NEW YORK, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. stock markets closed higher Wednesday after research firm Markit Economics said U.S. manufacturing reached a five-month peak in November.
The Purchasing Managers' Index climbed to 52.4 in the month, on a scale in which numbers above 50 indicate businesses are expanding.
In a weekly report released a day early, the Labor Department said 41,000 fewer first-time unemployment claims were filed in the week that ended Saturday, with initial claims falling to 410,000, the numbers still skewed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
By close of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average added 48.38 points or 0.38 percent to 12,836.89. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index gained 9.87 points or 0.34 percent to 2,926.55. The S&P 500 added 3.22 points or 0.23 percent to 1,391.03.
On the New York Stock Exchange, 2,041 stocks advanced and 980 declined on a volume of 2.6 billion shares traded.
The benchmark 10-year treasury fell 5/32 to yield 1.688 percent.
The euro rose to $1.283 from Tuesday's $1.2818. Against the yen, the dollar rose to 82.52 yen from 81.69 yen.
In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 index added 0.87 percent, 79.88 points, to 9,222.52.
In London, the FTSE 100 index was flat, gaining 0.07 percent, 3.93 points, to 5,752.03.
Hostess gets approval to shut down
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Hostess Brands was told by a federal bankruptcy judge in White Plains, N.Y., Wednesday it can go ahead with its plans to quickly sell off its assets.
Judge Robert D. Drain acknowledged it would be better to get it over with sooner in Chapter 11 rather than later under a Chapter 7 liquidation, The New York Times reported.
"This estate will suffer substantial diminution if this wind-down plan is not quickly implemented," he said. "It appears to me that the debtors have taken the right course."
The 82-year-old baker of Twinkies, Ho Hos, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread, which shut down production lines Friday, has said the final nail in its coffin was a strike by union workers. Union leaders accused Hostess management of enjoying high pay at the expense of rank-and-file workers.
The company's popular brand-name products have attracted attention from potential buyers, the Times said.
"Since we filed motion, we have received a flood of inquiries and think there can be a healthy competition," company attorney Heather Lennox said at Wednesday's bankruptcy court hearing.
But the future doesn't look good for employees. Hostess Chief Executive Gregory Rayburn testified he needed to lay off 15,000 of the company's 18,500 employees Wednesday afternoon.
"From this point forward, I need two things to happen," he said. "I need to maximize the value of the estate, and I need to do the best thing for the employees.
"The longer you're off the shelf, the less value you're going to get."
GE to buy 2,000 Ford hybrids
DEARBORN, Mich., Nov. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co. said it would sell 2,000 electric cars to GE in a partnership deal in which Ford will promote GE recharging systems.
Ford said GE would buy 2,000 C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrids in the firm's largest fleet sale of gasoline-electricity-powered vehicles.
With the purchase, GE will have 5,000 alternative fuel vehicles on the road. The company's goal is to bump that up to 25,000, which would be half of its global fleet.
"Ford is launching six new electrified vehicles – a big bet that fuel prices will continue rising and lead to more demand for advanced fuel-efficient vehicles," said Ken Czubay, Ford vice president, U.S. Marketing, Sales and Service.
The sale to GE has at least two ulterior motivations, Ford said. One is to promote GE's WattStation and CNG in a Box, part of the infrastructure designed to recharge electric cars.
Secondly, the Georgia Institute of Technology plans to study the driving habits of GE staff to learn how to "optimize all-electric driving," Ford said in a statement.
Gov. Scott calls for probe of insurer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott is calling for an investigation into Citizens Property Insurance Corp. after it abruptly closed its Office of Corporate Integrity.
The Miami Herald reported Wednesday office staff were fired in October after compiling a 73-page report that documented a long list of misconduct at the firm.
The allegations reviewed by the newspaper include the revelation the company's former chief administration officer, Susanne Murphy was discovered, after years of working for the company, as not being licensed to practice law in Florida.
Instead of being fired, she was allowed to resign and continued to receive pay and benefits for four months after leaving her job, the in-house report said.
Other employees left the company due to misconduct, but were given handsome severance packages, anyway, the Herald said.
The report also documents results of investigations by private law firms that appear swept under the rug and other forms of favoritism.
One inebriated executive who took off her bra to dance on a table at a company retreat at Coyote Ugly was given a warning, while another who used company time to promote a line of female sex toys was fired, the report says.
"In light of this report, the timing of the firings [of the Office of Corporate Integrity staff] raises new concerns," Scott said in a letter to the state's chief inspector general.
"Given the appearance of impropriety, I request that you conduct a thorough review of the terminations to determine whether any of them were retaliatory in nature," Scott wrote.
Citizens President Barry Gilway has requested a special hearing to clear the air.
"Citizens is committed to ensuring the highest level of ethics and welcomes a full investigation by the Inspector General into the changes made in the office of corporate integrity," Gilway said.