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Originally published Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 3:21 PM

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Business Highlights


The Associated Press

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Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) - Fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, but applications remain stuck at a level that signals weak job growth.

The number of applications for unemployment benefits dropped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 422,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the third drop in four weeks. But the declines follow much bigger increases in April.

Applications dropped to 375,000 in late February - a level consistent with sustainable job growth. But for the past eight weeks, applications have stayed above 400,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell for the second straight week but remained high at 425,500.


More job seekers give up, reducing unemployment

WASHINGTON (AP) - Where did all the workers go?

The labor force - those who have a job or are looking for one - is getting smaller, even though the economy is growing and steadily adding jobs. That trend defies the rules of a normal economic recovery.

Nobody is sure why it's happening. Economists think some of the missing workers have retired, have entered college or are getting by on government disability checks. Others have probably just given up looking for work.


Pinched by gas, shoppers pull back elsewhere

NEW YORK (AP) - Shoppers are pulling back on spending on discretionary items like clothing and home goods as gasoline and groceries eat up more of their paychecks.

Those pressures led many retailers on Thursday to report only modest revenue increases in May, the latest sign of the economy hitting a soft patch.

Retailers that cater to wealthy shoppers and warehouse clubs like Costco that also sell gas reported the biggest gains.

Revenue rose 5.4 percent overall at stores open at least a year among 27 retailers, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Excluding gasoline, the figure rose 3.7 percent.


Outbreak in Europe blamed on `super-toxic' strain

LONDON (AP) - Scientists on Thursday blamed Europe's worst recorded food-poisoning outbreak on a "super-toxic" strain of E. coli bacteria that may be brand new.

But while suspicion has fallen on raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce as the source of the germ, researchers have been unable to pinpoint the food responsible for the frightening illness, which has killed at least 18 people, sickened more than 1,600 and spread to least 10 European countries.

An alarmingly large number of victims - about 500 - have developed kidney complications that can be deadly.


AP Source: Goldman Sachs subpoenaed

NEW YORK (AP) - Goldman Sachs Group Inc. was subpoenaed by the Manhattan District Attorney's office over the investment bank's activities leading up to the financial crisis, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

Shares of Goldman fell nearly 2 percent to $133.88 a share after Bloomberg News reported earlier Thursday that the bank had been subpoenaed. The stock ended the day down 1.3 percent at $134.38 a share. Goldman's shares are down 20 percent so far this year and are at levels not seen since last July.

Goldman has been watched by lawmakers and regulators since marketing risky investments that bet on the housing market's success just before the mortgage meltdown. Simultaneously the bank reaped billions of dollars from its own bets that the housing market would collapse. Those gains have also made it the target of intense media scrutiny and public outrage.


Moody's warns US gov't on possible debt downgrade

WASHINGTON (AP) - A credit rating agency is warning the U.S. government that it could lose its sterling debt rating if Congress and the Obama administration don't reach an agreement to raise the nation's borrowing limit.

Moody's Investors Service said Thursday that if the parties fail to make progress soon, it would put the U.S. rating under review for a possible downgrade. That's because there's a "very small but rising risk" that the government will default on its debts.

Standard & Poor's, another major credit rating agency, issued a similar warning in April.


Moody's warns big banks of possible downgrades

NEW YORK (AP) - Moody's Investors Service said Thursday that it was reviewing the ratings of Bank of America Corp. Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co. for possible downgrades.

The ratings agency gives the three banks fairly strong investment-grade credit ratings. But those grades are based on Moody's assumption that the federal government would prevent them from failing in a crisis. Moody's said Thursday that this "too big to fail" presumption may no longer be true.


It's here: Groupon files for hotly anticipated IPO

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Rapidly growing online coupon seller Groupon Inc. is offering its most tantalizing deal yet - an initial public offering of stock likely to intensify a debate about whether an investment bubble is forming around promising but still unproven Internet companies.

Groupon took the first step toward selling its stock on Wall Street by filing its IPO papers Wednesday. The much-anticipated filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission comes just two weeks after LinkedIn Corp., a popular Internet service for professional networking service, saw its shares double in their first day of trading, evoking memories of the early stages of the dot-com boom in the 1990s.

Groupon, based in Chicago, offers its subscribers the chance to purchase daily discounts targeted to their city and preferences. For example, a subscriber might pay $20 for a $40 gift certificate to a spa, restaurant, car wash or yoga studio.


Big student debt could limit schools' aid access

NEW YORK (AP) - The government is moving forward with its crackdown on the country's for-profit schools, aiming to protect students from taking on too much debt to attend schools that do nothing for their job prospects.

But student advocates protest that the final version of the Department of Education's "gainful employment" rule, released Thursday, is way too soft. Meanwhile, schools and industry lobbyists rail that the DOE has no legal standing to impose the rule at all.

Only investors appeared happy with the outcome Thursday. Shares of for-profit school companies soared as investors viewed the scope of the DOE's new regulations as having a much less dire impact on the sector than they had feared. Analysts say the rule is more lenient than they and most shareholders had expected - "meaningfully watered down," said R.W. Baird's Amy Junker.


By The Associated Press(equals)

Weaker than expected sales reports from retailers and another large number of claims for unemployment benefits left stocks with a mixed finish on Thursday. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 41.59 points, or 0.3 percent, to close at 12,248.55.

The S&P 500 recouped much of its losses from earlier in the day and ended down 1.61 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,312.94. The Nasdaq composite was up for most of the day and finished with a gain of 4.12, or 0.2 percent, at 2,773.31.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate for July delivery added 11 cents to settle at $100.40 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other Nymex trading for July contracts, heating oil added 3.52 cents to settle at $3.0439 per gallon, while gasoline futures gave up less than a penny to settle at $2.9677 per gallon.

In London, Brent crude gained $1.01 to settle at $115.54 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

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