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Associated Press

Posted on May 23, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Among the stories for Thursday from The Associated Press:

TOP STORIES:

WALL STREET

A global stock market slump is continuing on Wall Street as traders worry about how committed the Federal Reserve remains to keeping up its bond-buying program. The Dow Jones industrial average falls more than 100 points. The declines mirror financial markets around the world that were roiled after Japanese stocks suffered their biggest slide since the country was hit by a devastating tsunami more than two years ago.

AP photos.

JAPAN-ECONOMY

TOKYO — Japan's financial markets gyrated wildly, underscoring the vulnerability of its economy to a loss of investor confidence as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attempts shock monetary easing to end two decades of stagnation. Interest rates, or yields, on 10-year Japanese government bonds briefly topped 1 percent for the first time in a year, following news that some U.S. Federal Reserve officials are willing to scale back the American central bank's stimulus efforts as soon as June. The spike, which came despite the Bank of Japan's aggressive efforts to keep borrowing costs down, is unnerving some investors at a time when Japan's already overburdened government finances are vulnerable to rises in interest rates. The bond gyrations, along with fresh data showing China's recovery is faltering, led to a 7.3 percent tumble in the benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index. By Elaine Kurtenbach.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell 23,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 340,000, a level consistent with solid job growth. The less volatile four-week average ticked down just 500 to 339,500, the Labor Department said. That's close to the five-year low of 338,000 reached during the first week of May. The four-week average is 9 percent lower than in November. By Paul Wiseman.

AP photo.

DIGITAL LIFE-TECH TEST-GOOGLE MUSIC

LOS ANGELES — Google's new music service offers a lot of eye candy to go along with the tunes, and for a discounted $8 a month for early birds, it's worth a try. The song selection of around 18 million tracks is comparable to popular services such as Spotify and Rhapsody, and myriad playlists curated along different genres provides a big playground for music lovers. Some of the touch features require a pixie-like dexterity though, which is pretty much the only downside in this solid entrant to the world of music streaming. By Ryan Nakashima.

AP photo.

MARKETS & ECONOMY:

NEW HOME SALES

WASHINGTON — Sales of new homes rose in April to the second highest level since the summer of 2008 while the median price for a new home hit a record high, further signs that housing is recovering. New-home sales rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 454,000 in April, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That was up 2.3 percent from March and just slightly below January's 458,000. By Martin Crutsinger.

AP photo.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON — Average rates on fixed mortgage rose for the third straight week, hitting their highest levels since mid-March. Still, mortgage rates remained close to historic lows, a trend that should help sustain the housing recovery. By Marcy Gordon.

OBAMA-ECONOMY

WASHINGTON — The economy is recovering, the White House is dealing with multiple controversies, and President Barack Obama appears generally unaffected either way. Several recent polls show the president sustaining an overall approval rating around 50 percent, with no major uptick from gains in housing, jobs and the stock market, and no downtick from the recent storms over the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS and a leak investigations that has swept up the phone records of Associated Press journalists. By Jim Kuhnhenn

AP photo.

CENSUS-CITY GROWTH

WASHINGTON — New census estimates show that most of the nation's largest cities further enhanced their allure last year, posting strong population growth for a second straight year.

AP photo.

STUDENT LOANS

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers are ready to pass legislation that links student loan rates to the financial markets. It's already drawn a veto threat from President Barack Obama. The measure set to pass Thursday would avoid a rate increase on new subsidized Stafford loans. Democrats stand largely opposed to the measure, which would provide some students a deal in the first years of the new system before ratcheting up interest rates later. By Philip Elliott

— OIL PRICES — The price of oil fell to near $93 a barrel on after a survey showed manufacturing activity in China falling to its lowest level in seven months, a sign that the recovery in the world's No. 2 economy is fading.

INDUSTRY:

JOHNSON & JOHNSON-ANALYST MEETING

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Johnson & Johnson says it plans to submit more than 10 new treatments to regulators for approval and 25 applications for additional uses of approved drugs by 2017. The New Brunswick, N.J., company says its pipeline of drugs in late-stage clinical development include a potential hepatitis C treatment being reviewed by regulars, a version of the anti-psychotic Invega designed to last three months and new vaccines for flu, rabies and polio.

AUSTRALIA-FORD

SYDNEY — Ford Motor Co. said it will close its two Australian auto plants, ending production in the country in 2016, amid soaring manufacturing costs and plummeting sales. The closure of the U.S. automaker's plants in the state of Victoria will mean the loss of 1,200 jobs and will transform the company into an import-only brand in Australia. Ford began making cars in Australia in 1925 and is the third largest auto manufacturer in the country. By Kristen Gelineau.

— MARATHON OIL-SALE— Marathon Oil says talks related to the potential sale of part of its stake in the Athabasca Oil Project in Canada have ended. The company was in talks with a possible buyer for a portion of its 20 percent interest in the project, but a deal was not reached.

RETAIL:

EARNS-RALPH LAUREN

NEW YORK — Ralph Lauren Corp. is reporting a 35 percent increase in fourth-quarter profit, but economic challenges here and abroad and certain strategic initiatives cut into sales. By Anne D'Innocenzio.

HOBBY LOBBY-BIRTH CONTROL

DENVER — In the most prominent challenge of its kind, Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. is asking a federal appeals court for an exemption from part of the federal health care law that requires it to offer employees health coverage that includes access to the morning-after pill.

AP photos.

TECHNOLOGY & MEDIA:

SOLAR PLANE

DALLAS — A solar-powered plane has landed in Texas, completing the second leg of a trip across the United States. The Solar Impulse is making the first attempt by a solar airplane capable of flying day and night without fuel to fly across the U.S.

AP photos.

CHINA-EARNS-LENOVO

BEIJING — Computer maker Lenovo Group's latest quarterly profit rose 90 percent as sales of smartphones and mobile computing technology expanded. Lenovo said it earned $127 million, or 1.22 cents per share, in the three months ending March 31. By Joe McDonald.

INTERNATIONAL:

FRANCE-IMF-CHIEF

PARIS — International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde is facing questions at a special Paris court over a controversial financial deal that she oversaw as French finance minister. The 2008 arbitrage deal handed about 400 million euros ($520 million) to magnate Bernard Tapie to settle a dispute with state-owned bank Credit Lyonnais over the botched sale of Adidas in the 1990s.

AP photos

JAPAN-NUCLEAR WORKERS

TOKYO — Keeping the meltdown-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in northeastern Japan in stable condition requires a cast of thousands. Increasingly the plant's operator is struggling to find enough workers, a trend that many expect to worsen and hamper progress in the decades-long effort to safely decommission it. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant that melted down in March 2011 after being hit by a tsunami, is finding that it can barely meet the headcount of workers required to keep the three broken reactors cool while fighting power outages and leaks of tons of radiated water, said current and former nuclear plant workers and others familiar with the situation at Fukushima. By Yuri Kageyama.

BANGLADESH-BUILDING COLLAPSE

DHAKA, Bangladesh — The defects and errors that led to the world's deadliest garment-industry accident extend from the swampy ground the doomed Rana Plaza was built on, to "extremely poor quality" construction materials, to the massive, vibrating equipment operating when the eight-story building collapsed, a committee appointed by Bangladesh's government concluded. By Farid Hossain.

—EUROPE-FINANCIAL CRISIS — A top European Central Bank official says an agency with powers to restructure and wind down busted banks is "indispensable" to strengthening the continent's banking system against future turmoil.

— EU-OLIVE OIL — The EU has something important to say about its proposal to regulate olive oil on restaurant tables: Uh, never mind. The European Commission says it is withdrawing the proposal because not enough member nations had supported it.

— CHINA-MANUFACTURING — A survey shows China's manufacturing contracted this month, adding to signs a fragile recovery in the world's No. 2 economy is slowing.

— SPAIN-FINANCIAL CRISIS — Spain has had to pay higher interest rates to auction off 4 billion euros ($5.2 billion) in governments bonds as financial markets were unnerved by a sharp drop in global stock markets.

— INDIA-POWER PROTESTS — A blistering heat wave has swept across most parts of north and western India, causing massive electricity cuts and leading angry residents to protest and even attack power company officials and property.

— NEW ZEALAND-CHINA — New Zealand authorities say exports of frozen lamb, beef and mutton to China should resume next week after a paperwork problem resulted in hundreds of tons of meat getting stranded at Chinese docks.

— VIETNAM-MASSIVE BLACKOUT — One mistake by a clumsy crane operator caused a 10-hour blackout over about a third of Vietnam, exposing the fragility of the nation's power grid.

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