Senate votes to extend terror reinsurance

The U.S. Senate voted to extend a program that helped stabilize jittery insurance markets in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The program is designed to cushion the financial blow to insurance companies in the event of another massive attack. It is scheduled to expire at the end of the year. The Senate voted 93-4 to extend the program through 2021. Under the program, the federal government helps pay damages for attacks that cost more than $100 million. President Obama supports the bill, the White House said Thursday.

Housing starts sink to nine-month low

U.S. home construction fell in June to the slowest pace in nine months, a setback to hopes that housing is regaining momentum and will boost economic growth this year. Construction fell 9.3 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 893,000 homes, the Commerce Department said. That was the slowest pace since last September and followed a 7.3 percent drop in May, a decline even worse than initially reported. Applications for building permits, considered a good indicator of future activity, were also down in June, dropping 4.2 percent to a rate of 963,000 after a 5.1 percent decline in May. The worse-than-expected June performance reflected a 29.6 percent drop in activity in the South.

FedEx charged with shipping illegal drugs

Federal authorities charged FedEx Corp. with assisting illegal pharmacies by knowingly delivering painkillers and dangerous drugs, including Ambien, Valium and Xanax, to customers without prescriptions. The indictment filed in federal court in San Francisco alleges that FedEx conspired with two related online pharmacies for 10 years ending in 2010. The Department of Justice wants FedEx to forfeit $820 million it says the cargo company earned by assisting the illicit pharmacies. FedEx insists it did nothing wrong, saying it handles 10 million packages a day and shouldn’t be in charge of “assuming criminal responsibility” for every delivery.

Initial jobless claims declined last week

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell last week, a steady decline that suggests a strengthening job market. Weekly applications for unemployment aid dipped 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 302,000, the Labor Department said. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, dropped 3,000 to 309,000, the lowest level since June 2007, five months before the start of the recession. Applications are a proxy for layoffs, a sign that employers expect economic growth to continue. When businesses are confident enough to keep staff, they also are likely to hire more people.