Business Highlights

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Stocks fall for 8th day, longest decline since 2008 crisis

NEW YORK (AP) " Stocks retreated for an eighth consecutive day on Thursday as nervous investors remain transfixed on the potential outcome of next week's U.S. presidential election, which has become too close to call.

The stock market is now on its longest losing streak since the depths of the 2008 financial crisis.

With five days left until the election, Hillary Clinton maintains a lead in national polling in the U.S. presidential race but Donald Trump has significantly narrowed the gap, particularly in swing states.

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Applications for jobless aid hit highest level since August

WASHINGTON (AP) " More Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, but jobless claims remain at levels that suggest most workers enjoy job security.

The Labor Department says claims for unemployment aid rose by 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 265,000, highest since early August. Still, claims came in below 300,000 for the 87th straight week, longest such streak since 1970 when the workforce was much smaller.

The less-volatile four-week average rose 4,750 to 257,750.

Overall, 2.03 million Americans are collecting unemployment checks, fewest since June 2000 and down more than 7 percent from a year earlier.

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US productivity up at 3.1 percent rate in third quarter

WASHINGTON (AP) " The productivity of American workers rose in the July-September quarter at the fastest pace in two years, while labor costs slowed.

Productivity increased at a 3.1 percent rate in the third quarter, the Labor Department reported Thursday. It was a significant improvement from the previous three quarters when productivity had fallen. Unit labor costs edged up a modest 0.3 percent in the third quarter, compared to a 3.9 percent jump in the second quarter.

The productivity figure was the best showing since a 4.2 percent gain in the third quarter of 2014. But the rebound was expected to be temporary.

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US factory orders up slight 0.3 percent in September

WASHINGTON (AP) " Orders to U.S. factories increased a modest amount in September even though a key category that tracks business investment plans fell by the largest amount since February.

Factory orders edged up a slight 0.3 percent in September following a 0.4 percent advance in August, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Orders in a category that serves as a proxy for business investment fell 1.3 percent, reversing a 1.2 percent increase in August. It was the biggest decline in the investment category since a 2.1 percent plunge in February.

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Average US 30-year mortgage rate rises to 3.54 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) " Long-term U.S. mortgage rates jumped this week, reaching their highest levels since late June amid indications of strength in the economy.

Mortgage giant Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rose to 3.54 percent from 3.47 percent last week. Rates remain near historically low levels, however. The benchmark 30-year rate is down from 3.87 percent a year ago. Its all-time low was 3.31 percent in November 2012.

The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, popular with homeowners who are refinancing, increased to 2.84 percent from 2.78 percent.

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Fannie Mae posts $3.2B profit in 3Q; paying $3B dividend

WASHINGTON (AP) " Mortgage giant Fannie Mae reported net income of $3.2 billion from July through September, up from $2 billion a year earlier, as its losses declined on investments it uses to hedge against interest rate swings.

The third-quarter results released Thursday marked the 19th straight profitable quarter for the government-controlled company.

Washington-based Fannie Mae said it will pay a dividend of $3 billion to the U.S. Treasury next month. With that payment, Fannie will have paid a total $154.4 billion in dividends.

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SEC probes Wells Fargo, bank ups legal reserves fund

NEW YORK (AP) " Wells Fargo has confirmed that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating its sales practices, and revealed that the bank has almost doubled funds set aside to deal with legal problems.

The bank said in a regulatory filing Thursday that the SEC has joined numerous other agencies and states with ongoing probes. That's on top of class-action lawsuits filed against the bank by investors, its former employees and customers.

Wells Fargo has been under fire since it was learned that employees, pushed to the limit by lofty sales goals, opened as many as 2 million bank and credit card accounts without customer authorization.

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French prosecutors want HSBC on trial on tax fraud charges

PARIS (AP) " French financial prosecutors have asked judges to send HSBC and two former executives to trial on charges of aggravated tax fraud by its Swiss private bank.

HSBC'S Swiss bank has been investigated in several countries after leaked documents suggested it helped wealthy people around the world dodge taxes.

The French financial prosecutor's office confirmed Thursday its request to send HSBC and Swiss-based HSBC Private Bank to trial, along with two former executives.

HSBC said in a statement Thursday that it takes "note of the recommendation" and will "continue to defend ourselves vigorously."

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UK court brings Brexit plans to halt, pound surges

LONDON (AP) " Britain's High Court has brought government plans for leaving the European Union screeching to a halt Thursday, ruling that the prime minister can't trigger the U.K.'s exit from the bloc without parliamentary approval.

The government said it would go to the Supreme Court to challenge the ruling, which if upheld could prevent it starting exit talks by March 31 as planned.

The pound, which has lost about a fifth of its value since the June 23 decision to leave the EU, shot back up on the ruling, rising more than 1 percent to $1.2493 before falling slightly.

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Starbucks profit up 23 percent as sales rise

NEW YORK (AP) " Starbucks reported a 23 percent rise in profit in its fourth quarter, thanks to rising sales at its coffee shops and benefiting from an extra week in the period. The company's results beat Wall Street expectations, and it announced a 25 percent increase in its dividend.

The Seattle-based company reported net income of $801 million, or 54 cents per share, in its fiscal fourth quarter. Adjusted earnings came to 56 cents per share, beating the 55 cents per share analysts expected. Revenue rose 16 percent to $5.71 billion, beating the $5.69 billion analysts expected.

Starbucks will pay shareholders a dividend of 25 cents next month, up from 20 cents.

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The Dow Jones industrial average fell 28.97 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,930.67. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 9.28 points, or 0.4 percent, to 2,088.66. The Nasdaq composite lost 47.16 points, or 0.9 percent, to 5,058.41.

Benchmark U.S. crude slipped 68 cents to $44.66 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 51 cents at $46.35 a barrel in London. Heating oil fell 1 cent to $1.45 a gallon, wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to $1.43 a gallon and natural gas fell 2 cents to $2.769 per 1,000 cubic feet.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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