Business Highlights

Jobless benefit rolls post first dip since January

WASHINGTON (AP) ¿ The total number of people on the unemployment insurance rolls dropped for the first time since early January, the government said Thursday, while new claims for benefits rose slightly.

The report shows that job losses are easing after companies made deep cuts earlier this year. But nearly half of recipients at the end of last month had exhausted the 26 weeks of benefits provided under the regular state program without finding work, according to Labor Department data. That's a record and compared with about 36 percent in December 2007, when the recession began.

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Senate questions Obama's financial oversight plan

WASHINGTON (AP) ¿ President Barack Obama's plan to increase oversight of banks and other financial institutions met with skepticism on Capitol Hill on Thursday, where senators sharply questioned whether it was enough to prevent another economic meltdown.

The lack of a ringing endorsement suggests the proposal was headed for a rewrite by a Congress sensitive to voter frustration with the government's handling of the economy.

In testimony before the panel, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner defended the proposal as the nation's best shot. Lawmakers mostly agreed that change was needed to streamline federal regulation and fill in oversight gaps believed to have contributed to the housing and credit crisis.

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Financial, health care stocks pull market higher

NEW YORK (AP) ¿ Stocks closed mostly higher but off their best levels Thursday following three straight days of losses. Investors piled back into financial and health care companies and moved out of industries like technology that had been leading the market.

Several upbeat economic reports encouraged investors after a slide earlier this week that dragged the benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 index down 3.8 percent.

The Dow Jones industrials rose 58.42, or 0.7 percent, to 8,555.60. The Dow had been up 98 points. The S&P 500 index rose 7.66, or 0.8 percent, to 918.37, while the Nasdaq composite index slipped 0.34, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,807.72. With trading light as the summer slowdown begins, analysts say more volume is needed in order to move the market significantly in any one direction.

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Judge orders Scrushy to pay $2.9B to shareholders

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) ¿ A state judge on Thursday ordered former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy to pay nearly $2.9 billion to shareholders who sued over a massive accounting fraud that nearly sent the rehabilitation chain into bankruptcy.

Circuit Judge Allwin E. Horn, who heard the case without a jury, ruled in favor of HealthSouth shareholders who filed a lawsuit claiming Scrushy was involved in years of overstating the company's earnings and assets to make it appear the company was meeting Wall Street forecasts.

Horn wrote in his ruling that Scrushy "knew of and participated in" the faked reports filed with regulators from 1996 to 2002. He said the HealthSouth founder also "consciously and willfully" violated his financial responsibilities as CEO.

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Oil industry cranks up lobbying effort

HOUSTON (AP) ¿ Oil and gas companies have accelerated their spending on lobbying faster than any other industry, training their gusher of profits on Washington to fight new taxes on drilling and slow efforts to move the nation off fossil fuels.

The industry spent $44.5 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies in the first three months of this year, on pace to shatter last year's record. Only the drug industry spent more.

Last year's total of $129 million was up 73 percent from two years earlier. That's a faster clip than any other major industry, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

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Discover 2Q profit slips, gain boosts results

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) ¿ Discover Financial Services said Thursday it managed to remain profitable during its fiscal second quarter, thanks to a payment from a lawsuit settlement.

Without the gain from the lawsuit settlement, the credit card lender would have had a loss due to rising defaults and delinquencies. Nearly all lenders are seeing more customers stop making their monthly payments as the economy falters and unemployment surges.

In the United States, Discover said its sales volume fell 4 percent compared with a year ago, reflecting lower gas prices and a general decline in consumer spending. The Riverwoods, Ill.-based company also declared a dividend of 2 cents a share.

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High court rules in favor of ex-Enron executive

WASHINGTON (AP) ¿ The Supreme Court on Thursday sided with a former Enron Corp. executive in a ruling that makes it unlikely he can be tried a second time on charges related to financial fraud at the one-time energy giant.

The court, in a 6-3 vote, threw out an appeals court ruling that would have allowed a retrial of F. Scott Yeager, a former executive at Enron's failed broadband venture, on charges for which a jury could not reach a verdict at his first trial.

But Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, did not completely shut the door to another trial.

Yeager sold Enron stock for more than $54 million before the company began a downward spiral that ended in bankruptcy in 2001.

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Former RBS boss agrees to halve pension

LONDON (AP) ¿ The Royal Bank of Scotland PLC said Thursday that its former chief executive Fred Goodwin has agreed to halve his annual pension after outrage at the size of the payout and threats by the government to take legal action.

The decision, which RBS said was voluntary, means that Goodwin ¿ who was blamed for aggressively expanding the bank before the government was forced to step in to rescue it ¿ will collect 342,500 pounds ($555,470) each year.

He had been granted a 700,000-pound annual pension when he left RBS in October after the government bailout despite leading the bank to pile on debt, causing its near collapse, partial nationalization and record losses.

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HLTH and WebMD to merge in all-stock deal

NEW YORK (AP) ¿ HLTH Corp. said Thursday it will complete its merger into health Web-site operator WebMD Health Corp. in an all-stock deal valued at about $1.2 billion.

The companies had agreed to combine in a $2.31 billion cash and stock deal in February 2008, but canceled the deal in October due to financial market turmoil. The companies did not want WebMD to be burdened with HLTH's debt. They said the combination will improve efficiency and add liquidity for WebMD shares.

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J.M. Smucker 4Q profit soars, tops view

NEW YORK (AP) ¿ J.M. Smucker Co. said Thursday its fiscal fourth-quarter profit more than doubled, helped by consumers' desire to eat at home and the company's acquisition of the Folgers coffee brand last year.

The maker of jams, jellies and Jif peanut butter reported an adjusted profit that easily beat Wall Street's forecast, and the company raised its earnings guidance for 2010.

The company said the addition of Folgers helped boost sales and profit. While the food company inherited Folgers' existing customers, the brand has also seen new business from budget-conscious shoppers who are forgoing their gourmet brews for lower-cost coffee during the recession. By The Associated Press

The Dow Jones industrials rose 58.42, or 0.7 percent, to 8,555.60.

The S&P 500 index rose 7.66, or 0.8 percent, to 918.37, while the Nasdaq composite index slipped 0.34, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,807.72.

Benchmark crude for July delivery rose 34 cents to settle at $71.37 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent prices added 21 cents to settle at $71.06 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

In other Nymex trading, gasoline for July delivery fell less than a penny to settle at $2.0295 a gallon and heating oil dropped 2.6 cents to $1.837.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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