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April 4, 2013 at 11:37 AM
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U.S. stocks climb

NEW YORK, April 4 (UPI) -- U.S. stock indexes climbed Thursday in late morning trading.

Stocks started the session bolting higher, taking a cue from Japan, where the Nikkei 225 index rose on a Bank of Japan policy shift.

The Bank of Japan initiated what it called a "Quantitative and Qualitative Monetary Easing," which included doubling its holdings of Japanese bonds within two years.

The BOJ said it would discontinue its current asset purchasing and incorporate that program into the new one, The Wall Street Journal reported.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 index closed at 12,634.54, adding 272.34 points, or 2.2 percent.

But domestic data was discouraging, keeping the upturn in check.

The Labor Department said there were 28,000 additional first-time jobless benefits claims filed in the current week, bringing the weekly tally to 385,000.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 41.55 points, 0.29 percent, to 14,591.90. The Standard & Poor's 500 index added 6.14 points of 0.4 percent, to 1,559.83. The Nasdaq composite index of tech-dominated stocks added 0.81 points or 0.03 percent to 3,218.89..

The 10-year U.S. treasury note rose 10/32 to yield 1.781 percent.

Against the dollar, the euro was $1.2861 from Wednesday's $1.2849. Against the yen, the dollar rose to 96.16 yen from Wednesday's 93.05 yen.

Fast food workers to strike in New York

NEW YORK, April 4 (UPI) -- Fast food workers in New York said they would honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by going out on strike on Thursday for higher wages.

On 45th anniversary of the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while supporting a sanitation workers strike in Memphis, non-unionized New York fast food workers said they expected about 400 colleagues to walk out on their jobs, double the number who did so in November.

The November work action at the time was the largest strike ever conducted by fast food workers, The New York Times reported.

The strike is supported by several groups, including Fast Food Forward, New York Communities for Change, UnitedNY.org, the Black Institute, the Service Employees International Union and local clergy, the Times said.

Thursday's strike is expected to include workers from about 70 fast food restaurants.

Across the city, there are 50,000 fast-food workers, most making minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour.

That is the rate, as yet unchanged, that Tabitha Verges has earned for four years at a Burger King in Harlem. When she has asked for raise, "They always give me the same excuse -- that they're not making enough money," she said.

Verges, who's weekly take-home pay is $122 for a 25-hour-per-week job, said she plans to join the walkout.

"We believe that it's a continuation of a civil rights fight against low wages and for Martin Luther King's movement to win dignity and living-wage jobs," said Jonathan Westin, executive director of New York Communities for Change.

New York State lawmakers have recently raised the minimum wage to $9 per hour, which does not take affect until 2016.

The fast-food workers are seeking $15 per hour now, the Times said.

"My community in Flatbush is filled with fast-food workers who have been suffering due to low wages, no sick days and unsafe working conditions," said Rev. Cheri Kroon, associate minister of the Flatbush Reform Church in Brooklyn.

Miguel Piedra, a spokesman for Burger King, said the company offers "compensation and benefits that are consistent with the quick-serve restaurant industry."

First quarter layoffs highest in a year

CHICAGO, April 4 (UPI) -- The monthly number of layoffs at U.S. firms has exceeded the same month a year earlier for four of the past six months, a private employment firm said.

Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said there were 49,255 announced job layoffs in March, which was a drop of 11 percent from February, but an increase of 30 percent from March 2012 when 37,880 job cuts were announced.

March is the second consecutive month and the fourth of the past six in which announced cuts exceeded the same month of the previous year.

Add it all up and job cut announcements January through March were the highest of any quarter since 2011, the firm said.

In the first quarter of the year, employers announced 145,041 layoffs, a 5.6 percent increase from the fourth quarter of 2012, which included 137,361 job cut announcements, and a 1.4 percent climb from January through March in 2012.

Chief Executive Officer John Challenger said the retail environment looked especially precarious.

"While consumer spending is up in 2013, many retailers have been fighting for their lives since the end of the recession," Challenger said, pointing out that Best Buy, JC Penney, Sears and Kmart have all announced job cuts recently and movie rental chain Blockbuster has shuttered its business.

Jobless benefit claims jump by 28,000

WASHINGTON, April 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. Labor Department said first-time jobless benefits claims rose by 28,000 to 385,000 in the week that ended last Saturday.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits rose by 16,000 to 357,000 in the previous week and that figure was left unrevised. That put the two-week gain at 44,000.

The four-week rolling average for the week increased by 11,250 to 354,250.

The largest increases in initial benefits claims for the week ending March 23 were in California, up by 8,712, and Texas, where claims rose by 2,736.

The largest decreases were in Virginia, where claims dropped by 1,117 and Massachusetts with 804 fewer claims than the previous week.

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