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FEDERAL RESERVE

Bernanke seeks to reassure veterans

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke on Thursday tried to reassure U.S. soldiers, a group hit hard by high unemployment, that the Fed is working to strengthen the economy.

In a speech at a military base in El Paso, Texas, Mr. Bernanke told the soldiers and their families that the Fed is trying to lower unemployment. He talked about the Fed’s policies of keeping short-term rates near zero and buying securities to try to lower longer-term rates, such as mortgages.

Many veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are returning home to find few jobs and limited prospects. The unemployment rate for veterans of those wars was 12.1 percent in October. That’s up from 10.6 percent a year ago and well above the national average of 9 percent.

“I’m here because the men and women in military service, like all Americans, are profoundly affected by the economic challenges our nation has faced these past several years,” Mr. Bernanke said during the speech at Fort Bliss, the country’s largest Army base.

The town hall meeting was the latest in a series of public outreach efforts that Mr. Bernanke has made to underscore the efforts the central bank is pursuing to help ordinary Americans cope with the Great Recession. In the past 2 1/2 years, Mr. Bernanke has attended half a dozen such informal gatherings.

ECONOMY

Unemployment aid hits 7-month low

The outlook for American jobs and trade looked a little brighter Thursday, despite growing uncertainty overseas.

The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week fell to a seasonally adjusted 390,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That’s the fewest since April.

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed to $43.1 billion in September, its lowest point of the year, the Commerce Department said. Foreign sales of American-made autos, airplanes and heavy machinery pushed exports to an all-time high.

The data suggest that layoffs are easing and that the economy grew slightly better over the summer than the government had estimated a month ago.

Stocks rose in afternoon trading, one day after the market tumbled because of concerns that Europe’s debt crisis could worsen.

TOYS

Hall of Famers: Dollhouse, Hot Wheels, blanket

ROCHESTER, N.Y. | Is Linus jumping for joy?

The blanket, an all-purpose plaything as well as a comfort for generations of thumb-suckers like Charlie Brown’s friend in the “Peanuts” comic strip, landed Thursday in the National Toy Hall of Fame along with Hot Wheels and the dollhouse.

The trio take their places at the Strong, a children’s and cultural history museum in upstate New York, alongside 46 classics ranging from the bicycle, kite and teddy bear to Barbie, Jack-in-the-Box and Mr. Potato Head.

Longevity is a key criterion for getting into the 13-year-old hall, which was acquired in 2002 from A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village in Salem, Ore. Each toy must be widely recognized, foster learning, creativity or discovery through play, and endure in popularity for generations.

NEW YORK

More mortgage firms agree to state reforms

ALBANY | More national mortgage companies agreed Thursday to new internal practices aimed at protecting borrowers as they face foreclosure.

Benjamin Lawsky, New York state’s superintendent of financial services, said Morgan Stanley, Saxon American Home Mortgage and Vericrest Financial will end several practices.

They include “robo-signing” affidavits that say documents were reviewed when they weren’t and sending borrowers directly into foreclosure, even when they are trying to modify their loans to save their homes.

Mr. Lawsky said this is the same set of rules previously agreed to by Goldman Sachs Bank, Ocwen Financial and Litton Loan Servicing.

“These new reforms are now spreading out into the industry at a time when homeowners truly need relief in the wake of the financial crisis,” he said. He commended the companies for leading the industry and urged other companies to follow.

ACQUISITION

H&R Block’s plans to acquire TaxACT stopped

A federal judge stopped H&R Block’s plans to acquire the creator of TaxACT software because she found it would reduce competition in the do-it-yourself tax preparation market.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell agreed with the Obama administration that the deal violates antitrust laws and would leave just two major providers of tax software.

She said in an opinion Thursday that if the deal went through, Kansas City, Mo.-based H&R Block and Intuit, the Mountain View, Calif.-based maker of the popular “TurboTax” software program, would control more than 90 percent of the market.

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