CNN Financial News Producer
The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits rose by 62,000 to 589,000 last week - a 26-year high. The last time jobless claims were this high was in November 1982, when jobless claims surged to 612,000. The increase is partly due to a backlog of claims that piled up in recent weeks in several states that experienced computer crashes due to a crush of applications. The number of people continuing to seek benefits, meanwhile, rose by 97,000 to 4.6 million.
And the cuts just keep on coming… Microsoft says it will cut up to 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months - including 1,400 jobs today. Chemical maker Hunstman Corp. plans to cut 1,175 jobs, or 9% of its workforce by the end of the year. Williams-Sonoma said late Wednesday it plans to cut about 1,400 jobs, or 18% of its full-time staff by end of this month. And chipmaker Intel said its cutting production at two silicon wafer facilities in the U.S. and closing three facilities in Asia, affecting between 5,000 and 6,000 workers.
New-home construction plunged to an all-time low in December, capping the worst year for builders on records dating back 50 years. The Commerce Department says construction of new homes and apartments fell 15.5% to an annual rate of 550,000 units last month. That shattered the previous low set in November. And building permits - a barometer of future activity - dropped 10.7% from the previous month.
Stocks opened lower today, weighed down by those jobless and housing numbers – and disappointing quarterly earnings from Microsoft that came out earlier than expected. With the ongoing recession and widespread damage in the banking and financial sectors, Wall Street has been dreading this earnings season. But the tech sector seems to be showing a few surprising pockets of strength. IBM beat quarterly estimates Tuesday and offered an upbeat outlook for the year. And late Wednesday it was Apple’s turn to beat the street – thanks in part to record-setting iPod sales. Now, Wall Street waits for result from Google after today’s closing bell.
Electronics and entertainment giant Sony warned today it will post a nearly $3 billion annual operating loss - its biggest loss ever and the first in 14 years - due to sliding demand, a stronger yen and costs to restructure its ailing electronics operations.
Gas prices rose 0.2 cents overnight to $1.850 a gallon. That’s the 9th consecutive increase. 5 states have regular unleaded gas prices of $2 and higher. The highest gas prices are in Alaska ($2.509). 45 states and the District of Columbia have regular unleaded gas prices below $2. The cheapest gas prices are in Wyoming ($1.490)
And be sure to check out Fortune’s 2009 list of the “Best Companies to Work For.” There's a new No. 1 this year as Google slips to No. 4. Find out which companies are going out of their way - even in this economy - to please employees.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
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