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US jobless claims at 6-year low, but hiring lags

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans who have a job may take comfort in knowing that companies are laying off fewer people than at any time since before the Great Recession.

Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits over the past four weeks dropped to a seasonally adjusted 335,500, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's the lowest level since November 2007, which was one month before the recession began.

But while most companies have stopped cutting jobs, many remain reluctant to hire. That's bad news for the roughly 11.5 million Americans who are unemployed and a major reason the unemployment rate is still so high four years after the recession officially ended.

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Retailers see slow start to back-to-school season

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. shoppers are holding off on back-to-school shopping, and those who delay long enough might be rewarded with some steep discounts from desperate retailers.

Revenue at stores open at least a year — an industry measure of a retailer's health— rose 3.8 percent in July, the slowest pace since March, according to a preliminary tally of 10 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers.

A number of stores were already offering discounts and other come-ons to get shoppers to spend on the new shipments of fall clothing that started flowing in mid-July. But experts say even more deal are coming this month as stores try to boost sales for the back-to-school season, which runs from mid-July through mid-September.

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JCP shares up on report of new CEO search

NEW YORK (AP) — Shares of J.C. Penney shares jumped about 7 percent on Thursday on a media report that the retailer is starting a new CEO search to replace Mike Ullman.

Ullman, who had been J.C. Penney's CEO from 2004 to 2011, took back the reins in April after Penney CEO Ron Johnson was ousted after 17 months on the job after his radical makeover of the chain failed to boost results. Analysts had expected Ullman's reign the second time around would be transitional until Penney hired a replacement.

CNBC reported that the company is seeking a new CEO and that activist investor Bill Ackman sent a letter to J.C. Penney's board saying the process should be accelerated.

Representatives for J.C. Penney could not immediately be reached for comment.

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JPMorgan faces criminal probe over mortgage bonds

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department is investigating JPMorgan Chase over mortgage-backed investments the bank sold in the run-up to the financial crisis.

The New York-based bank said in a regulatory filing that it is responding to investigations by the civil and criminal divisions of the U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District of California. In May, the civil division informed JPMorgan that it had "preliminarily concluded" that the bank had violated federal securities laws in connection with certain mortgage-backed investments it sold from 2005 to 2007.

A JPMorgan spokeswoman declined to comment.

The disclosure is just the latest in a swirl of mortgage-related lawsuits and investigations that have hammered big U.S. banks in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The banks have been accused of improperly foreclosing on homeowners, discriminating against others and knowingly making loans to people who couldn't afford them. Other probes, including the one disclosed by JPMorgan, have focused on mortgage-backed securities, where the banks bundled together their mortgages and sold them in slivers to investors.

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US average rate on 30-year loan at 4.40 pct.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages barely changed this week, giving prospective homebuyers time to lock in relatively low rates.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average on the 30-year loan edged up to 4.40 percent from 4.39 percent last week. The rate is a full percentage point higher than in early May, when rates neared record lows. But rates remain low by historical standards.

The average on the 15-year fixed loan was unchanged at 3.43 percent.

Mortgage rates spiked in June after Chairman Ben Bernanke indicated the Federal Reserve could slow its bond purchases later this year. The bond purchases have kept long-term interest rates low, encouraging more borrowing and spending.

Despite the recent rate increases, mortgages remain a bargain for those who can qualify. Low rates have boosted home sales and prices, contributing to a housing recovery that has helped drive economic growth this year.

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Lawyer to seek $20 million in case against Toyota

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A lawyer for plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit against Toyota Motor Corp. told a jury on Thursday he will ask for $20 million in damages for the family of a woman who died when her Camry suddenly accelerated and crashed despite her efforts to stop.

The case involving the 2009 death of Noriko Uno is the first involving the issue to go to trial in state court.

Toyota recalled millions of vehicles worldwide after drivers reported that some of its vehicles were surging unexpectedly. The company agreed to pay $1 billion in other suits.

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NY court: Marvel can keep Spider-Man, X-Men comics

NEW YORK (AP) — Spider-Man, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk can continue to reside in Marvel's offices after a federal appeals court on Thursday rejected an ownership claim by the children of the artist who helped create them.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan agreed with a lower court judge who denied claims by the family of Jack Kirby, the legendary artist who died in 1994 and whose work spanned more than half a century.

His heirs in California and New York wanted to terminate Marvel's copyrights from 2014 through 2019 to comics published from 1958 to 1963.

Marvel Worldwide Inc. sued in January 2010 to prevent it, leading U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in July 2011 to conclude the work was done "for hire," a legal term that rendered the heirs' claims invalid.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 27 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 15,498 Thursday. The Nasdaq composite gained 15 points, or 0.4 percent, to 3,669. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose six points, or 0.4 percent, to close at 1,697.

Benchmark crude fell 97 cents to close at $103.40 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Heating oil fell 1 cent to $2.92 a gallon. Natural gas rose 5 cents to $3.30 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline slipped 1 cent to $2.86 a gallon.

Brent crude, traded on the ICE Futures exchange in London, fell 76 cents to $106.68 a barrel.