Carl Icahn has dinner date with Apple's Cook

Activist investor Carl Icahn's $1 billion stake in Apple Inc. is getting him dinner with the iPhone maker's chief executive officer, Tim Cook. Icahn, who has amassed holdings in other technology companies including Yahoo and Dell to agitate for change, is pushing Apple to return more cash to investors than the $100 billion Cook has already committed in dividends and buybacks through 2015. While Icahn's stake amounts to a small fraction of Apple's $457 billion market value, he's still deploying posts on Twitter to pressure Cook to meet his demands. "Spoke to Tim," Icahn wrote on Twitter. "Planning dinner in September. Tim believes in buyback and is doing one. What will be discussed is magnitude."

Jobless claims rise but remain relatively low

Initial jobless claims rose more than expected last week, to 336,000, but remained near their lowest level since 2007. The number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits was up from the previous week's revised figure of 323,000, which was the fewest since October 2007, the Labor Department said. Analysts had been expecting a more modest increase, to 329,000. The less-volatile four-week average continued to drop last week, falling 2,250 to a new post-Great Recession low of 330,500. The last time the four-week average was lower was in November 2007.

Struggling J.C. Penney adopts poison pill plan

J.C. Penney Co. adopted a shareholder rights plan to protect against takeovers for a year as the department-store chain works to recover from its worst annual sales in more than two decades. The plan would be triggered if a person or group acquires 10 percent or more of the company's shares or commences a tender or exchange offer that would result in someone owning more than that portion of the shares, the Plano, Texas-based retailer said. Chief Executive Mike Ullman is trying to undo the damage from his predecessor's failed turnaround plan, which led to plunging sales and dwindling cash.

Leading indicators rise most in three months

The index of U.S. leading indicators climbed in July by the most in three months, signaling improvements in housing and labor markets will help foster faster economic growth through year-end. The Conference Board's gauge of the outlook for the next three to six months increased 0.6 percent after no change in June, the New York-based group said. Another report showed the fewest Americans since November 2007 filed applications for unemployment benefits in the past month.

Chinese index shows economy is firming up

An early reading of a closely watched survey of manufacturing-sector activity provided the latest indication that China's economy had bottomed out after many months of slowing growth. The preliminary purchasing managers' index for August, compiled by the research firm Markit and released by the British bank HSBC, jumped to 50.1 points from 47.7 in July, showing a swing to expansion from contraction, with a figure of 50 the dividing line. The increase, to a four-month high, easily beat analysts' expectations. The reading is likely to solidify expectations that a stabilization has continued into August.

Europe's service sector is expanding again

Eurozone services expanded in August for the first time in 19 months, led by Germany, after the 17-nation currency bloc's economy emerged from a record recession. An index based on a survey of purchasing managers rose to 51 from 49.8 in July, London-based Markit Economics said. Economists forecast an increase to 50.2, according to the median of 32 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. A reading above 50 indicates expansion. Gross domestic product in the euro region rose 0.3 percent in the second quarter after six quarterly contractions.

Report: Household income below '09 levels

The tough economy has pushed the average U.S. household income down even further than it was when the Great Recession ended, according to a recent report. American households are earning 4.4 percent less, when adjusted for inflation, than they were when the economic recovery began four years ago, according to a report by Sentier Research. In June, the median income clocked in at $52,098, down from the $54,478 earned in June 2009.