Business Highlights

The Associated Press

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Kodak workers, retirees, investors brace for pain

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) â¿¿ The ripple effect from Eastman Kodak Co.'s bankruptcy reorganization extends in many directions: Employees brace again for layoffs, retirees fret over health care coverage, and the photography icon's biggest creditors and stakeholders â¿¿ from movie studios and big-box retailers to CEO Antonio Perez â¿¿ are preparing for a sharp sting in their pocketbooks.

Rochester mayor Tom Richards described Thursday's Chapter 11 filing as more of a psychological blow than an economic jolt to the city, where Kodak has been an engine of local commerce for 132 years. Its payroll in the medium-sized city along Lake Ontario has slipped below 7,000 from a peak of 60,400 in 1983.

Unable to keep pace with a shift from film to digital technology over the last decade, Kodak said it has secured $950 million in financing from Citigroup Inc. and expects to be able to operate its business during bankruptcy reorganization and pay employees.

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Unemployment claims at 352,000, fewest since 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The number of people seeking unemployment benefits plummeted last week to 352,000, the fewest since April 2008. The decline added to evidence that the job market is strengthening.

Applications fell 50,000, the biggest drop in the seasonally adjusted figure in more than six years, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, which smoothes out fluctuations, dropped to 379,000. That's the second-lowest such figure in more than three years.

A department spokesman cautioned that volatility at this time of year is common. Applications jumped two weeks ago largely because companies laid off thousands of workers hired for the holidays.

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Consumer prices flat for 2nd straight month

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Consumer prices were unchanged last month, the latest sign that inflation remains tame. Lower gas prices offset rising costs for food, medical care and housing.

Excluding volatile food and energy costs, so-called "core" prices rose 0.1 percent, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Inflation appears to be peaking after rising steeply last year. Prices rose 3 percent in 2011, up from a 1.5 percent pace in 2010 and the most since 2007. But that's down from the 12-month increase of 3.9 percent in September.

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A poor year for home building ends on hopeful note

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Builders ended 2011 with a third straight year of dismal home construction and the worst on record for single-family home building. But improvement at the end of the year lifted hopes for a recovery.

In December, builders broke ground on houses at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 657,000, the Commerce Department said Thursday. But building permits, a gauge of future construction, were essentially unchanged, and volatiles apartment construction fell.

The housing market still appears years away from full health.

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Google's 4t qtr disappoints as ad prices sink

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) â¿¿ Google's moneymaking machine misfired badly in the fourth quarter as its advertising prices fell during the holiday marketing season.

The results announced Thursday fell way below the lofty expectations of stock market analysts and Google's shares plunged more than 9 percent after the numbers were released.

Google Inc. earned $2.7 billion, or $8.22 per share, in October to December, just 6 percent more than the $2.5 billion, or $7.81 per share, it earned a year earlier.

If not for certain one-time items, Google says it would have earned $9.50 per share. Analysts surveyed by FactSet had expected $10.51 per share.

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Investors like the back-to-basics Bank of America

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Bank of America is back to basics â¿¿ slimmed down, stripped of its swagger and no longer the biggest bank in the country.

After pummeling the company for two years, investors finally like what they see.

The stock jumped 2.4 percent Thursday after Bank of America reported that it made $2 billion from October through December, reversing a $1.2 billion loss from a year earlier. The stock is up 25 percent this year.

Almost none of the profit came from improvements in Bank of America's basic businesses. In fact, it lost money in the fourth quarter in real estate and investment banking.

But the bank raised $2.9 billion by selling its stake in China Construction Bank and $2.4 billion more by selling debt and issuing common stock to replace its higher-cost preferred stock, which paid out annual dividends as high as 8 percent.

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Confidence in eurozone improves despite downgrades

PARIS (AP) â¿¿ France and Spain on Thursday sailed through their first bond market tests since Standard & Poor's downgraded their credit ratings last week, a sign that politicians and central bankers have at least temporarily stemmed the spread of Europe's debt crisis.

Worries about the 17-nation eurozone have receded since the start of the year, with stocks rallying consistently and bond yields â¿¿ the rate countries pay to borrow â¿¿ sliding.

Analysts warn, however, that those gains may simply be riding an absence of bad news â¿¿ a looming recession could hinder efforts to slash deficits while Greece depends on a deal with banks to avoid a disastrous default this spring.

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Rate on 30-year mortgage down to record low, 3.88 pct

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage fell again this week, but the eighth record low in a year is attracting few takers because most who can afford to buy or refinance already have.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage dipped to 3.88 percent this week, down from the previous record of 3.89 percent last week.

The average on the 15-year fixed mortgage ticked up to 3.17 percent from 3.16 percent, which was also a record low. Records for mortgage rates date back to the 1950s.

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GM retakes title of top-selling global automaker

DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ General Motors Co. has retaken the title of world's top-selling automaker, selling just over 9 million cars and trucks around the world.

The company said Thursday that it sold 9.03 million vehicles last year, up 7.6 percent from 2010. That's more than 1 million better than Japan's Toyota Motor Corp., which took the title away from GM in 2008.

GM also beat Germany's fast-growing Volkswagen AG, which last week reported record global sales of 8.16 million in 2011, up 14 percent from the year before. Toyota said it sold 7.9 million vehicles worldwide last year.

GM had held the global sales crown for more than seven decades before losing it to Toyota. GM's sales tanked as it headed toward financial ruin, and in 2009, the company filed for bankruptcy protection, surviving thanks to a U.S. government bailout.

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Apple starts selling interactive iPad textbooks

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Apple Inc. on Thursday launched its attempt to make the iPad a replacement for a satchel full of textbooks by starting to sell electronic versions of a handful of standard high-school books.

The electronic textbooks, which include "Biology" and "Environmental Science" from Pearson and "Algebra 1" and "Chemistry" from McGraw-Hill, contain videos and other interactive elements.

But it's far from clear that even a company with Apple's clout will be able to reform the primary and high-school textbook market. The printed books are bought by schools, not students, and are reused year after year, which isn't possible with the electronic versions. Also, each new round of textbooks is subject to a lengthy state approval process, making the speed and ease with which ebooks can be published less of an advantage.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 45.03 points to close at 12,623.98. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 6.46 points to close at 1,314.50. The Nasdaq added 18.62 points to close at 2,788.33.

Benchmark oil fell 20 cents to finish at $100.39 per barrel in New York on Thursday. Brent crude, which is used to price many varieties of foreign crude sent to U.S. refineries, rose 89 cents to end at $111.55 per barrel in London.

Natural gas futures fell 15 cents, or 6.1 percent, to finish at $2.32 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil rose 2 cents to end at $3.04 per gallon and gasoline futures fell 1 cent to end at $2.82 per gallon.

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