Business Highlights

The Associated Press Published:

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Slow improvement in job market

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Little by very little, the job market is getting better.

A closely watched measure of the jobs crisis, the number of people filing for unemployment benefits for the first time each week, fell to 388,000 in a report released Thursday, its lowest point since April.

The four-week average, which economists check because it smoothes out the week-to-week fluctuations in the job market, dropped below 400,000 for the first time in seven months.

Claims would have to be below 375,000 -- and consistently -- to signal the sustained job gains that the United States needs to lower its 9 percent unemployment rate. But economists were at least encouraged by the trend.

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As fewer buy homes, apartment construction surges

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Builders have found a way to make money in a decrepit home market: Apartments.

Permit requests to build apartments jumped to a three-year high last month. In 12 months, they've surged 63 percent.

Blame the housing bust, which left many people without the means, the credit or the stomach to buy. More people need apartments. The demand has driven up monthly rents. And apartment-home builders are rushing to cash in.

That said, the overall home market remains depressed. Builders are still struggling. They broke ground on a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 628,000 homes last month, the government said Thursday. That's barely half the pace that economists equate with a healthy market.

High unemployment, stagnant pay and waves of foreclosures have slowed sales of single-family homes, which make up about 70 percent of the home building market. Apartment construction may be surging, but it's a small portion of the industry.

More apartment building won't add enough jobs to reduce unemployment or hasten an end to the housing crisis. Still, it's contributed to the overall economy's growth for two straight quarters. And many economists expect apartment construction to grow for at least the next 12 months, as long as the economy avoids another recession.

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Protesters march nationwide; over 200 arrested

NEW YORK (AP) -- Occupy Wall Street protesters clogged streets and tied up traffic around the U.S. on Thursday to mark two months since the movement's birth and signal they aren't ready to quit, despite the breakup of many of their encampments by police. More than 200 people were arrested, most in New York.

The marches were for the most part peaceful, with only scattered clashes between police and demonstrators. Most of the arrests were for blocking streets, the traffic disruptions were brief, and the turnout, at least in New York, fell well short of what police had been expecting.

Chanting "All day, all week, shut down Wall Street," more than 1,000 demonstrators gathered near the New York Stock Exchange and sat down in several intersections. Helmeted police broke up some of the gatherings, and operations at the stock market were not disrupted.

The street demonstration came two days after police cleared 200 people from New York's Zuccotti Park, shutting down the encampment that served as headquarters of the Occupy movement.

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Rate on 30-year mortgage ticks up to 4 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The average rate on the 30-year mortgage hovered above the record low for a third straight week. But cheap mortgage rates have done little to boost home sales or refinancing.

Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year loan ticked up to 4 percent from 3.99 percent. Six weeks ago, it dropped to a record low of 3.94 percent, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage rose to 3.31 percent from 3.30 percent. Six weeks ago, it hit a record low of 3.26 percent.

Rates have been below 5 percent for all but two weeks this year. Yet this year could be the worst for home sales in 14 years.

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Sears 3Q loss widens on softness in Canada

NEW YORK (AP) -- Sears Holdings Corp. turned in a wider-than-expected loss in its third-quarter, dragged down by weakness in Canada, declining consumer electronics sales and softer clothing sales at its Kmart stores.

The downbeat report, announced Thursday, underscored the big challenges the ailing chain faces as it heads into the critical weeks of the holiday shopping season.

The company, which operates Kmart stores and Sears, Roebuck and Co. locations, has seen rival department stores like Macy's Inc. and discounters like Target Corp. continue to steal customers away. It's also contending with a tough economic environment that has put more pressure on its middle-income shoppers.

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Gap's 3Q profit down 36 percent

NEW YORK (AP) -- Gap Inc. said Thursday that its third-quarter profit fell 36 percent, confirming the challenges the clothing company faces heading into the holiday shopping season.

The San Francisco-based operator of the Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy and Athleta chains has been struggling for years to reclaim its former fashion status. Its Gap chain, in particular, has reported sales drops the last six years at stores open at least a year in North America, a key measure of a retailer's health.

Continued deep discounting and rising production costs have only compounded the largest U.S. clothing seller's troubles.

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Thanksgiving travel expected to jump 4 percent

NEW YORK (AP) -- This Thanksgiving, 42.5 million people in the United States are expected to hit the road to visit family and friends -- the highest number of holiday travelers since the start of the recession.

Travel tracker AAA says that 4 percent more Americans than last year will journey at least 50 miles from home, with about 90 percent of them driving. Another 8 percent plan to fly, but AAA notes that higher airfares and less available seats have forced many would-be fliers to drive instead. The remaining travelers plan to take buses, trains or other forms of transport.

This is the third consecutive Thanksgiving that Americans have taken to the road in higher numbers than the year before.

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Angie's List stock rises in first trading day

NEW YORK (AP) -- Consumer-reviews site Angie's List Inc. saw it stock rise 25 percent on its first day of trading Thursday, showing ongoing investor appetite for Internet companies.

The company's public debut came the same day that another reviews site -- San Francisco-based Yelp Inc. -- filed for an initial public offering of stock.

Founded by Angie Hicks in 1995, Angie's List runs reviews of dentists, doctors, veterinarians, gardeners, plumbers and other businesses offering local services.

On Wednesday, Angie's List priced its offering of 8.8 million shares at $13 each -- at the top of the range it had expected. The offering followed big IPOs by LinkedIn Corp. and Groupon Inc. this year. And it precedes the public debut of online game company Zynga Inc., which is expected before the end of the year.

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Online reviews site Yelp to go public

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Yelp is hoping investors give it a five-star rating, as the popular online review site plans to raise $100 million in an initial public offering.

Yelp made the announcement in a filing Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The amount of money the startup is seeking in its IPO will likely change as its bankers determine how many shares should be sold and at what price. That process typically takes three to four months.

San Francisco-based Yelp, a website best known for reviews of restaurants, bars and other local businesses, said in its filing that it recorded a loss of $7.6 million, or 13 cents per share, on revenue of $58.4 million in the first nine months of the year. This compares with a loss of $8.6 million, or 16 cents per share on $32.5 million in the same period a year earlier. Most of Yelps' revenue comes from local businesses advertising on its site.

The company has $32.1 million in debt, and $23.1 million in cash and cash equivalents, the filing said.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 134.86 points, or 1.1 percent, to close at 11,770.73. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 20.75, or 1.7 percent, to 1,216.16. The Nasdaq slid 51.62, or 2 percent, to 2,587.99.

Benchmark crude fell $3.77, or 3.7 percent, to end the day at $98.82 a barrel in New York.

In other energy trading, natural gas prices rose 6.6 cents to end at $3.41 per 1,000 cubic feet, after the Energy Information Administration reported that U.S. stockpiles grew less than expected last week. Heating oil fell 5.14 cents to finish at $3.0832 per gallon and gasoline futures dropped 12 cents, or 4.6 percent, to end at $2.5071 per gallon.

Brent crude, which is used to price oil produced in foreign countries, fell $3.42, or 3 percent, to finish at $108.09 a barrel in London.

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