Mid-day Update

PODCAST: Jobless claims fall, M&M says it has made world’s largest pinata ever

Daryl Paranada Aug 4, 2011

Here are today’s top headlines from the Marketplace Morning Report and from around the web.

The Labor Department said moments ago the number of people that filed for first time jobless claims fell slightly to 400,000. An interesting number because it’s exactly the figure economists look at to determine how the job market is doing. Above 400,000: bad jobs news. Below… good.

Deep discounts and the warmest July weather in decades helped some U.S. retail chains report a healthy rise in monthly sales at established stores. Warehouse club Costco and teen apparel chain Hot Topic posted some of the biggest gains so far. Target says sales rose 4.1 percent in July as shoppers picked up more groceries and health and beauty products.

The Bank of England has left its key rate on hold for the 29th straight month as concerns over Britain’s sluggish economic recovery outweighed inflation concerns. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank signaled it is back in crisis mode at its policy meeting on Thursday, with the possibility of restarting bond purchases and a new round of liquidity support in the spotlight.

The big earthquake and tsunami back in March did serious damage to Japan’s economic health. And today, the Bank of Japan intervened to slow the rise of the yen against the dollar. That will help Japanese companies sell things abroad.

General Motors just released its latest earnings. It says its second-quarter profit nearly doubled, thanks to higher car prices.

Kraft Foods says it’ll carve itself into two publicly-traded companies. One that will focus on snacks, the other on its big grocery business.

A French court ordered an investigation into the role of IMF head Christine Lagarde in a huge settlement paid to a businessman friend of President Nicolas Sarkozy when she was finance minister.

Another famous corporate name making news today: Sony. That company is heading for its 8th straight year of losses in the TV business. But today, it ruled out dumping its television division. Sony says TV remains a core business. At the same time, it conceded its next-generation portable game machine, the PlayStation Vita, won’t be ready for sale in the U.S. or Europe in time for Christmas. That’s a crucial sales period for game console makers.

CVS Caremark says its profit slipped 1 percent in the second quarter as its pharmacy benefits management business weathered lower prices on contract renewals.

German sports clothing and shoe company Adidas said sales grew by 5 percent in its last quarter.

Shares of Japanese companies Hitachi and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries surged today after reports surfaced that the two companies were planning to merge.

We’ll tell you right up front, we pulled this off the “PR Newswire” … as in, this is a publicity gimmick. That’s pretty obvious. The folks at M&M/Mars are celebrating the first birthday of their M&M pretzel candies. I guess they’re trying to drive home the point that they’ve been a *smashing * success. So they’ve created a huge M&M-shaped pinata — the world’s biggest ever, they claim — and they’re going to break it open in New York today. It’s filled with thousands of bags of guess-which-kind of candy. No worries about finding this one with the blindfold on. It’s a little hard to miss, cause it’s 46-feet tall.

A Swedish man’s been arrested for trying to split atoms in his kitchen. For a hobby, Richard Handl was trying to create a nuclear reactor — at his apartment. The 31 year old kept a blog of his experiment with elements of radium and uranium. The man wondered if his nuclear curiosity violated any laws, so he sent a letter to Sweden’s Radiation Authority. They responded by sending the police.

There’s a new ringtone swiftly gaining popularity in Egypt. Not the latest hit song, or some weird sound effect. What’s captivated the Egyptian people this week is the trial of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. And it seems people are turning a clip of his denial of all the charges he’s facing into the ringtone to have on your mobile phone. The ailing defendant spoke from behind bars, on a gurnev. OK, so maybe it doesn’t have that much of a catchy beat, but an Egyptian newspaper reports the phrase has gained instant popularity with Egyptian cell phone users.

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