Jobless benefit sign-up tapers off

The number of people filing new applications for unemployment benefits dropped last week, a sign that companies may be feeling better about the economic recovery’s durability and less inclined to lay off workers. The Labor Department reported Thursday that for the workweek ending Feb. 28, new filings for jobless benefits declined by a seasonally adjusted 7,000 to 345,000, the lowest level in two weeks. The decline was a bit steeper than the decrease of 5,000 that some analysts were forecasting.

Rising consumers confidence gave the nation’s retailers their third straight month of solid sales in February, with business above expectations at many retailers, including clothing and department stores. Warmer weather, tax refunds and more appealing spring fashions contributed to the upbeat results issued Thursday. February’s performance followed a robust January performance and a better-than-expected holiday season.

The Martha Stewart jury indicated Thursday that it was focusing on whether her stockbroker committed perjury in an interview about a phone message he left for the homemaking authority. But jurors completed their second day of deliberations without reaching a verdict against Stewart or broker Peter Bacanovic. They were to resume deliberations this morning. In a note to the judge, jurors asked about a charge that Bacanovic committed perjury when he told investigators he left a message for Stewart on Dec. 27, 2001, that simply gave the price of ImClone Systems stock.

Online search engine Ask Jeeves Inc. is paying $343 million for a family of popular Web sites that includes and, bulking up the company as it vies to wrest market share away from industry leaders Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. Under the deal announced Thursday, Emeryville-based Ask Jeeves will double in size with the acquisition of Interactive Search Holdings, a privately held company in Irvington, N.Y.

The Coca-Cola Co. paid $8.4 million in bonuses to its top six executives last year, the equivalent of about $2,270 for each of the 3,700 employees the world’s largest beverage maker laid off during the same period, a federal filing shows. The company also said the present value of retiring chief executive Doug Daft’s restricted stock awards is $86 million.

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