeding techniques that make more productive animals can reduce the size of herds, reducing the livestock's carbon footprint.

Another way to cut: improve feeding techniques to cut down on methane gasses generated during digestion.

FAO's Ren Wang, in charge of agriculture and consumer protection, said the cuts are do-able and important because demand for meat and poultry is growing in the developing world.


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