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Originally published Friday, February 5, 2010 at 2:47 PM

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Business Highlights

The outlook for jobs became a bit less bleak Friday when the government released January's unemployment rate showing an unexpected decline from 10 percent to 9.7 percent. It was the first drop in seven months.

The Associated Press


The outlook for jobs became a bit less bleak Friday when the government released January's unemployment rate showing an unexpected decline from 10 percent to 9.7 percent. It was the first drop in seven months.

Still, the government now estimates 8.4 million jobs vanished in the Great Recession. And economists say the nation will be lucky to get back 1.5 million of them this year. They also warn it will take until the middle of the decade for the job market to return to normal.

The unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since August because a Labor Department survey of households found a sharp rise in the number of Americans with jobs. The survey found that 541,000 more Americans had jobs last month.


Stocks pull out of slump but end week lower

NEW YORK (AP) - A battered stock market recovered from a sharp drop in late trading Friday but still posted its fourth straight weekly drop.

The Dow Jones industrials, down nearly 170 points in afternoon trading, clawed their way back to finish with a gain of 10 at 10,012.23. But more stocks fell than rose on the New York Stock Exchange as investors contended with another series of troubling signals about the global economy.

Investors are concerned that European governments will have trouble getting their massive deficits under control. The Labor Department, meanwhile, offered only scant hope of improvement in the jobs market in its closely watched monthly report.


Toyota chief apologizes for global recalls

TOKYO (AP) - Toyota's president emerged from seclusion Friday to apologize and address criticism that the automaker mishandled a crisis over sticking gas pedals. Yet he stopped short of ordering a recall for the company's iconic Prius hybrid for braking problems.

Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder, said he personally would head a special committee to review checks within the company, go over consumer complaints and listen to outside experts to come up with a fix.


Toyota's failure to stem its widening safety crisis has stunned consumers and experts who'd come to expect only streamlined efficiency from a company at the pinnacle of the global auto industry.


Europe's debt crisis intensifies

BRUSSELS (AP) - Fears of another crisis spiral for the world economy deepened Friday after the Portuguese parliament defeated a government austerity plan, triggering renewed concern that the financial crisis in that country and in Greece could spread through the eurozone and spill across its borders.

Spooked investors worldwide were fleeing risky assets like stocks. And from Shanghai to Sao Paolo, people were awakening to the reality that what is happening in these European minnow states has vast implications for the fate of the fragile global economic recovery.

Stocks fell in Asia and Europe as governments in Portugal and Greece pushed against fierce political resistance at home to cutbacks aimed at getting their deficits under control.


Consumer credit down in Nov. for record 11th month

WASHINGTON (AP) - Americans borrowed less for an 11th consecutive month in December, paying off credit cards while increasing borrowing for cars and other products.

The mixed picture raises hopes that Americans may soon return to spending, a necessary condition for economic recovery.

But the record 11-month decrease in overall borrowing shows consumers are still holding back amid lingering economic uncertainty and 9.7 percent unemployment.

The Federal Reserve said Friday that total borrowing dropped by $1.8 billion - far less than the revised $10.6 billion for November. It also was well below the $9 billion analysts had expected. Borrowing on credit cards fell by $8.5 billion, while other types of loans increased by $6.8 billion.


Oil tumbles again to settle below $72 a barrel

NEW YORK (AP) - Oil prices ended the week at the lowest level in nearly two months, weighed down by a stronger dollar and persistent doubts about the health of the global economy.

Benchmark crude for March delivery on Friday lost $1.95, nearly 3 percent, to settle at $71.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil plunged as low as $69.50 a barrel earlier in the day. That's the cheapest oil has been since Dec. 15.

Crude prices have now dropped more than 14 percent since cresting at a 15-month high of $83.18 a barrel on Jan. 6.

Energy prices were propped up earlier in the year by predictions that China, India and other developing nations would aggressively boost petroleum imports to feed their growing economies.


Goldman CEO Blankfein gets $9M stock bonus for 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein is getting a $9 million stock bonus for 2009.

The bank said in a securities filing Friday that Blankfein will receive more than 58,000 shares of restricted stock. Blankfein can't cash in the shares for five years. He will receive no cash as part of his bonus.

Several banks are paying their CEO restricted stock in response to a furor over outsized cash bonuses paid by financial institutions that helped push the economy into a recession and then later took billions in federal bailouts.


JPMorgan CEO Dimon gets $16M stock bonus for 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon received a stock bonus valued at nearly $16 million for 2009 after steering the big bank through the aftermath of the financial crisis, the company said Friday.

Dimon's bonus carries several restrictions and can be recouped by the bank at any time and for any reason. The stringent measures are aimed at countering criticism over lavish pay at banks that helped cause the financial crisis and then received billions in taxpayer bailouts.

Like other big bank CEOs, Dimon received no cash bonus for 2009. Instead, he got $7.8 million in restricted stock and 563,562 in restricted stock options, JPMorgan said. The options are valued at about $8.1 million, bringing his total 2009 bonus to $15.9 million.


Tyson Foods returns to 1Q profit companywide

NEW YORK (AP) - Tyson Foods Inc. returned to a profit in its fiscal first quarter as conditions in the meat industry eased, the company said Friday, and the news sent its shares soaring to a 52-week high.

The company's chicken segment, hit by oversupply and consumers' spending cuts, continued the improvement it began two quarters earlier. Tyson's beef and pork units also made money.

In the three months that ended Jan. 2, the company earned $160 million, or 42 cents per share. For the same period a year earlier, it reported a loss of $102 million, or 27 cents per share. Its sales rose slightly to $6.63 billion.


Aetna 4Q profit falls 15 percent on medical costs

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Aetna Inc. said its fourth-quarter profit fell 15 percent, as it continued to struggle with rising medical costs that hurt its performance throughout 2009.

The Hartford, Conn., health insurer said Friday medical costs, its largest expense, climbed 14 percent to $6.1 billion in the three months that ended Dec. 31. That hit was partially offset by a 9 percent increase in premiums.

Aetna has said costs rose faster than it expected when it set prices for last year, due in part to the slumping economy. But CEO Ronald A. Williams said Friday morning fixes the company put in place are starting to show results.


Air Products offers $5.1B for Airgas

LEHIGH VALLEY, Pa. (AP) - Industrial gas supplier Air Products and Chemicals Inc. said Friday that it made an unsolicited cash bid of about $5.1 billion for smaller rival Airgas Inc. and is willing to make a hostile offer if necessary.

Airgas said its board will review the offer with financial and legal advisers and recommended that its stockholders not take any action yet. A combination of the companies would create one of the biggest industrial gas companies in the world.

Air Products, which sells gasses including argon, nitrogen, hydrogen, helium and oxygen for industrial, medical and other uses, values the deal at approximately $7 billion, which includes $1.9 billion in debt. Like Air Products, Airgas sells gasses.

By The Associated Press

The Dow rose 10.05, or 0.1 percent, to 10,012.23 after being down as much as 167 points. For the week, the Dow lost 0.5 percent.

The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3.08, or 0.3 percent, to 1,066.19 and ended down 0.7 percent for the week. The S&P 500 index hasn't fallen four straight weeks since March 2009. The Nasdaq composite index rose 15.69, or 0.7 percent, to 2,141.12. It lost 0.3 percent for the week.

Benchmark crude for March delivery on Friday lost $1.95, nearly 3 percent, to settle at $71.19 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other Nymex trading in March contracts, heating oil dropped 6.04 cents to settle at $1.8748 a gallon, and gasoline fell 6.44 cents to settle at $1.8864 a gallon. Natural gas added 9.9 cents to settle at $5.515 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude gave up $2.54 to settle at $69.59 on the ICE futures exchange.

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