By The Associated Press___ US household wealth regains pre-recession peak WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Surging stock prices and steady home-price increases have finally allowed Americans to regain the $16 trillion in wealth they lost to the Great Recession. The gains are helping to support the economy and could lead to further spending and growth. The recovered wealth â¿¿ most of it from higher stock prices â¿¿ has been flowing mainly to richer Americans. By contrast, middle class wealth is mostly in the form of home equity, which has risen much less. ___ Facebook brings a more personal touch to News Feed MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) â¿¿ Facebook has redesigned its social network to address complaints that the News Feed on its website has turned into a jumble of monotonous musings and random photos. In an attempt to breathe new life into Facebook's News Feed, the company will introduce controls that allow people to sort streams of photos and other material into organized sections. With the makeover unveiled Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hopes to turn the News Feed into something more like a newspaper tailored to the particular interests of each of the social network's more than 1 billion worldwide users. ___ AP Interview: Toyota chief stresses safe growth TOKYO (AP) â¿¿ After four tumultuous years bookended by an unprecedented recall crisis and a return to the top of the global auto industry, Akio Toyoda is refashioning Toyota Motor Corp. into a leaner company that's more imbued with the venture spirit of founder Kiichiro Toyoda, his grandfather. In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Toyota's president said he is putting new auto plants on hold for three years and reshaping the automaker's structure to give more autonomy to regional divisions and foreign executives. During his four years at Toyota's helm, Toyoda has learned the hard way the costs of blindly pursuing growth, a strategy inherited from his predecessor that he ruefully acknowledges got him slammed by a cascade of recalls.
___Boeing 787 battery fire was difficult to control WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Firefighters and mechanics tried repeatedly to put out a battery fire aboard a Boeing 787 Dreamliner through smoke so thick they couldn't see the battery, according to documents released Thursday that portray the incident as more serious than previously described. The Jan. 7 fire at Boston's Logan International Airport is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety board, which released laboratory analyses, interviews and other data it has gathered so far. It still hasn't been able to pinpoint the cause. Federal Aviation Administration officials are expected to make a decision in the next few days on whether to approve a plan by Boeing to revamp the 787's lithium ion batteries to prevent or contain future fires. Once the plan is approved, Boeing hopes to swiftly test the reconfigured batteries and get the planes back in the air. ___ Icahn proposes alternative to Dell buyout Billionaire investor Carl Icahn wants Dell Inc. to remain a public company and proposed rewarding shareholders with a large dividend payment instead of going private in a $24.4 billion buyout. He says the amount being offered by a group led by Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell substantially undervalues the slumping PC maker. Icahn wrote in a March 5 letter to Dell directors that the Round Rock, Texas, company should choose his alternative, which would involve a special dividend totaling $9 per share, if shareholders reject the buyout plan that was announced last month. ___ Illinois deal on fracking could be national model CHICAGO (AP) â¿¿ After years of clashing over the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," the oil industry and environmentalists have achieved something extraordinary in Illinois: They sat down together to draft regulations both sides could live with. If approved by lawmakers, participants say, the rules would be the nation's strictest. The Illinois model might also offer a template to other states seeking to carve out middle ground between energy companies that would like free rein and environmental groups that want to ban the practice entirely.
___Retailers report slowing sales gains for February NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Americans cut back on spending in February as cold weather and economic challenges chilled their appetite for spring merchandise. The nation's retailers on Thursday reported that sales slowed in February, a time when most stores get rid of winter merchandise and bring in swimsuits, ankle length pants and other spring fashions. Americans spent more carefully during the month, as they dealt with a payroll tax increase of 2 percentage points, income tax refunds that came later than usual and rising gas prices. Winter storms across much of the country in February likely made spring merchandise less appealing. ___ Weekly US unemployment claims fall to 340,000 WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell to a seasonally adjusted 340,000 last week, driving down the four-week average to its lowest level in five years. The drop is a positive sign ahead of Friday's report on February job growth. Applications for benefits fell 7,000 in the week ended March 2, the Labor Department said Thursday. And the four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped to 348,750. That's the lowest since March 2008, just a few months into the Great Recession. Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. When they fall, it suggests that companies are shedding fewer jobs and more hiring may follow. ___ Fed says 18 biggest US banks in stronger position WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The nation's largest banks are better prepared to withstand a severe U.S. recession and a global downturn than at any time since the 2008 financial crisis, the Federal Reserve said. The Fed's annual "stress tests" showed Thursday that as a group, the 18 banks hold fewer bad loans compared with last year, helped by a stronger economy. The Fed will announce next week whether it will approve the banks' plans to issue dividends or repurchase shares.
Under the stress tests' most severe scenario, the United States would undergo a recession in which unemployment would reach nearly 12 percent, stocks would lose half their value and home prices would plunge 20 percent.___ US trade gap widens to $44.4 billion as oil imports rise WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The U.S. trade deficit widened in January, reflecting a big jump in oil imports and a drop in exports. The Commerce Department said Thursday that the deficit rose to $44.4 billion, an increase of 16.5 percent from December. U.S. exports dropped 1.2 percent to $184.5 billion, reflecting declines in sales to Europe, China, Japan and Brazil. Imports rose 1.8 percent to $228.9 billion as oil imports surged 12.3 percent. Even with the wider deficit in January, economists say they think the deficit this year will narrow slightly, in part because of continued gains in U.S. energy exports. A narrower trade gap boosts growth because it means U.S. companies are earning more from overseas sales as U.S. consumers and businesses spend less on foreign products. ___ By The Associated Press(equals) The Dow Jones industrial average rose 33.25 points, or 0.2 percent, to 14,329.49. The Standard & Poor's 500 gained 2.80 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,544.26. The Nasdaq composite advanced 9.72 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,232.09. Benchmark oil for April delivery gained $1.13 to finish at $91.56 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, rose 9 cents at $111.15 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Natural gas futures jumped 11 cents to $3.58 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline was flat at $3.12 a gallon. Heating oil rose less than a penny to $2.98 a gallon.