- - Thursday, June 16, 2011

UNEMPLOYMENT

Jobless benefits filings drop, but remain high

Fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, though applications remain above levels consistent with a healthy economy.

The Labor Department said Thursday that unemployment benefit applications fell 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 414,000, the second drop in three weeks. That is a positive sign that layoffs are slowing.

Still, applications have been above 400,000 for 10 straight weeks, evidence that the job market is weak compared with earlier this year.

Applications had fallen in February to 375,000, a level that signals sustainable job growth. They stayed below 400,000 for seven of nine weeks, but applications surged in April to 478,000, an eight-month high, and have declined slowly since then.

AUTOS

Chrysler recalls vehicles to fix steering columns

DETROIT Chrysler Group LLC is recalling 11,351 cars, minivans and other models because a manufacturing problem can cause the steering wheel to collapse improperly in a collision.

Chrysler told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it doesn’t know of any crashes or injuries caused by the problem. The recall affects 11 of the 20 models Chrysler has on sale for the 2011 model year.

NHTSA said on its website Thursday that a missing or incorrectly installed rivet could cause the problem, increasing the risk of injury in a crash.

Recalled vehicles include the Chrysler 200 midsize sedan and convertible and Town and Country minivan; the Dodge Avenger midsize sedan, Caliber compact car, Caravan minivan, Journey crossover vehicle and Nitro sport utility vehicle; and the Jeep Compass wagon and Patriot, Liberty and Wrangler SUVs.

The vehicles were built from mid-April to the middle of May.

HOUSING

Mortgage rates level off after hitting yearly low

Fixed mortgage rates stayed roughly flat after falling for eight weeks.

The average rate on the 30-year loan ticked up from a yearly low of 4.49 percent to 4.50 percent, Freddie Mac said Thursday. The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage, a popular refinance option, fell to 3.67 percent from 3.68 percent. That is a low for the year.

Rates tend to track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note. The 10-year yield has been dropping over fears that the economic recovery is slowing.

Most people can’t take advantage of the low mortgage rates because they can’t meet tougher lending requirements. Many who could afford to refinance likely did so last year, when rates fell to their lowest levels in decades.

STOCKS

Pandora’s stock retreats to below its IPO price

SAN FRANCISCO — Buyer’s remorse already may be setting in for some investors in Internet radio station Pandora Media.

After intense demand drove up the price for Pandora’s initial public offering of stock, the shares plunged by as much as 11 percent during their second day of trading.

Thursday’s reversal briefly drove Pandora Media Inc.’s shares as much as 50 cents below the IPO price of $16. The stock price then rallied modestly and stood at $16.03 in afternoon trading, still down $1.39, or 7.9 percent, from Wednesday’s close.

The downturn indicates the earlier euphoria about Pandora Media may have been misguided. The excitement enabled Pandora Media’s IPO to sell for twice as much as an $8 target price set two weeks ago.

LABELING

Cosmetics companies sued over ‘organic’ labels

SAN FRANCISCO — An environmental group is suing Kiss My Face and about two dozen other cosmetic companies on accusations that they falsely label products as organic.

The Center for Environmental Health filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday in Alameda County Superior Court. The center says the companies are violating a California labeling law requiring organic products to contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.

The Oakland-based group estimates that more than 70 percent of U.S. households use some types of organic products, which typically cost more than traditional competitors. Organic labels promise consumers that the product was created without the use of pesticides and other chemicals.

The companies named in the lawsuit include Kiss My Face and Hain-Celestial, which makes such popular organic brands as Alba Botanica and Avalon Organics.

FDA

Heart-risk warning added to smoking-cessation pill

Federal health regulators are alerting doctors and patients that Pfizer’s anti-smoking drug Chantix may slightly increase the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

The Food and Drug Administration said a study of 700-heart disease patients taking Chantix showed a small uptick in heart problems among those taking the smoking-cessation drug versus those taking a placebo. The agency stressed that the drug helped patients quit smoking and that this benefit should be weighed against any potential heart risks.

The FDA will add warnings to the drug’s label about the study’s findings. Drug manufacturer Pfizer will be required to analyze a large group of studies to further define the heart risk.

TECHNOLOGY

Spam titles clog Kindle self-publishing

SAN FRANCISCO — Spam has hit the Kindle, clogging the online bookstore of the top-selling eReader with material that is far from being bookworthy and threatening to undermine Amazon.com Inc.’s publishing foray.

Thousands of digital books, called ebooks, are being published through Amazon’s self-publishing system each month. Many are not written in the traditional sense.

Instead, they are built using something known as private label rights, or PLR content, which is information that can be bought cheaply online and reformatted into a digital book.

These ebooks are listed for sale — often at 99 cents — alongside more traditional books on Amazon’s website, forcing readers to plow through many more titles to find what they want.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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