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April 2, 2012 at 1:42 PM
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Stocks gains firm up

NEW YORK, April 2 (UPI) -- Tentative, early stock gains in New York became firmer in early afternoon trading on Wall Street.

After a gain of 8.14 percent in the first quarter, the Dow Jones industrial average started slow Monday. By early afternoon trading, gains reached 69.70 points to 13,281.74, up 0.53 percent.

The Nasdaq composite index added 25.68 points, to 3,117.25, up 0.83 percent. The Standard and Poor's 500 index picked up 11.70 points to 1,420.27, a 0.83 percent gain.

The 10-year treasury note was yielding 2.181 percent as prices rose 8/32.

The euro was 1.3322 from Friday's $1.3343. Against the yen, the dollar was 82.14 from Friday's 82.82.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 index gained 0.26 percent, 26.31 points, to 10,109.87.

In London, the FTSE 100 index added 1.85 percent, 106.44, to 5,874.89.

Soda consumption down again, revenues up

NEW YORK, April 2 (UPI) -- U.S. adults and children drank fewer servings of carbonated soft drinks in 2011 -- 714 8-ounce servings per capita compared with 728 in 2010, a report said.

A report by Beverage Digest, which tracks the U.S. carbonated soft drinks U.S. market, said total consumption stood at 9.274 billion cases in 2011, down 1 percent from the previous year and the seventh consecutive year of decline, Forbes magazine reported.

Nonetheless, despite declining sugary drink consumption, the value of retail sales has been on the rise -- up 2 percent to $75.7 billion in 2011 from the previous year -- due to cola companies promoting drinks with higher margins.

For example, increasing retail sales could be partially due to aggressive promotion of energy drinks, which usually cost more than traditional sodas.

Soft drink companies continue to aggressively promote non-carbonated drinks such as juices, ready-to-drink teas, water mixers and dairy.

Meanwhile, the industry has been fighting government actions that might hurt business, such as a soda tax. Forbes estimated PepsiCo, Coca-Cola Co. and the American Beverage Association spent about $70 million on lobbying in 2011 compared with $16 million spent by tobacco companies.

U.S. airlines show improvement again

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., April 2 (UPI) -- It just keeps getting better for U.S. air travelers, a survey that rates airline quality indicated Monday.

The national Airline Quality Rating survey said overall performance by U.S. airlines improved for the fourth straight year and the latest score was the highest in the 22 years researchers at Purdue and Wichita State universities have tracked airline performance.

Sitting at the top of the list for 2011, just as they did in 2010, were AirTran, Hawaiian and JetBlue, the researchers said. Ten of 15 airlines showed improvement in their year-to-year scores.

The researchers said the airline industry improved in all four major categories, including on-time performance, baggage handling, involuntary denied boardings and customer complaints.

"The airlines are getting their act together and seizing control of the situations in which they must perform," said Brent Bowen, professor and head of Purdue's Department of Aviation Technology. "But with an increasing demand for air travel, they must be careful to keep things on track."

Bowen said despite the better scores, there is room for improvement with frequent flyers frequently complaining. Bowen blames poor employee-customer relations and the news media's penchant for jumping on stories about the rare instances of airline employee outbursts.

Among the positives, the survey found, was a nearly 30 percent drop in the rate at which travelers were involuntarily denied boarding. The most improved of the rated airlines was Frontier Airlines, moving up to No. 4 from No. 9, and Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time performance (92.8 percent).

On the downside, more than a third of customer complaints were for flight problems, such as unplanned schedule changes, delays and cancellations. JetBlue had the worst on-time rate (73.3 percent).

Seven airlines improved their on-time arrival performance, nudging the industry rate to 80 percent.

AirTran was the best at getting travelers' baggage to their destinations at the same time they arrived -- 1.63 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers, while American Eagle was the worst at 7.32 per 1,000.

"For more than a decade, the airlines have performed most efficiently when the system isn't stressed by high passenger volume and high numbers of airplanes in the air," Bowen said. "Every time there are more planes in the sky and more people flying, airline performance suffers."

Unemployment in Europe ticks higher

BRUSSELS, April 2 (UPI) -- The unemployment rate in Europe rose in February compared to January, the European Union's data office said Monday.

The unemployment rate in the 17-countries that share the euro as currency -- known as the eurozone -- rose form 10.7 percent to 10.8 percent month-to-month. In February 2011, the rate stood at 10 percent.

In the European Union, a 27-nation region that encompasses the eurozone, the rate climbed from 10.1 percent to 10.2 percent month-to-month. From 12 months prior, the rate is up from 9.5 percent in the EU.

The countries with the lowest unemployment rates in the region are Austria at 4.2 percent, the Netherlands at 4.9 percent, Luxembourg at 5.2 percent and Germany at 5.7 percent.

The highest unemployment rate in the EU is in Spain with a rate of 23.6 percent. In Greece, the rate stands at 21 percent.

In eight European countries, the unemployment rate has dropped in the past 12 months. It increased in 18 states and remained stable in Romania, Eurostat said.

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