Eurozone ekes out 0.2% first-quarter growth

The European economy maintained its feeble overall growth in the first three months of the year, official data showed, as relatively strong performances by Germany and Britain were offset by continued weakness in France and a step backward by Italy. Gross domestic product in the 18 nations that share the euro currency rose 0.2 percent from an identical increase in the previous quarter, which translates to an annual growth rate of 0.8 percent, Eurostat, the union's statistics agency, reported. For the overall 28-member union, GDP grew 0.3 percent, for an annualized rate of 1.3 percent. Germany's economy grew at a relatively robust 0.8 percent from the previous quarter, once again driving the eurozone forward. But the French economy stagnated, and Italy's declined 0.1 percent.

Initial jobless claims fall to seven-year low

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level in seven years last week, a sign the job market is steadily improving. Weekly unemployment benefit applications dropped 24,000 to 297,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's the fewest since May 12, 2007. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dipped 2,000 to 323,250. Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the decline is evidence that employers are cutting fewer jobs. Weekly applications topped 650,000 in March 2009, during the Great Recession. Fewer people are also receiving benefits each week. The number of recipients fell to 2.67 million, the fewest since Dec. 1, 2007.

Buffett's Berkshire reveals stake in Verizon

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. disclosed a stake in Verizon Communications Inc. as Warren Buffett's backup stock pickers build their portfolios. Verizon shares rose 1.6 percent in after-hours trading. Berkshire held 11 million shares of the telecommunications company on March 31, Buffett's Omaha-based company said in a regulatory filing. The stake is valued at about $528.7 million. Berkshire also added to its stake in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Verizon boosted its cash flow by acquiring Vodafone Group's minority stake in Verizon Wireless in February.

Chipotle shareholders vote no on CEO pay

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. investors, weighing in on a say-on-pay proposal at the restaurant chain's annual meeting, cast more than three-quarters of their votes against the pay levels. About 23 percent of shareholder votes supported Chipotle's executive compensation at the meeting, spokesman Chris Arnold said. The say-on-pay vote is advisory and the board and compensation committee aren't bound by it. Chipotle has drawn criticism for paying its co-chief executive officers a combined $49.5 million last year.

Industrial production fell 0.4% last month

U.S. factory output took a breather in April after two months of strong growth, as manufacturers produced less furniture, machinery and plastics. The Federal Reserve said that factory production fell 0.4 percent from the previous month after rising a revised 0.7 percent in March and 1.5 percent in February. Manufacturing output has risen a solid 2.9 percent over the past year. The decline appears to be a temporary setback that doesn't have economists worried. The Institute for Supply Management, a group of purchasing managers, has reported that U.S. manufacturing grew faster in April than March.

J.C. Penney posts gain in same-store sales

J.C. Penney said a key sales figure rose in its first quarter, offering an encouraging sign for the beleaguered department store operator. The company, which is based in Plano, Texas, said sales at stores open at least a year rose 6.2 percent in the period, marking the second straight quarterly gain. The figure, a key indicator of health for retailers, had tumbled 16.6 percent in the year-ago period. Penney's stock surged more than 20 percent to $10.08 in after-hours trading.