Another Strong Day for Stocks, Gas Prices Still Soaring

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The stocks saw a strong day of trading with the Dow up 191 points at the close of Thursday. The NASDAQ also gained 51 points and the S&P index added 23.

A big drop in first-time jobless claims is a big reason for Thursday's gain.  The government says number of people filing for first-time jobless claims hit a nearly three-year low.  It's the third decline in the last four weeks.

The monthly numbers are due out on Friday and analysts are hoping that the downward trend will continue.

The price of crude also dropped slightly Thursday. But gas prices are still headed up.  They're already the highest ever for early March, up another four cents.  Two private surveys put the national average at $3.43 per gallon.  Some analysts think the price could jump another 32 cents this spring -- hitting up to $3.80 by summer.

Higher fuel prices are causing the major U.S. airlines raise fares again. Many routes are already up $10-20.  Lower cost carriers Southwest, JetBlue and Air Tran aren't matching the increases.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Retail Sales Show Positive Numbers

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Shoppersapparently braved bad weather in many parts of the country, as February sales for some big retailers are stronger than expected. Macy's, Saks, JC Penney, and Limited brands reported positive numbers.

In other economic news, American, US Airways, and other carriers are hiking fares again. Its the sixth time airlines have tried a broad increase, with this one aimed at covering high jet fuel prices. American Airlines is raising fares on domestic flights by $10 round trip. Several previous attempts at fare hikes have met resistance from discount airlines.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Cotton Prices on the Rise

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- With an increase in cotton prices, more farmers may plant the crop this season.

Experts say the price of cotton is at a 25-year high and the push is on to encourage farmers to consider planting this cash crop in their fields. Natural disasters around the world and lower exports are feeding into the demand.   

Across the nation, the cotton landscape is changing this season, because you'll likely see more of it growing.  Agriculture experts are encouraging farmers to plant every acre of cotton they can. Forecasts say the high cotton demand will continue for this growing season.

The Mid-South Farmers co-op says demand for cotton seed has increased from this time last year, but co-op experts say planting into the cotton market too heavily is risky business. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Clock Is Ticking for NFL Labor Talks

Photo Courtesy - Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The clock is ticking for the NFL and the NFL Players Association to reach a deal on a new labor contract -- and they may need a Hail Mary pass to save the upcoming season.
At midnight Friday, the current NFL labor contract expires. It appears likely that the team owners will move to lock out the players, keeping them out of work.
That means no spring practice, no free agency deals and, potentially, no 2011 season.
Both sides have been meeting in Washington, D.C., for more than a week, trying to reach a compromise and avert the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987. A federal mediator stepped in late in February to lead the negotiations.
 The players still have a final option before the midnight deadline. They can decide to decertify, or dissolve the union. That would prevent the owners from locking them out, but the players would give up their right to collectively bargain. It also doesn't ensure that a deal will be reached so that football can be played again in the fall.
The standoff between the league, team owners and players centers on two key issues.
First, there's revenue sharing. NFL players currently receive 60 percent of the league's $9 billion in annual revenue, but team owners say that's unsustainable given the economic downturn. They want to take an additional $1 billion for themselves, reducing the players' share by 9 to 18 percent.
Second, there's the schedule. The league wants to add two more regular season games, for a total of 18. Players say that would increase their risk of injury, and they deserve compensation.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last month that there are "no deal breakers," but that the status quo is "not acceptable."
Goodell emphasized over the last several weeks that the league and owners understand that a work stoppage would hurt the clubs, the players, the game, the fans and the league's corporate sponsors.
"If we are unsuccessful [in negotiations], uncertainty will continue," he said during a press conference before the Super Bowl last month. "That uncertainty will lead to a reduction in revenue, and when that revenue decreases there is less for us to share," he said, adding that would make it harder to reach an agreement.
Goodell has pledged to reduce his salary to $1 if there is a work stoppage.
The NFL players are highlighting what a work stoppage would mean for the economy in NFL cities.
"This Congress is concerned about jobs, jobs, and jobs," said Pete Kendall, a former offensive lineman and now a permanent representative on the union's negotiating committee. "A lockout will affect the local economy, not just those who attend the games but those who provide services at the games.
"We're not talking about penalizing players only," Kendall said. "This is going to hurt your parking lot attendants, your restaurants, your hotels. Everybody in your city hurts when this happens."

The NFL insists the changes it is pushing are necessary for the league's long-term financial health.
"This is about the future of our game," Goodell said in January. "There are things that need to be addressed, and we need to address those responsible so that everybody can win."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Claims for Unemployment Benefits Drop by 20,000

Photo Courtesy - Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The number of people filing for unemployment benefits in the last full week of February went down, according to the Labor Department's latest reported released Thursday.

For the week ending Feb. 26, the department said claims dropped by 20,000 to 368,000.  The previous week, claims stood at 388,000.

The four-week average also saw a decrease of 12,750 claims, dropping to 388,500 from the previous week's average of 401,250.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tax Tip: File Returns, Check Refunds on Your Smart Phone

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- New for people filing their taxes this year: a host of smart phone applications, including apps that allow you to submit your returns and check up on your refunds.

"If you're an iPhone user or have an Android phone, you can actually file your taxes from your phone," says Mary Beth Franklin of Kiplingers Personal Finance magazine.  She says Turbo Tax has an app called Snap Tax that can do just that.

"You take your W2 form that you receive from your employer that lists your annual earnings and your deductions; you take a picture of it with the camera on your phone; you answer a few questions and boom you file your taxes," Franklin says.

Filers interested in using Snap Tax can download it for $14.95.

But some apps are free, including one from the Internal Revenue Service called IRS2Go.  The IRS app can be found at the agency's website,  It works with both iPhones and Android phones and features news from the IRS and more.

"[Users] can download this phone app and one of the features of IRS2Go app is checking on the status of your refund as well," says Jodie Reynolds of the IRS.

Some tax prep firms also have their own free apps.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Madoff Trustee Faces Big Test in Recovering Victims' Money

Photo Courtesy - Mario Tama/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A big test comes Thursday for the trustee trying to recover money for victims of Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme.

At issue is the system for reimbursing victims of Madoff's fraud.  It involves taking money from those who gained and using it to repay those who lost.

The formula will go before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York.

Investors who came out ahead, including the owners of the New York Mets, argue the formula is unfair and will lead to costly lawsuits.  The trustee says it's the only way to make victims whole.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Stock Market Futures Are Up Amid High Oil Prices

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Despite high oil prices, stocks are seeing a turnaround after recent drops.

Futures are pointing to a solid gain at the open for stock averages and almost all overseas market averages are up.  The boost came after stronger than expected job numbers in Wednesday's ADP payroll report.

The gains come as crude oil futures topped $101 a barrel.

Meanwhile, the government's February employment report is expected to come out Friday.

On another note, the federal reserve is offering fresh evidence that the U.S. economy is starting to pick up steam.  The new Beige Book survey finds output expanded in all parts of the country in January and early February.  One concern for a lot of businesses however, are rising prices.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Survey: Most Americans Near Retirement Age Coming Up Short

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Most Americans aged 60 to 62 don't have nearly as much money as they will need for a comfortable retirement, according to a new survey.  That's a situation most young people should pay attention to, says ABC News financial contributor Melody Hobson.

Most young people are not looking decades ahead to when they retire, but maybe they should.  Hobson, says, "Even if you put away little amounts of money you benefit from the power of compounding and it makes a huge difference over 30 and 40 years."

"[It's] never too early and you can't save enough literally," she adds.

If you are near the retirement age and don't have enough saved up try working longer.

Hobson says, "Working longer even part-time in retirement will make a difference."

Another suggestion: "Wait as long as possible to take social security," Hobson says.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Stocks In the Green at Close, Crude Prices Spike, Jobs Outlook Is Good

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It was bound to happen.  Oil has closed at over a $100 a barrel.  But upbeat news about jobs kept stocks in the plus column.

At the day's close the Dow was up nine points, the NASDAQ gained 11 and the S&P added two.

The spike in crude prices could be expected due to the fighting in Libya.  And with the demand here in the U.S. for petroleum, that could mean even higher prices at the gas pumps in the coming weeks.

Payroll processor ADP says private U.S. companies added more jobs (approximately 217,000) than expected last month, which suggests that Friday's monthly unemployment figures could be stronger than expected.

The Federal Reserve also released what it calls the "Beige Book," but the Fed's latest read on the economy shows a lot of just one color: green.  It says the economy expanded at a modest to moderate pace in all 12 of the nation's regions it surveys.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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