In the news:
The Associated Press
Fewer US banks failing as industry strengthens
WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. banks are ending the year with their best profits since 2006 and fewer failures than at any time since the financial crisis struck in 2008. They're helping support an economy slowed by high unemployment, flat pay, sluggish manufacturing and anxious consumers.
As the economy heals from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, more people and businesses are taking out - and repaying - loans.
And for the first time since 2009, banks' earnings growth is being driven by higher revenue - a healthy trend. Banks had previously managed to boost earnings by putting aside less money for possible losses.
Trains carrying more oil across US amid boom
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Energy companies behind the oil boom on the Northern Plains are increasingly turning to an industrial-age workhorse - the locomotive - to move their crude to refineries across the U.S., as plans for new pipelines stall and existing lines can't keep up with demand.
Delivering oil thousands of miles by rail from the heartland to refineries on the East, West and Gulf coasts costs more, but it can mean increased profits - up to $10 or more a barrel - because of higher oil prices on the coasts. That works out to about $700,000 per train.
The parade of mile-long trains carrying hazardous material out of North Dakota and Montana and across the country has experts and federal regulators concerned. Rail transport is less safe than pipelines, they say, and the proliferation of oil trains raises the risk of a major derailment and spill.
Dockworkers strike averted for now at US ports
NEW YORK (AP) - Dockworkers along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico agreed Friday to extend their contract for more than a month, averting a weekend strike that could have crippled major ports from Boston to Houston and bottled up billions of dollars' worth of cargo.
Talks aimed at reaching a new contract covering the 14,500 longshoremen will continue during the extension, which runs through Feb. 6.
The dockworkers' union and an alliance of port operators and shipping lines agreed to the extension after resolving one of the stickier points in their negotiations, involving royalty payments to longshoremen for each container they unload. Details were not disclosed.
Champagne loses fizz in Europe after tough year
PARIS (AP) - Europeans are finding fewer reasons to pop open a bottle of Champagne as another year of economic troubles and high unemployment saps the region's appetite for the finer things. But while the latest industry figures show that sales might be on the wane in Europe, other markets, particularly Japan and the United States, are developing a taste for a glass of bubbly.
In what is certain to be bad news for the vineyards, France - Champagne's largest market - is drinking fewer bottles. Sales of Champagne for the country were down 4.9 percent, and 5 percent elsewhere in the 27-country European Union, in the first nine months of 2012 compared with the same period in 2011, according to CIVC, the national association of growers and producers of the wine.
Nineteen months of rising unemployment and growing fears that the worst is yet to come have taken their toll on France - nearly seven in 10 French are worried about their country's future, according to a recent poll.
US pending home sales rise to highest in 2 1/2 years
WASHINGTON (AP) - A measure of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes increased last month to its highest level in two and a half years, the latest sign of improvement in the once-battered housing market.
The National Association of Realtors said Friday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index rose 1.7 percent in November from October to 106.4. That's the highest since April 2010, when a homebuyer tax credit caused a spike in sales. And after excluding those months when the tax credit was available, it's the best reading since February 2007.
The increase followed a 5 percent gain in October and suggests higher sales of previously occupied homes in the coming months. There's generally a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed sale.
UK's Pearson invests in Barnes & Noble's Nook
LONDON (AP) - Pearson, the U.K. publisher and education company, is to take a 5 percent stake in Barnes & Noble's NOOK e-reader as technology companies seek new inroads into the potentially lucrative business of digital textbooks for schools.
Pearson PLC will pay $89.5 million cash for a 5 percent stake in NOOK Media LLC which includes the bookseller's e-reader and tablets, its digital bookstore and its 674 stores serving U.S. colleges. Barnes & Noble will hold 78.2 percent of the business and Microsoft will have about 16.8 percent, the company said Friday.
Major tech companies have looked for inroads into the industry, seeing tablets like the iPad and the NOOK as replacements for the dozens of books that students must lug to and from school each day.
HP says government investigating troubled Autonomy unit
NEW YORK (AP) - Autonomy, the British business software company now owned by Hewlett-Packard Co., is facing a Justice Department investigation over improper accounting under previous management, according to HP.
In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission late Thursday, HP said Justice officials had informed the company on Nov. 21 that they were opening an investigation into the allegations, which HP said in November that it had uncovered after a senior Autonomy executive came forward.
HP also reiterated that it provided information to the SEC and the U.K. Serious Fraud Office related to "accounting improprieties, disclosure failures and misrepresentations at Autonomy." HP said it was cooperating with all three government agencies.
China court orders Apple to pay in rights dispute
BEIJING (AP) - A Chinese court has ordered Apple Inc. to pay 1.03 million yuan ($165,000) to eight Chinese writers and two companies who say unlicensed copies of their work were distributed through Apple's online store.
The Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court ruled Thursday that Apple violated the writers' copyrights by allowing applications containing their work to be distributed through its App Store, according to an official who answered the phone at the court and said he was the judge in the case. He refused to give his name, as is common among Chinese officials.
The award was less than the 12 million yuan ($1.9 million) sought by the authors. The case grouped together eight lawsuits filed by them and their publishers.
FDA clears anticlotting drug Eliquis
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Food and Drug Administration says it has approved the anticlotting drug Eliquis, developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Pfizer Inc. It's a potential blockbuster drug in a new category of medicines to prevent strokes.
The agency previously rejected the drug twice, most recently in June, awaiting additional data from company trials.
The FDA cleared the pill for treating the most common type of irregular heartbeat - atrial fibrillation - in patients at risk for strokes or dangerous clots.
By The Associated Press(equals)
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 158.20 points to 12,938.11 points. The Standard & Poor 500 index fell 15.67 points to 1,402.43 and the Nasdaq dropped 25.59 points to 2,960.31.
U.S. benchmark crude fell 7 cents to finish at $90.80 a barrel. In London, Brent crude, used to price various kinds of foreign oil, fell 18 cents to finish at $110.62 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.
Wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to end at $2.80 a gallon. Heating oil fell 3 cents to finish at $3.04 a gallon. Natural gas rose 6 cents to end at $3.47 per 1,000 cubic feet.