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Jan. 17, 2013 at 7:55 PM
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U.S. markets post gains Thursday

NEW YORK, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The blue chip Dow Jones stock index closed higher Thursday on positive reports on U.S. housing starts and first-time unemployment benefit claims.

The Labor Department said first-time unemployment claims for the week that ended Jan. 12 fell by 37,000 to 335,000, the lowest figure since November 2007.

The Commerce Department said housing starts rose sharply in 2012, climbing 28.1 percent over 2011. Housing starts are a leading index, as a home sale often is followed by purchase of furniture, appliances, lawn mowers and other household items.

By close of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average added 84.79 points or 0.63 percent to 13,596.02. The Nasdaq composite index added 18.46 points or 0.59 percent to 3,136. The Standard and Poor's 500 gained 8.31 points or 0.56 percent to 1,480.94.

On the New York Stock Exchange, 2,301 stocks advanced and 727 declined on a volume of 3.7 billion shares traded.

The 10-year treasury note fell 17/32 to yield 1.883 percent.

Against the dollar, the euro rose to $1.3378 from Wednesday's $1.3289. The dollar gained against the yen, hitting 89.90 yen from 88.38 yen.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 index gained 0.09 percent, 9.20 points, to 10,609.64.

In London, the FTSE 100 index added 0.46 percent, 28.38 points, to 6,132.36.

Cargill Beef to cut 2,000 jobs in Texas

PLAINVIEW, Texas, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Cargill Beef said Thursday it would close its Plainview, Texas, processing plant shedding 2,000 jobs, due to a limited cattle supply.

Company President John Keating said Cargill was "compelled to make a decision that would reduce the strain created on our beef business by the reduced cattle supply."

Keating said the U.S. cattle herd "is at its lowest level since 1952," noting that years of drought in Texas and the Southern Plains states had contributed to the decline.

Cargill said it would close the plan Feb. 1, and said it simultaneously informed federal, county, state and city officials of the setback, "as well as Cargill customers, suppliers and other key stakeholders."

Cargill said displaced employees would receive "company support," including assistance finding work at other Cargill locations.

"Increased feed costs resulting from the prolonged drought, combined with herd liquidations by cattle ranchers, are severely and adversely contributing to the challenging business conditions we face as an industry. Our preference would have been not to idle a plant," Keating said in a statement.

The company said it would re-direct cattle intended for the Plainview plant to processing facilities in Friona, Texas, Dodge City, Kan., and Fort Morgan, Colo.

The company's plants in Fresno, Calif., Wyalusing, Pa., Schuyler, Neb., Milwaukee and in Canada were unaffected by the decision, Cargill said.

"Our long-term commitment to U.S. beef production is unwavering," Keating said.

Treasury finalizes FATCA rules

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The Treasury Department said Thursday it had issued finalized rules for the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, designed to fight offshore tax evasion.

The act, signed into law in 2010, is intended to force foreign financial institutions -- called FFIs -- to identify taxable accounts and turn over names to the IRS.

"These regulations give the Administration a powerful set of tools to combat offshore tax evasion effectively and efficiently," said Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin in a statement. "The final rules mark a critical milestone in international cooperation on these issues, and they provide important clarity for foreign and U.S. financial institutions."

The Treasury said FFIs can provide information on accounts to the IRS directly or they can pass information over to their own governments, which will then forward it to the IRS.

The department said Norway had agreed to cooperate with FATCA, joining Britain, Mexico, Denmark, Ireland, Switzerland and Spain as countries that have signed or initialed model agreements for compliance.

The department said it is working with 50 other countries and jurisdictions "to curtail offshore tax evasion."

"More signed agreements are expected to follow in the near future," the Treasury said.

Housing starts rose sharply in 2012

WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Residential construction starts and permits issued both rose sharply in 2012 over 2011, the U.S. Department of Commerce said Thursday.

Project starts rose 28.1 percent with construction on an estimated 780,000 housing units begun in the year.

Permits issued rose 30.3 percent to an estimated 813,400, Commerce said.

For the final month of the year, privately owned housing starts came to 954,000 on a seasonally adjusted annual rate, up 12.1 percent from a revised November figure of 851,000.

Starts in December were 36.9 percent higher than December 2011.

The department said housing permits for private projects rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 903,000 in the month from a revised November level of 900,000, a 0.3 percent gain.

Permits issued were also sharply higher than a year earlier, gaining 28.8 percent above the 701,000 permits issued in December 2011.

Residential project completions came to an annual rate of 686,000 in December on a seasonally adjusted basis, a 1.6 percent gain over November and a 13.2 percent gain over December 2011, Commerce said in a release issued jointly with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

For the year, private project completions rose 11.4 percent to 651,400, a total that reflects the number of housing units completed.

Economists keep an eye on construction starts on their own merits, but also due to the likelihood that new homeowners spend money on items such as lawn mowers, ladders, rugs, curtains, furniture and appliances.

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