- - Thursday, August 4, 2011


Aid applications tick down to 400,000

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits dipped last week, a sign the job market may be improving slowly. Weekly applications for unemployment benefits edged down 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 400,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the lowest level in four months. The previous week’s figure was revised upward from 398,000 to 401,000.

The four-week average, a less-volatile figure, dropped for the fifth straight week to 407,750. That suggests there is a downward trend in layoffs.

Unemployment benefit applications have been at or above 400,000 for 17 weeks. They fell in February to 375,000, a level that signals healthy job growth. They stayed below 400,000 for two months. But applications then surged to an eight-month high of 478,000 in April and have declined slowly since then.


Judge orders Mattel to pay $309M in Bratz spat

SANTA ANA, Calif. — A federal judge ordered toy giant Mattel Inc. to pay rival MGA Entertainment more than $309 million Thursday, marking another tumultuous chapter in the years-long legal fight between the two companies over ownership of the lucrative Bratz fashion doll line.

The upstart MGA has been involved in a legal battle with Mattel since 2004 over who owns the Bratz doll. The dolls with pouty lips, hip-hop-style clothing and oversized feet were aimed at “tweens,” or girls ages 9 to 11, and flew off the shelves when they debuted in 2001.

U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter reduced a previous jury award from more than $88 million to $85 million but then awarded Los Angeles-based MGA an additional $85 million in punitive damages for trade secrets misappropriation. He also awarded MGA and its Chief Executive Officer Isaac Larian $137 million in legal fees related to copyright and trade-secrets issues and more than $2 million in legal fees and related costs on the trade-secrets claims.

Mattel said in a statement that it was disappointed with the ruling and would “review the court’s ruling and evaluate next steps.” The El Segundo-based toy maker can appeal.


Report: Solid sales gains in July

NEW YORK — The back-to-school season got off to a strong start as discounts and high temperatures in July drove shoppers to air-conditioned malls. But merchants worry that momentum won’t continue through the remainder of the second-biggest shopping period of the year as the weather gets cold and the deals dry up.

Despite a flow of bad economic news that kept consumer confidence shaky, a number of retailers reported July revenue on Thursday that beat Wall Street estimates, including discounter Target, department store Macy’s, and luxury chain Saks. The International Council of Shopping Centers’ preliminary tally of retailers’ revenue at stores open at least a year — a key indicator of a merchant’s health — was up 4.6 percent, a slower pace than June’s 6.9 percent gain but in line with forecasts.


Shell drilling plan approved for Arctic

JUNEAU, Alaska — A key federal agency gave conditional approval Thursday to Shell Oil Co.’s plans to begin drilling in Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast as early as next year.

Approval by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement and Regulation, or BOEMRE, is contingent upon Shell securing other drilling, air quality and other necessary permits. But it represents a huge step toward Shell being allowed to start drilling in the Beaufort Sea.

Shell plans to drill as many as four wells over two years in the Beaufort, beginning next year.


Kraft Foods plans a split into 2 companies

PORTLAND, Ore. — Kraft Foods Inc. said Thursday it plans to split into two publicly traded companies, with one focusing on its international snack brands like Trident gum and Cadbury chocolates and the other on its North American grocery business that includes Maxwell House coffee and Oscar Mayer meats.

Kraft is the latest in a string of U.S. companies including rival Sara Lee Corp. to separate its business to cater to different niche markets. As companies increasingly look for ways to promote growth during a difficult economic environment, there’s been a major shift from thinking that bigger is always better to sharpening their strategy on smaller businesses that focus on a group of brands.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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