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Last Update on May 05, 2016 17:15 GMT

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON (AP) -- More Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, but the totals stayed near historic lows in a sign that the recent slowdown in growth has yet to spark layoffs.

The Labor Department says weekly applications for jobless aid rose 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 274,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, edged up to 258,000, close to the 42-year low achieved two weeks ago.

With relatively few people are applying for unemployment benefits, it appears as though employers are unworried about recent sluggish growth. The economy expanded an annual pace of just 0.5 percent in the first quarter, the weakest pace in two years.

The figures point to job growth in Friday's employment report. Economists forecast that employers added 200,000 jobs in April, while the unemployment rate remained 5 percent.

ELECTRONIC CIGARETTES-FDA

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Hundreds of electronic cigarette brands will have to get federal permission to stay on the market under new rules that have the potential to upend a multi-billion dollar industry.

The Food and Drug Administration has released long-awaited rules that bring the industry under federal oversight. Among other steps, the FDA rules limit e-cigarette sales to minors and require new health warnings. In a move vigorously opposed by manufacturers, the agency says manufacturers would have to get permission to remain on the market under a multi-tiered system.

E-cigarettes turn nicotine into an inhalable liquid vapor. Their benefits and harms haven't been extensively studied.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Long-term U.S. mortgage rates fell this week, following the Federal Reserve's decision not to raise its benchmark interest rate.

The decline put long-term mortgage rates near their low levels for the year, offering an inducement to prospective home buyers during the spring buying season.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac says the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage declined to 3.61 percent from 3.66 percent last week. It's far below its level a year ago of 3.80 percent.

The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate mortgages slipped to 2.86 percent from 2.89 percent last week.

EARNS-FANNIE MAE

Fannie Mae posts $1.1B profit in 1Q; paying $919M dividend

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mortgage giant Fannie Mae posted net income of $1.1 billion for the first quarter, down from a year ago as declining interest rates reduced the value of the financial instruments it uses to hedge against rate swings.

The results for the January-through-March period mark the 17th straight profitable quarter for the government-controlled company. The first-quarter profit compared with net income of $1.9 billion a year earlier.

Washington-based Fannie is paying a dividend of $919 million to the U.S. Treasury next month. Fannie will then have paid a total $148.5 billion in dividends, exceeding the $116 billion it received from taxpayers during the financial crisis.

The government rescued Fannie and smaller sibling Freddie Mc at the height of the crisis in September 2008.

EARN-MERCK

UNDATE (AP) -- Merck has posted an 18 percent jump in first-quarter income, as reduced spending on marketing, administration and research easily offset lower sales of its medicines outside the U.S.

The second-biggest U.S. drug maker has nudged up its 2016 financial forecasts and its shares edged up in premarket trading.

Merck reported first-quarter earnings of $1.13 billion, up from $953 million in 2015's first quarter.

The maker of Type 2 diabetes pill Januvia (jan-OO'-vee-uh) is launching a new cycle of medicines as revenue from some older drugs declines, hurt by brand-name or generic competition.

EARNS-KELLOGG

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) -- Kellogg's sales and profit declined in the first quarter as the maker of Frosted Flakes, Pop Tarts and Eggos worked to revive its cereal business and was hit by unfavorable currency translations.

The Battle Creek, Michigan company says sales declined 1.2 percent for its flagship U.S. Morning Foods segment, which includes cereals. Kellogg and rival General Mills have been trying to invigorate cereal sales as Americans have increasingly reached for alternatives at breakfast.

To offset its sales challenges, Kellogg and other major packaged food makers have been slashing costs.

Kellogg is also trying to diversify its business. It's hoping products such as Pringle give it greater reach into markets overseas.

For the quarter ended April 2, Kellogg earned $175 million.

EARNS-ALIBABA

HONG KONG (AP) -- Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA) is reporting fiscal fourth-quarter profit of $832 million.

On a per-share basis, the Hong Kong-based company says it had profit of 33 cents. Earnings, adjusted for one-time gains and costs, were 47 cents per share.

The results missed Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of 60 cents per share.

The online retailer posted revenue of $3.75 billion in the period, topping Street forecasts. Ten analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $3.59 billion.

Alibaba shares have declined almost 3 percent since the beginning of the year. The stock has decreased 2 percent in the last 12 months.

ITALY-FIAT

ROME (AP) -- Italian Premier Matteo Renzi is hailing the new Alfa Romeo sedan by Fiat Chrysler, which he says will add 3,400 jobs in Italy and symbolizes the country's economic potential.

Four models of the new Giulia model were parked today in the courtyard of the government's headquarters, with Renzi inspecting a shiny red model.

The Giulia is key to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' ambitions to boost production in Italy for export.

Renzi says auto manufacturing will help Italy's economy, which has been struggling for years, adding that the Giulia transmits a message "of starting again and of Italian style."

FCA has slowed the rollout of Alfas, mainly due to weakness in China's economy. But CEO Sergio Marchionne said this week he's convinced China has a "`real, live market" for Alfa.

FORD-SOFTWARE INVESTMENT

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- Ford says it's investing $182 million in a San Francisco software development company called Pivotal.

The Dearborn, Michigan, automaker says the investment will sharpen its software expertise as it moves toward becoming a mobility company.

Pivotal helped Ford develop FordPass, a system that gives customers remote access to vehicles through a smartphone app. The system also gives member customers access to parking and car-sharing services.

Ford says it plans to incorporate Pivotal's software development methodology across its information technology, product development and engineering teams.

Ford and Pivotal also plan to open software labs in the U.S. and Europe.

The deal will close after it is reviewed by government regulators.

COAL VS RENEWABLES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. investment in renewable energy projects has outpaced investment in fossil fuels for the second straight year.

The U.S. Department of Energy says wind turbines and solar panels accounted for more than two-thirds of all new electric generation capacity added to the nation's grid in 2015. The remaining third was largely new power plants fueled by natural gas, which has become cheap and plentiful as a result of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The states of GOP lawmakers who have fought to protect coal-fired power plants are actually benefiting from the shift to renewable energy. Leading the way in new wind projects are GOP strongholds Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

The cost of adding wind turbines has plummeted in recent years.

EARNS-SEAWORLD

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- SeaWorld's first-quarter loss widened as expenses climbed, but the theme park operator's adjusted results and revenue beat Wall Street's view.

President and CEO Joel Manby says the company's recently announced decision to end all orca breeding and transition its shows toward more natural orca encounters -- along with its partnership with the Humane Society of the United States -- should help improve its performance over time.

SeaWorld has faced intense scrutiny ever since the 2013 release of "Blackfish," a highly critical documentary.

For the three months ended March 31, SeaWorld lost $84 million. A year earlier the Orlando, Florida-based company lost $43.6 million.

 
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