From AP REPORTS

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) A gas station clerk is accused of defrauding her boss out of nearly $50,000 by selling fuel to her family and friends for a tenth of a penny a gallon.

Police arrested 25-year-old Madeline Jordan on Sunday along with her mother, brother, a cousin and two others after setting up a sting at the BP station in South Charleston.

The station's owner told police last week he had noticed a significant drop in his income and found receipts that listed the deeply discounted rate.

Police alleged that for several months Jordan, of Nitro, had reset the price at the pumps every Sunday morning and allowed people she knew to fill up.

There was no immediate word if any of the six had secured attorneys to speak for them. The Kanawha County Courthouse was closed Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., and calls to the South Charleston Police Department were not answered.

HOUSTON (AP) Oilfield services provider Halliburton Co. said Monday it has secured a three-year, $683 million contract with Mexico's state-owned oil monopoly to manage the drilling and completion of 58 land wells in the country's southern region.

The contract with Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, will involve working with complex land formations at depths ranging from 11,000 feet to more than 21,000 feet. Cris Gaut, president of Halliburton's drilling and evaluation division, said the company's aim is to help Pemex "overcome a range of challenging drilling situations."

Halliburton, one of the world's largest oilfield services outfits, helps oil and natural gas companies extract hydrocarbons through a variety of services, equipment and expertise.

U.S. markets were closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, but shares of Halliburton and others in the oilfield-services sector fell Friday after closely watched Schlumberger Ltd. reported lower-than-expected quarterly earnings and gave a cautious near-term outlook.

Schlumberger's share price fell almost 4 percent Friday, continuing a recent trend that has sent the stock down almost 20 percent since the start of the year.

Halliburton shares slipped 90 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $32.40 in trading Friday. They've traded in a range of $28.69 to $41.95 in the past year.

Schlumberger's fourth-quarter results rose 22 percent from a year ago, but its North American profit was below Wall Street expectations. Analysts said the weak North American results set a pessimistic tone for Halliburton and others in the sector.

"Driving the weakness in North America was continued pricing erosion within (Schlumberger's) pressure pumping division both in the U.S. and Canada, which bodes poorly for BJ Services' and Halliburton's 4Q07 results as well," Raymond James & Associates said in a note to investors.

Halliburton Co. is scheduled to report fourth-quarter and 2007 results Jan. 28.

NEW YORK (AP) Wall Street scored its second straight big advance Thursday after economic figures suggested the job market is holding up and as lawmakers agreed on measures that could ease concerns about consumer spending. The Dow Jones industrials rose more than 100 points, bringing its two-day gain to more than 400.

While stocks fluctuated throughout the session, trading was decidedly more calm than on Wednesday, when Wall Street executed a stunning turnaround that transformed a sharp sell-off into big gains for stocks.

Thursday's rise was notable, however, as investors will often move in a day after a rally or plunge to take profits or scoop up bargains. That the buying largely continued was a positive sign, observers said.

WASHINGTON (AP) Congressional leaders announced a deal with the White House Thursday on an economic stimulus package that would give most tax filers refunds of $600 to $1,200, and more if they have children.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress would act on the agreement hammered out in a week of intense negotiations with Republican Leader John A. Boehner and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson "at the earliest date, so that those rebate checks will be in the mail."

President Bush praised the agreement in a statement he delivered to reporters at the White House.

The rebates will go to about 116 million families.

SEATTLE (AP) Microsoft Corp. said Thursday its fiscal second-quarter profit topped analysts' expectations and climbed 79 percent, buoyed by rising sales of Windows-based personal computers.

For the quarter ended Dec. 31, profit increased to $4.71 billion, or 50 cents per share, from $2.63 billion, or 26 cents per share in the same period last year.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial had forecast a profit of 46 cents per share.

Revenue rose 31 percent to $16.37 billion from $12.5 billion in the year-ago quarter, ahead of the analysts' prediction of $15.95 billion in sales.

The quarter was particularly strong when compared with a year ago, when the software maker deferred more than $1 billion in revenue due to delays in getting Windows Vista, its newest operating system, to consumers.

WASHINGTON (AP) Sales of existing single-family homes plunged in 2007 by the largest amount in 25 years, closing out an awful year that saw median prices fall for the first time in at least four decades.

The National Association of Realtors reported Thursday that sales of single-family homes fell by 13 percent last year, the biggest decline since a 17.7 percent drop in 1982. The median price of a single-family home fell to $217,800 in 2007, down 1.8 percent from 2006.

It marked the first annual price decline on records that the Realtors have going back to 1968. Lawrence Yun, the Realtors' chief economist, said it was likely the country has not experienced a decline in home prices for an entire year since the Great Depression.

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) Ford Motor Co. will offer buyout and early retirement packages to 54,000 U.S. hourly workers, or 93 percent of its hourly work force, in an effort to cut costs and replace those leaving with lower-paid workers. Thursday's announcement came as Ford said it narrowed its losses in 2007 but warned that the outlook for U.S. sales in 2008 remains grim.

Ford President and Chief Executive Alan Mulally said the automaker will also trim salaried staff, mostly through attrition but possibly through layoffs, as it tries to adjust to a slumping U.S. market. Ford said its U.S. market share will be at the low end of a 14 to 15 percent range in 2008, down from 14.8 percent in 2007 and 26 percent a decade ago. Ford fell behind Toyota Motor Corp. in U.S. sales last year, ceding its 75-year position as the nation's No. 2 auto seller behind General Motors Corp.

PARIS (AP) French bank Societe Generale said Thursday it has uncovered a 4.9 billion euro ($7.14 billion) fraud one of history's biggest by a single futures trader whose scheme of fictitious transactions was discovered as stock markets began to stumble in recent days.

CEO Daniel Bouton said the trader's motivations were "irrational," netting the trader no personal financial gains. Still, the bank is seeking to have him prosecuted in court.

A person familiar with the case named the trader as Jerome Kerviel. Bank officials said the trader was a Frenchman in his 30s who probably acted alone. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

The bombshell destabilized a major bank already exposed to the subprime crisis. France's second-largest bank by market value said it would be forced to seek 5.5 billion euros ($8.02 billion) in new capital.

SAN ANTONIO (AP) AT&T Inc. earned $3.1 billion in the fourth quarter as its wireless and broadband businesses did well, a trend the nation's largest telecommunications company said would help it keep growing even in a sputtering economy.

AT&T's net income for the quarter came to 51 cents per share, it said Thursday. During the same period in 2006, the company earned $1.9 billion, or 50 cents per share. The results that quarter did not include the earnings of BellSouth because AT&T's takeover wasn't completed until final days of the period.

Revenue in the most recent quarter nearly doubled to $30.35 billion from $15.9 billion, mostly due to the takeover of BellSouth.

NEW YORK (AP) Oil futures jumped more than $2 a barrel Thursday after the Bush administration and Congressional leaders agreed to an economic stimulus plan that will give most Americans tax rebates of $600 to $1,200, or even more if they have kids.

Prices were already higher after the government reported a drop in heating oil supplies and as investors anticipated a stimulus plan. But futures took off, posting their largest gains in over three weeks, on word that an agreement had been reached.

Light, sweet crude for March delivery rose $2.42 to settle at $89.41 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

WASHINGTON (AP) Global markets may be writhing and the U.S. economy teetering at the brink of recession, but for many of the nation's largest defense firms, the good times keep going.

Most have posted big earnings gains in recent years, largely due to record Pentagon spending on weapons programs and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And with the government, not consumers, as their biggest customers, defense contractors appear poised to weather any economic downturn that may lie ahead.

NEW YORK (AP) E-Trade Financial Corp. posted a hefty loss for the fourth quarter on Thursday as the struggling discount brokerage dumped a book of risky investments at a steep discount.

In an illustration of how the mortgage industry crisis has spread to other types of companies, the New York-based brokerage in November said it sold a $3 billion portfolio of mortgage debt to Citadel Investment Group at a $2.2 billion loss.

Hampered by that sale, E-Trade lost $1.71 billion, or $3.98 per share, in the fourth quarter, after a profit of $176.7 million, or 40 cents per share, in the fourth quarter of 2006. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial forecast a smaller loss of $2.90 per share.

PHOENIX (AP) As U.S. airlines pressure each other with low fares, executives are keeping an eye on consolidation efforts as the one sure way to squeeze profits out of an industry plagued by sky high fuel costs.

Many carriers have tried to boost profits by offering travelers fewer seats. But US Airways Group Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Doug Parker said Thursday that airlines only have so much capacity left to trim on their own, probably less than 5 percent.

Alaska Air Group Inc. has tried raising ticket prices, but Chief Financial Officer Brad Tilden said Thursday the company has had mixed results. The Seattle-based carrier hiked prices as much as $20 in certain markets, but it wasn't able to push through any increases in others.

NEW YORK (AP) _ Wall Street pulled off a stunning comeback Wednesday, surging higher in late trading and wiping out what looked to be yet another massive decline. The Dow Jones industrials, down more than 323 points in earlier trading, ended the day with an advance of just under 300 points.

Such volatility has become a hallmark of Wall Street's performance in recent months amid the ongoing housing and credit crisis and growing fears of recession.

And, after five straight days of pullbacks, a rebound was to be expected.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Meg Whitman will soon step down as chief executive of eBay Inc., the online auction company that went from wobbly startup to multibillion-dollar household name in her 10-year tenure.

Whitman, 51, had been reported to be plotting the move and handing the job to John Donahoe, 47, who has been heading eBay's core auction and e-commerce businesses. She confirmed her March 31 departure as eBay reported fourth-quarter earnings Wednesday.

Whitman will remain on eBay's board of directors.

DETROIT (AP) General Motors Corp., a symbol of American industrial might and the world's top seller of motor vehicles since Herbert Hoover was president, has finally been caught by a foreign rival.

GM conceded Wednesday that Toyota Motor Corp. pulled even last year, each of them selling about 9.37 million vehicles, in another sign that the balance of corporate power is shifting from West to East.

It's the first time GM has been anything other than the exclusive global sales leader since 1931.

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Sovereign Bancorp Inc. on Wednesday reported a 12-fold widening in its losses in the fourth quarter, as it recorded a massive write-down because customers defaulted on loans and the value of its investment in a New York thrift fell.

The Philadelphia-based parent of Sovereign Bank also said it was suspending its quarterly stock dividend until further notice, a move that will reserve $160 million in capital this year.

Sovereign lost $1.6 billion in the quarter, or $3.34 per share, compared with a loss of $129 million, or 28 cents per share, in the same quarter a year ago.

WASHINGTON (AP) The deficit for the current budget year will jump to about $250 billion under Congressional Budget Office figures released Wednesday, as a weaker economy and lower corporate profits weigh on the government's fiscal ledger.

And that figure does not reflect more than $100 billion in red ink from an economic stimulus measure in the works.

The figure greatly exceeds the $163 billion in red ink registered last year.

NEW YORK (AP) Pfizer Inc., the world's largest drugmaker, beat Wall Street earnings expectations for the fourth quarter, raised its 2008 revenue outlook and said it is on track to rebuild its product pipeline.

The upbeat outlook offered Wednesday came as the company continues with a restructuring plan that cut 11,000 jobs and closed eight facilities in 2007.

Meanwhile, its blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor is edging closer to patent expiration in 2010. The plan includes building the pipeline through internal development and outside deals while making the company's units more flexible and accountable.

CHICAGO (AP) Motorola Inc.'s new CEO Greg Brown spooked investors Wednesday with a gloomy assessment of the cell phone maker's inability to turn around its ailing handset division, saying a recovery will take longer than expected.

Shares nose-dived more than 23 percent to a 4_-year low on the company's outlook for worse-than-anticipated first-quarter results and Brown's acknowledgment that Motorola is short on promising new products. The shares recovered somewhat to close at $10.01, down $2.31 or 18.8 percent.

WASHINGTON (AP) Sallie Mae, the embattled student lender, said Wednesday it lost $1.6 billion in the fourth quarter as borrowing costs rose and it set aside $575 million to cover bad loans.

To address the growing number of delinquencies and defaults on loans not backed by the government, Sallie CEO Albert Lord said the company is shying away from lending to students it considers unlikely to graduate or attending schools with inferior graduation rates.

ATLANTA (AP) Airline consolidation may not be the panacea for the industry amid persistently high fuel prices, but observers say it would help by removing domestic capacity from the system.

As several major carriers talk about possible combinations, two airlines Delta and Southwest gave investors another dose of reality in saying Wednesday their future results will continue to be weighed down by the cost of fuel.

Delta Air Lines Inc. officials were mum on the status of talks with Northwest Airlines Corp. and UAL Corp.'s United Airlines about possible combinations, as the Atlanta-based carrier reported fourth-quarter results that were hampered by jet fuel costs.

NEW YORK (AP) Crude oil futures skidded lower Wednesday, falling more than $2 a barrel to their lowest closing price in three months on concerns that oil supplies are growing even as the economy and demand for oil are cooling.

Global stock markets have fallen sharply in recent days on fears that the U.S. economy is close to entering a recession, if it hasn't already. Energy investors fear a slowdown would curtail demand for oil and petroleum products such as gasoline and heating oil.

NEW YORK (AP) The Dow Jones industrial average rose 298.98, or 2.50 percent, to 12,270.17, having fallen as much as 323.29 earlier.

Broader stock indicators also surged Wednesday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 28.10, or 2.14 percent, to 1,338.60, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 24.14, or 1.05 percent, to 2,316.41.

Light, sweet crude for March delivery fell $2.22 to settle at $86.99 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange Wednesday. Oil last closed below $87 a barrel on Oct. 23.

Other energy futures were mostly lower Wednesday. February heating oil futures fell 4.95 cents to settle at $2.4231 a gallon on the Nymex while February gasoline futures dropped 2.98 cents to settle at $2.2508 a gallon. November natural gas futures fell 4.9 cents to settle at $7.621 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, March Brent crude futures fell $1.83 to settle at $86.62 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

ST. LOUIS (AP) Charter Communications officials believe a software error during routine maintenance caused the company to delete the contents of 14,000 customer e-mail accounts.

There is no way to retrieve the messages, photos and other attachments that were erased from inboxes and archive folders across the country on Monday, said Anita Lamont, a spokeswoman for the suburban St. Louis-based company.

"We really are sincerely sorry for having had this happen and do apologize to all those folks who were affected by the error," Lamont said Thursday when the company announced the gaff.

Charter, one of the nation's largest cable TV operators, also provides telephone and high-speed Internet service. It has applied a $50 credit to the bill of each customer whose account was affected by the mistake, Lamont said.

Charter gives each new Internet user a free e-mail account, but some customers opt to use other accounts instead. So every three months the company deletes inactive accounts, Lamont said.

"During this maintenance we erroneously deleted active accounts along with the others," Lamont said. "It's never happened before. They are taking steps to make sure it never happens again."

Charter provides service in 29 states, and Lamont said the affected customers were scattered around the country. All told, the company has about 2.6 million high-speed Internet subscribers.

Computer experts advise backing up all important e-mail.