Weak Oracle sales, Cyprus fears weigh on US shares
NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are lower on Wall Street as weak sales from Oracle and worries about Cyprus' ability to get a bailout weigh on the market.
The Dow has been about 50 to 60 points lower for much of the day, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq are also lower.
All three indexes are feeling the drag from technology stocks after Oracle reported an unexpected decline in sales in its fiscal third quarter. Oracle was the biggest decliner in the S&P.
And, the European Central Bank threat to end emergency support of Cyprus' banks next week unless the nation can come up with a plan to avoid bankruptcy is also darkening investors' moods. European markets closed sharply lower, with the main indexes in Paris and Frankfurt falling a percentage point or more.
BUDGET BATTLE-NO SHUTDOWN
Government funding bill sails through House
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House has passed a huge stopgap spending bill to keep the government open through the end of September, sidestepping any threat of a government shutdown
The bipartisan 318-109 vote sends the measure President Barack Obama to be signed into law.
The measure would fund the day-to-day operating budgets of every Cabinet agency through Sept. 30, provide another $87 billion to fund overseas military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and maintain a pay freeze for federal workers.
The measure leaves in place automatic spending cuts of 5 percent to domestic programs and 8 percent to the Pentagon that will mean job furloughs for hundreds of thousands of federal workers but takes steps to ease the impact of those cuts to food inspection and college assistance for active duty military
Meanwhile, the House also has passed a budget plan that promises sharp cuts in safety-net programs for the poor and a clampdown on domestic agencies. Republican sponsors say it will bring the federal government's finances into balance in 10 years. It passed on a mostly party-line 221-207 vote.
The Senate is working on its own plan, and the House measure is thought to stand much of a chance there.
Cyprus has 4 days to find bailout solution
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — The European Central Bank has given Cyprus four days to agree on a new plan to raise funds to avoid bankruptcy. Otherwise, the ECB will pull the plug on the country's banks at the start of next week.
Facing the ultimatum, the Cypriot government is racing to put together a new package that can please both Parliament and the country's potential international creditors.
There have been long lines at ATMs in the capital, amid indications that a "Plan B" could include restructuring of Cyprus' troubled banks.
Banks have been shut since an initial bailout plan last weekend proposed raiding deposits. That plan raised howls of outrage and worries about a run on banks, which will remain closed until. ATMs have been functioning, but many have been running out of cash.
"Plan B" also could include some form of help from Russia. Nearly a third of deposits in Cyprus' banking sector are held by Russians.
Other possibilities being discussed include dipping into pension funds and accepting an offer from Cyprus' wealthy Orthodox church to contribute. Some form of tax on bank deposits also remains possible.
Measure of US economy's health rises in February
WASHINGTON (AP) — A measure of the U.S. economy's health over the next six months increased in February from January, a sign that growth could be improving.
The Conference Board says its index of leading indicators rose 0.5 percent in February to 94.8. That followed an equal gain in January, which was revised higher. The gauge is designed to anticipate economic conditions three to six months out.
The increase was also more broad-based, with eight of its 10 components rising. That compared with only five in January and six in December.
A gain in housing permits, a longer manufacturing work week and rising stock prices were among the elements that drove the index higher. Lower orders for large manufactured goods and lower consumer outlook for business conditions limited the gain.
US homes sales highest in more than 3 years
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. sales of previously occupied homes rose in February to the highest level in more than three years, further evidence of a sustained housing recovery that is benefiting the broader economy.
The National Association of Realtors says sales increased 0.8 percent in February from January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.98 million. That was the highest sales pace since November 2009, when a temporary home buyer tax credit had boosted sales. The February sales pace was also 10.2 percent higher than the same month a year ago.
Steady hiring and near-record-low mortgage rates have helped boost sales and prices in most markets.
The Realtors' group says the median price for a home sold in February was $173,600. That's up 11.6 percent from a year ago.
Average for US jobless claims at fresh 5-year low
WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking unemployment aid barely changed last week and the average over the past month fell to a fresh five-year low. A decline in layoffs is helping strengthen the job market.
The Labor Department says weekly unemployment benefit applications rose just 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 336,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell 7,500 to 339,750. That's the lowest since February 2008, just three months into the recession.
A steady decline in unemployment claims signals companies are laying off fewer workers. That suggests they aren't worried that business will fall off in the near future.
The average has fallen nearly 15 percent since November. Fewer layoffs typically suggest that net hiring will pick up.
ENERGY WORKER SHORTAGE
US mining, energy sectors face workforce shortage
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — A new report says the United States isn't producing enough qualified workers to meet the future needs of the mining and energy sectors.
The National Research Council on Thursday urged new partnerships to tackle the problem of retiring Baby Boomers who cannot readily be replaced. That includes retooling higher education to produce more people competent in science, technology, engineering and math.
The report predicts a bright future for energy and mining, with continuing demand for workers and good pay for those hired. But it says some industries already face labor shortages and others soon will because universities aren't producing graduates with the right skills.
About 46 percent of the mining workforce will be eligible to retire in five years, for example, but there aren't enough younger workers to replace them.
GAS DRILLING-LOCAL BANS
NY court hears arguments on town fracking bans
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Environmentalists and the energy industry are asking a court to decide their battle over previous rulings allowing New York towns to ban drilling for natural gas using high-volume hydraulic fracturing.
In arguments Thursday, a lawyer for Norse Energy told a four-judge Appellate Division panel that state law clearly says localities don't have the power to prevent oil and gas development.
An attorney for an environmental group countered that the law doesn't say local governments can't ban the process known as fracking, it simply says they can't regulate drilling.
A decision is expected in about six weeks.
New York has had a moratorium on fracking for almost five years while other states that sit atop the Marcellus Shale formation have allowed fracking for gas.
Coca-Cola to cut 750 jobs in US
NEW YORK (AP) — Coca-Cola says it's cutting 750 jobs in the U.S. as it continues to streamline its business.
The world's biggest beverage maker says the jobs cuts will be across the board and that affected individuals will be notified in coming weeks. The cuts represent roughly 1 percent of the company's workforce of 75,000 in North America.
A spokesman says about a quarter of the cuts will be in Atlanta, where the company is based.
In a memo to employees last month, Coca-Cola noted that it had identified "areas that must be improved" since buying the North American operations of its largest bottler in 2010. The memo also noted it was realigning its U.S. business into three geographies, down from seven, to reflect the successful structure in its food-service business.
US rate on 30-year mortgage declines to 3.54 pct.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages fell this week and remained near historic lows, a trend that has supported a recovery in housing.
Freddie Mac says the average rate for the 30-year loan fell to 3.54 percent from 3.63 percent last week. That's near the 3.31 percent reached in November, which was the lowest on records dating to 1971.
The average rate on the 30-year loan has been below 4 percent now for a full year.
The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage slipped last week to 2.72 percent from 2.79 percent last week. The record low is 2.63 percent.
Low mortgage rates are spurring more home purchases and refinancing. That's helped the broader economy. Increased sales are also pushing home prices higher.
Lululemon's yoga pants miscue to hurt 2013 results
NEW YORK (AP) — Yoga wear maker Lululemon Athletica is reporting fourth-quarter results that beat Wall Street expectations.
But the Canadian company says its decision this week to pull its popular black yoga pants off the shelves because the fabric showed off too much of their wearers will dent their financial results for this year.
On Monday, Lululemon announced that it pulled the pants from its stores and online after it found out that the fabric used to make them was too sheer.
But its results for the fourth quarter — which covered a period that had ended before it stopped selling the pants — topped analysts' estimates. Its shares rose 52 cents to $64.40 in premarket trading.