Rise in jobless claims sounds note of caution

The number of people filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose unexpectedly last week, the government reported, indicating that layoffs aren't slowing as fast as some analysts had expected. Jobless claims rose by 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 473,000. The increase followed a drop of 41,000 in the previous week. The earlier figure had raised hopes that the job market was improving steadily. The four-week average for claims dipped 1,500 to 467,500, near the lows at the end of last year.

Wholesale prices rose 1.4% in January

Wholesale prices shot up at double the expected pace in January, but the surprising surge was viewed as a temporary blip and not a signal of sustained inflation. The Labor Department said wholesale prices rose 1.4 percent. But most of the increase was due to a jump in gasoline prices, which surged 11.5 percent. Core inflation at the wholesale level, which excludes energy and food, rose 0.3 percent.

Leading indicators show slower growth

A forecast of future economic activity grew at a slower pace in January, but still suggests that the economy will continue to grow through spring. The index of leading economic indicators rose 0.3 percent last month, according to the Conference Board, a private research group. That's weaker than a 1.2 percent rise in December and a 1.1 percent rise in November, and the smallest of the index's 10 straight monthly gains.

Exports of French wine drop sharply

French exports of expensive Champagne and cognacs suffered a record drop last year as people drank less and switched to cheaper brands in the United States and Britain, its biggest foreign markets. Exports of wine and spirits fell 17 percent to $10.5 billion last year, according to figures released by the Federation of French Wine and Spirits Exporters.

Yahoo-Microsoft deal wins regulatory OK

U.S. and European regulators have cleared the long-discussed Internet search partnership between Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc., enabling the rivals to form a tag team as they try to mount a more serious challenge to Google Inc. The government approvals anointed an alliance that Microsoft and Yahoo proposed nearly seven months ago after years of flirtation and often contentious negotiations. Yahoo now plans to rely on Microsoft's search technology in an attempt to boost its sagging profits.

Treasury plans more bank warrant auctions

The Treasury Department has authorized another four auctions of bank warrants to recoup taxpayer money from the controversial financial bailout fund. Treasury said that four banks including Bank of America Corp. would participate in the auctions, which will be scheduled over the coming month. Warrants are financial instruments that allow the holder to buy stock in the future at a fixed price. In addition to Bank of America, the new auctions will cover Washington Federal Inc. of Seattle; Texas Capital Bancshares Inc., based in Dallas, and Signature Bank, based in New York City.

Johnson & Johnson retools bonus program

Thousands of Johnson & Johnson employees will get lower bonuses next year, due to an overhaul of its bonus program meant to make the extra payments more uniform across the sprawling company. The world's biggest maker of health care products said 38 percent of employees will see a reduction in bonus payments, 27 percent will see an increase and 35 percent will see no change.

FROM NEWS SERVICES