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Sharp drop in new claims for unemployment: Dropped 29,000 last week …


Stock edge higher after unemployment claims fall
May 19, 2011, 10:25 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com

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NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks opened slightly higher Thursday, extending Wednesday’s gains, after a government report showed a sharp drop in new claims for unemployment benefits. Weaker reports on home sales and economic expectations kept the gains in check.

Shares of social-networking company LinkedIn Corp. jumped 81 percent to $81.76 on their first day of trading. It is the largest U.S. Internet IPO since Google Inc.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 26 points, or 0.2 percent, at 12,586 in early trading. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 2, or 0.2 percent, to 1,343. The Nasdaq composite index added 4, or 0.1 percent, to 2,819.

The Department of Labor reported that applications for unemployment dropped 29,000 last week, more than expected, to 409,000.

Two other reports raised doubts about the strength of the housing recovery and the overall direction of U.S. growth.

The National Association of Realtors said fewer people purchased previously occupied homes in April. The number of homes sold in foreclosure also declined.

The Conference Board reported that expectations for future economic activity decreased, based on its index of leading indicators. The private research group said the index fell 0.3 percent in April, the first decline since June 2010.

In a sign that the U.S. consumer recovery remains uneven, Big Lots Inc. fell 9 percent to $34.31 after news reports that it decided not to sell itself. The Wall Street Journal said late Wednesday that the company received bids from two private-equity groups that were lower than it had hoped.

Sears Holding Corp. reported softer sales at its Kmart and Sears stores, causing a first-quarter loss of $1.58 per share, worse than analysts expected. The stock fell 3.2 percent to $73.31.

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The US government has maxed out its credit card. Setting up 11-week fight to raise the threshold or …


US hits credit limit, setting up 11-week fight
May 16, 2011, 6:28 p.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The government has maxed out its credit card.

The United States reached its $14.3 trillion limit on federal borrowing Monday, leaving Congress 11 weeks to raise the threshold or risk a financial panic or another recession.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner formally notified Congress that the government would halt its investments in two federal pension plans so it won’t exceed the borrowing limit.

Geithner said the government could get by with bookkeeping maneuvers like that through Aug. 2. After that, the government could default on its debt for the first time, threatening the national credit rating and the dollar.

Geithner sent Congress a letter saying he would be unable to make the pension investments in full. He urged Congress to raise the debt limit “in order to protect the full faith and credit of the United States and avoid catastrophic economic consequences for citizens.”

Republican leaders in the House have said they won’t raise the debt limit unless the Obama administration first agrees to big spending cuts or to steps to lower the debt over the long run.

House Speaker John Boehner repeated the pledge in a statement Monday. The statement did not address Geithner’s warning about what would happen if the limit were not raised.

“Americans understand we simply can’t keep spending money we don’t have,” Boehner said. “There will be no debt limit increase without serious budget reforms and significant spending cuts.”

Republicans have also ruled out any tax increases, including any plans to end tax cuts for high earners enacted in 2001 and 2003.

“We need to have a vote to lift the debt ceiling because the consequences of not doing so would be quite serious,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “And those who suggest otherwise are whistling past the graveyard.”

If it doesn’t raise the limit, Congress would have to come up with $738 billion to make up for what it planned to borrow through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The options are drastic: Cut 40 percent of the budget through September, which might mean defaulting on payments to investors in government bonds; raise taxes immediately; or some combination of the two.

“In the economic area, this is the equivalent of nuclear war,” says Edward Knight, who was the Treasury Department‘s general counsel during a standoff over the debt ceiling in the mid-1990s.

Here are some questions and answers about the federal debt limit:

Q: What is the debt ceiling?

A: It’s a legal limit on how much debt the government can pile up. The government accumulates debt two ways: It borrows money from investors by issuing Treasury bonds, and it borrows from itself, mostly from Social Security revenue.

In 2010, Congress raised the limit to nearly $14.3 trillion from $12.4 trillion. Three decades ago, the national debt was $908 billion. But Washington spent more than it took in, and the debt rose steadily — surpassing $1 trillion in 1982, then $5 trillion in 1996. It reached $10 trillion in 2008 as the financial crisis and recession dried up tax revenue and as the government spent more on unemployment benefits and other programs.

Congress created the debt limit in 1917. It’s unique to the United States. Most countries let their debts rise automatically when government spending outpaces tax revenue. Raising the debt ceiling doesn’t usually create much of a stir. Congress has raised it 10 times since 2001.

A refusal to raise the debt ceiling wouldn’t mean that Congress had begun to solve the nation’s budget problems. It would just mean that lawmakers were refusing to let the government borrow more money to finance programs and tax cuts already approved.

“Having voted to run up the bill, it is utterly irresponsible to prohibit the government from borrowing the money to pay it,” writes Howard Gleckman, resident fellow at the Urban Institute.

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Q: What is the federal debt, and how does it differ from the deficit?

A: The deficit is how much government spending exceeds tax revenue during a year. The government is expected to run a record $1.5 trillion deficit in the current fiscal year. The debt is the sum of deficits past and present. If Congress raises the limit, the debt will reach $15.5 trillion by Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The huge deficits and debt reflect tax cuts, wars, the Obama administration’s stimulus program, higher costs of federal health care programs and the recession, which shrank tax revenue and led the government to spend more on social programs.

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Q: What happens now that Treasury has hit its debt limit?

A: It can free up $232 billion by taking what Geithner calls “extraordinary measures.” Besides suspending contributions to federal employee pension funds, the government can halt payments to a government fund that buys and sells foreign currencies.

The most serious debt-ceiling showdown was in 1995. At the time, the debt limit was just $4.9 trillion. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin used gimmicks and juggled the government’s books to keep government finances afloat for four and a half months before Congress and the Clinton White House reached a deal to end the impasse.

Geithner’s Treasury Department won’t have as much cushion because the debt is growing much faster than in the mid-1990s. Geithner estimates he’ll run out of options Aug. 2.

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Q: What would happen if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2 or whenever Treasury exhausts all its short-options?

A: Things would get ugly fast. “When bills became due, we could not pay all of them,” says Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Budget, a bipartisan group that advocates cutting the debt. “If that happens, you shake up markets as you’ve never seen before. … It’s inconceivable we would willingly walk ourselves over the cliff.”

The government needs to borrow $738 billion to get through the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, according to the Congressional Research Service. Somehow, it would have to close that gap. It could:

— Cut government spending dramatically. To put things in context, $738 billion is equal to 40 percent of the $1.7 trillion that the government is expected to spend in the last six months of the fiscal year. Everything from military salaries to Medicare and Social Security benefits to interest payments on the debt would be vulnerable.

— Come up with $738 billion in new tax revenue, increasing by 66 percent the $1.1 trillion the government is expected to collect in taxes in the second half of the fiscal year.

— Choose a combination of draconian spending cuts and tax increases.

If investors become convinced the U.S. will renege on its debts, they’ll sell Treasurys to avoid the risk that the government might not make good on them. That would drive Treasury prices down and push interest rates up, raising the borrowing costs on everything from mortgages to cars. Higher rates would likely slow the economy.

So far, bond investors are taking the threat in stride; the yield on 10-year Treasury notes remains low at 3.17 percent. U.S. Treasurys are still considered perhaps the safest available investment, a haven for investors worldwide.

As Aug. 2 approaches, there’s a bigger risk that investors will become nervous.

“It would tell the world that the U.S. can’t get its act together, that this is basically a circus,” says William Gross, an influential investor who is managing director of the world’s biggest bond fund, Pimco. “Investors ultimately won’t want to be held hostage by a bunch of clowns.”

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Q: If the consequences are so dire, why is Congress suggesting it might not raise the limit?

A: As the political divide between Republicans and Democrats has widened, the debt ceiling has emerged as a divisive issue. In recent years, the party that doesn’t control the White House has used the issue to whack the party that does.

In 2006, for instance, Senate Democrats voted unanimously against raising the debt limit for President George W. Bush to protest his tax cuts and the invasion of Iraq — a vote that President Barack Obama, then a senator, says he regrets. The situation reversed in 2010: No Senate Republicans supported a higher debt limit for Obama, accusing him of reckless government spending. Congress approved the higher limit anyway because Democrats had a majority in both the House and Senate.

Congress has always ended up raising the debt ceiling before a financial crackup.

Republicans, many of them elected in November on a pledge to slash spending, are betting that the debt-ceiling deadline offers leverage to demand deep budget cuts from the Obama administration.

Obama wants to narrow the federal gaps and reduce debts, in part by reducing spending, in part by ending tax cuts for higher-income Americans enacted under President George W. Bush. But Republican lawmakers say they refuse to consider tax hikes.

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China is using high-level meetings to urge the United States to allow more technology exports


China urges US to lift controls on hi-tech exports
May 10, 2011, 6:49 a.m. EDT
Associated Press

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com

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WASHINGTON (AP) — China is using high-level meetings to urge the United States to allow more technology exports into the booming Chinese economy as a way of balancing trade.

The United States, meanwhile, has criticized the communist-led nation’s latest crackdown on democracy advocates, arguing that long-term stability depends on respecting human rights.

Both sides issued familiar grievances at the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which began in Washington on Monday, but they took pains to stress a generally positive track in relations between the two economic superpowers.

State Councilor Dai Bingguo said common interests between the world’s two largest economies now make them “inseparable” and destined to grow more interdependent.

The annual two-day round of talks brings together leaders on economics, foreign policy and security. The meetings, involving scores of officials, wrap up Tuesday with news conferences.

President Barack Obama met Dai and Chinese delegation leader Vice Premier Wang Qishan after Monday’s deliberations. He encouraged China to implement policies to support “balanced global growth as well as a more balanced bilateral economic relationship.” On human rights, he underscored his support for freedom of expression and political participation, a White House statement said.

This year’s dialogue follows a January state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao that helped eased tensions over the U.S. arms sales to self-governing Taiwan, which Beijing regards as part of Chinese territory. The U.S. and China also have been at odds over China’s intervention in currency markets, which the U.S. says has kept the value of the yuan low against the dollar, giving an unfair advantage to Chinese exporters.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Monday softened the long-standing U.S. criticism of China’s economic policies, possibly in a belief that the outside pressure was proving counterproductive.

Geithner praised China’s efforts, which include a decision last June to resume allowing the yuan to rise in value against the dollar after freezing the currency’s value for two years during the height of the financial crisis. The yuan has risen by about 5 percent against the dollar since last summer. American manufacturers contend the yuan is still undervalued by as much as 40 percent.

The U.S. Treasury chief still urged China to allow its currency to appreciate at a faster rate and to allow Chinese consumer interest rates to rise. Both steps could help boost domestic demand and help lower America’s trade deficit, which hit an all-time high with China last year.

A Chinese official, however, blamed U.S. policies for the ballooning trade gap. Commerce Minister Chen Deming told a news conference that China’s currency appreciation was being carried out in a “very healthy manner.” He said the United States needed to change its own policies on high-tech sales and investment as a way to spur American manufacturing.

He took aim at the U.S. screening of Chinese foreign investment proposals, contending it was neither fair nor transparent. Most recently, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States rejected a takeover by private Chinese technology giant Huawei of a small U.S. computer company, 3Leaf, on national security grounds.

“We hope the United States can treat Chinese investment, including by state-owned enterprises, in a fair manner,” he said.

U.S. companies have their own long list of complaints: limited access to Chinese markets, theft of intellectual property, widespread use in China of counterfeit software and problems in seeking redress through China’s legal system.

At the ceremonial opening of the talks on Monday, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered blunt criticism of China’s human rights record, which Beijing regards as an internal matter. Clinton later had “very candid and honest” private discussions on the issue with Dai, U.S. officials said.

Since February, Chinese authorities have questioned or detained hundreds of lawyers, activists, journalists and bloggers after anonymous calls were made on the Internet for protests emulating those that have challenged and toppled authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa. No such protests have taken place in China.

“We know over the long arc of history that societies that work toward respecting human rights are going to be more prosperous, stable and successful. That has certainly been proven time and time again, but most particularly in the last months,” Clinton said.

Dai said China had made progress in the area of human rights, but he did not mention the recent crackdown.

In Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, “No country is perfect in its human rights record and there is no one-size-fits-all human rights policy.”

In unusually mild comments on a subject that Beijing is highly sensitive about, Jiang said, “China and the U.S. have different opinions in the area of human rights and we believe we can use dialogue to increase mutual understanding and mutual trust.”

This year’s talks for the first time included high-level military leaders from both nations, a move seen as a way to increase understanding between military commanders and reduce the risk of conflict. China’s military has expanded rapidly in the past 15 years, deploying missiles and naval assets that could challenge American supremacy in the region.

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Jobs in April, the biggest hiring spree in five years …


Economy adds 244k  jobs, rate ticks up to 9 pct.
May 6, 2011, 8:33 a.m. EDT

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

Owner and Founder of: http://www.LedSomeBioMetrics.com

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WASHINGTON (AP)Employers added more than 200,000 jobs in April for the third straight month, the biggest hiring spree in five years. But the unemployment rate rose to 9 percent in part because some people resumed looking for work.

The Labor Department says the economy added 244,000 jobs last month. Private employers shrugged off high gas prices and created 268,000 jobs — the most since February 2006.

The gains were widespread. Retailers, factories, financial companies, education and health care and even construction companies all added jobs. Federal, state and local governments cut jobs.

The data suggests businesses are confidence in the economy despite weak growth earlier this year.

Still, unemployment increased slightly from the 8.8 percent in March. It was the first increase since November.

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Vice President Joe Biden, congressional group begin budget talks


Biden, congressional group begin budget talks
May 5, 2011, 4:57 a.m. EDT

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden and top lawmakers are beginning their quest to tame the spiraling U.S. debt with small steps aimed at finding what common ground might exist in vastly different approaches toward restructuring government spending.

Biden and a bipartisan team of congressional negotiators were to meet Thursday at Blair House, the government guesthouse across the street from the White House.

With a deficit that could reach $1.6 trillion this year, both sides set modest expectations. But they said the meeting offers a chance to identify even small spending cuts that can build toward a broader agreement.

“There will be no announcement after that meeting that a deal has been reached, because this is a process,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Neither side seems to have any preconceptions that the talks would lead to a far-reaching restructuring of major benefit programs like Medicare or Medicaid or to an overhaul that makes the tax system simpler but yields more revenue.

The talks come as Congress begins to consider raising the debt ceiling above its current $14.3 trillion limit. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has effectively taken some pressure off the talks by informing Congress this week that the government could continue to meet its obligations through Aug. 2.

Still, all sides — the White House and Democrats and Republicans in Congress — agree that spending cuts need to be approved in conjunction with must-pass legislation increasing the government’s ability to borrow to pay its bills. Treasury said Wednesday that the government is borrowing an average of $125 billion a month.

The meeting will unfold with Obama enjoying a new boost in public approval following the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. commandos in Pakistan. But government spending and the condition of the economy were the dominant public issues before Sunday’s assault on the al-Qaida leader and will return to the forefront in time.

The meeting is designed to have all sides place their plans on the table, narrow the focus to areas of common ground and begin setting up a framework for discussions. Republicans will come bearing a detailed House budget proposal that aims to cut spending by more than $5 trillion over the next decade. Biden will flesh out a broad budget proposal that President Barack Obama outlined last month that would reduce deficits by $4 trillion over 12 years.

“We staked out our position in a very definite way. They haven’t,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who will represent House Republicans. “So we need to understand where they’re coming from.”

In addition to Biden, the administration will be represented by Geithner, White House budget director Jacob Lew and Gene Sperling, the director of the White House National Economic Council.

“We’re at an important point here where Republicans and Democrats alike share, recognize the problem — that’s important,” Carney said. “They share the same end goal, which is $4 trillion in deficit reduction. And they share the same general idea of what the timeline should be, 10 to 12 years.”

But Obama’s plan calls for about $1 trillion in higher tax revenues, a nonstarter with House Republicans. At the same time, a GOP plan to slash Medicaid and turn Medicare into a program in which future beneficiaries receive subsidies to purchase private health insurance is dead with the White House and Democrats.

Six lawmakers planned to attend: Cantor; Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona; Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii; Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.; and senior House Democrats Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Some Republicans hope to attach legislation sponsored by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to the so-called debt limit bill. Their proposal would cap spending at about 21 percent of the size of the economy, backed up by automatic spending cuts if Congress is unable to enact legislation that brings spending in under the cap.

The White House strongly opposes the idea, saying it would force drastic, across-the-board cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid while doing nothing to force lawmakers to clean out a tax code laden with tax breaks.

“Arbitrary spending caps are nothing but a backdoor means of imposing immediate and deep cuts in Medicare and Social Security,” said Kenneth Baer, spokesman for the White House budget office.

Cantor wouldn’t dismiss the idea, but he said Republicans want something concrete immediately.

“All that is fine, but the history of Congress has been that anytime you put enforcement mechanisms in place like that, ultimately they’re waived,” he said. “We’re about trying to effect real cuts, real reforms this year.”

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AP analysis: Economic stress drops to 3-month low


AP analysis: Economic stress drops to 3-month low
May 4, 2011, 7:19 a.m. EDT

Journal By Calvin Lee Ledsome Sr.,

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An Associated Press monthly analysis finds that lower unemployment, bankruptcies and foreclosures in March reduced the nation’s economic stress to its lowest point this year.

More than 85 percent of the nation’s 3,141 counties and every state but two — Louisiana and South Dakota — fared better than in February.

Manufacturing activity has helped ease hardship in the Great Lake states and Indiana over the past 12 months — more than in any other region.

Louisiana, Iowa and the Mountain states of Idaho and Montana have suffered the sharpest increases in stress, year over year. Post-Hurricane Katrina projects are winding down in Louisiana. The Mountain states have felt the effects of government job cuts more severely than elsewhere because of their small populations. And Iowa has suffered from more foreclosures.

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World stocks rise after death of Osama bin Laden


World stocks rise after death of Osama bin Laden
May 2, 2011, 4:54 a.m. EDT
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TOKYO (AP) — Major world stock markets rose, the dollar strengthened and oil prices were lower after news that U.S. forces killed terror mastermind Osama bin Laden following a near-decade-long manhunt.

President Barack Obama announced during holiday-thinned Asian trading hours that the man who inspired the deadly Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States was killed in Pakistan in a U.S.-led operation.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 gained 1.6 percent to 10,004.20 — the highest closing since an earthquake and tsunami on March 11 decimated the country’s northeastern coast.

South Korea’s Kospi index, meanwhile, advanced 1.7 percent to a new record high of 2,228.96, bringing the Seoul benchmark’s gain so far this year to 8.7 percent.

European markets opened higher. France’s CAC-40 rose 0.3 percent to 4,120.03 and Germany’s DAX gained 0.7 percent to 7,563.52. Britain’s FTSE 100 was closed for a holiday.

Wall Street, meanwhile, was set to open higher. Dow Jones industrial futures rose 0.6 percent to 12,837 and S&P futures gained 0.6 percent 1,367.80.

Ben Potter, market strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne, Australia, said that bin Laden’s death was an immediate boost for equity markets.

“However, like many euphoric bounces, they are often short lived, especially given the possibility for reprisal attacks from extremists,” he wrote in a report.

The greenback rose to 81.51 yen from 81.10 yen. The euro, meanwhile, was weaker at $1.4819 from $1.4839 late Friday in New York.

The dollar was bought on the belief that “terror risk will get smaller” for the United States, said Yuji Kameoka, chief currency strategist at Daiwa Securities Capital Markets in Tokyo. He said that yen weakness and a decline in the price of crude oil were boosting Japanese stock prices.

Oil prices eased off 2½-year highs to below $113 a barrel after Obama announced bin Laden’s had been killed.

Benchmark crude for June delivery was down $1.40 at $112.53 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract settled at $113.93 per barrel on the Nymex on Friday and reached $114.18 during in the session, the highest since September 2008.

Declining oil prices helped boost shares of airlines, which are sensitive to fuel prices. Korean Air Lines Co. Ltd., the country’s largest air carrier, soared 6.6 percent. Rival Asiana Airlines Inc. soared 12 percent. Japan’s All Nippon Airways Co. Ltd. jumped 2.5 percent.

Stock trading in Asia was thin amid a slew of holidays this week in the region. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index and mainland China’s Shanghai Composite Index were closed Monday as were stock markets in Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. The Nikkei, Asia’s largest market, will be closed Tuesday through Thursday for Japan’s annual Golden Week holiday.

Australia’s S&P/ASX 200, meanwhile, recovered from early losses to rise less than 0.1 percent to 4,825.30. Markets in the Philippines and Indonesia also rose, but New Zealand and India were lower.

Markets in Japan and South Korea started in positive territory after the Dow Jones industrial average rose Friday on positive earnings news as construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar reported strong first-quarter profit.

The Dow rose 47.23 points Friday, or 0.4 percent, to close at 12,810.54, rounding out April 4 percent higher, its best month since December.

Caterpillar, the world’s largest maker of mining and construction equipment, rose 2.5 percent after its earnings increased more than fivefold. The company also raised its sales and profit forecast for the year.

Japan’s Komatsu Ltd., the world’s No. 2 equipment maker, rose 1.7 percent in Tokyo.

Broader indices in the U.S. also gained.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 3.13 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 1,363.61. The index gained 2.8 percent in April. The Nasdaq composite added 1.01 point to 2,873.54. It rose 3.3 percent for the month.

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