Apple 2Q profit jumps 36 percent

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Apple Inc.'s fiscal second-quarter profit jumped 36 percent on blistering sales of Macintosh computers, but the company forecast lower-than-expected earnings and its stock price tumbled as much as 5 percent.

The Mac and iPod maker is believed to be especially vulnerable to slowing consumer spending in the United States because of its strong presence here versus overseas.

Apple shares fell $2.31, or about 1 percent, to $160.58, in after-hours trading. The stock had fallen nearly 5 percent earlier. It had closed up $2.69, or 1.7 percent, at $162.89 before its earnings were reported.

But the latest results showed that it was firing on all cylinders during the first three months of the year.

Stocks rise as Street parses earnings, oil gyrates

NEW YORK (AP) _ Wall Street ended a choppy session with a moderate advance Wednesday after a better-than-expected profit report at Boeing Co. and a seesaw day in the energy markets.

Boeing, one of the 30 stocks that comprise the Dow Jones industrial average, reported a 38 percent jump in first-quarter earnings. The airplane manufacturer's results, along with stronger-than-anticipated forecasts at chip makers Broadcom Corp. and Anadigics Inc., appeared to buoy investor sentiment about the first-quarter earnings season.

Investors also reacted positively to Liberty Mutual's plans to acquire another insurance company, Safeco. The $6.12 billion deal _ which would create the country's fifth-biggest property insurer _ sent Safeco shares surging $20.71, or 46 percent, to $65.94.

Still, the stock market's movements were somewhat erratic Wednesday, as investors concerned about inflation kept an eye on fluctuating oil prices. Oil initially pulled back but then rebounded again, as the government reported a rise in crude inventories but a drop in gasoline stockpiles. A day earlier, a record high price for oil had helped send shares skidding.

Energy futures rise as government reports fuel supply drop

NEW YORK (AP) _ Gasoline prices shot higher at the pump Wednesday, rising more than 2 cents overnight to a national average of $3.53 a gallon. Oil prices also rose and gas reached new records in the futures market after an Energy Department report raised new questions about fuel supplies.

Gasoline inventories fell by 3.2 million barrels last week, about a million barrels more than expected, the EIA said. Gas supplies have been falling lately, raising concerns about fuel supply levels as peak summer driving season approaches.

That pointed to a continuation of gasoline's prolonged climb at filling stations around the country.

The national average price of a gallon of regular gas rose 2.2 cents Wednesday to a new record of $3.533, according to a survey of stations by AAA and the Oil Price Information Service. Diesel, the fuel used by trucks, trains and ships, rose to its own new record of $4.214 a gallon.

Delta, Northwest lose combined $10.5B on high fuel, charges

ATLANTA (AP) _ Delta and Northwest, seeking to combine to create the world's largest airline, posted losses Wednesday totaling $10.5 billion for the first three months of the year due to exorbitant fuel prices and write-downs of their companies' value.

Southwest's chief executive, meanwhile, indicated that the carrier wasn't interested in a merger and said the very thought of it was daunting.

The red ink from Delta and Northwest put into focus the enormity of the challenge the airline industry faces to become profitable again amid $120-a-barrel oil _ even with the benefits that consolidation can bring.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc., the nation's third-largest carrier, said its loss widened in the first quarter to a whopping $6.39 billion. A few hours later, Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines Corp. reported a $4.1 billion loss for the period.

Pulte 1Q loss widens on hefty inventory, land charges

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. (AP) _ Pulte Homes Inc. says its first-quarter loss widened after it took a hefty charge amid a worsening housing market.

The Bloomfield Hills, Mich., home builder says it lost $696.1 million, or $2.75 per share, in the first three months of the year. That compares with a loss of $85.7 million, or 34 cents per share, in the same period last year.

The latest quarter includes pretax charges of $663.6 million to write down the value of inventory and land on its books.

The result is worse than the loss of 77 cents per share expected by analysts in a Thomson Financial survey.

Revenue declined 23 percent to $1.4 billion and is lower than the $1.42 billion expected by Wall Street. 1Q profit rises 29 percent

SEATTLE (AP) _ Web retailer Inc. said Wednesday that its first-quarter profit rose 29 percent, helped by solid sales in the U.S. and abroad.

But seemingly lower operating income guidance for the full fiscal year pushed shares down $3.70, or 4.6 percent, to $77.30 in after-hours trading. The stock had closed up $1.40 at $81.

Quarterly earnings climbed to $143 million, or 34 cents per share, from $111 million, or 26 cents per share, in the same period last year.

Those results beat Wall Street's expectations. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had forecast a profit of 32 cents per share.

Revenue increased 37 percent to $4.14 billion from $3.02 billion in the year-ago quarter.

Immelt works to reassure shareholders at GE's annual meeting

ERIE, Pa. (AP) _ General Electric Co.'s annual meetings are typically upbeat affairs as executives showcase the company's successes to satisfied shareholders of one of the world's most diversified and successful companies.

But after GE chief executive Jeff Immelt was lambasted earlier this month for failing to hit first-quarter goals and triggering a sell-off that wiped out more than $46 billion of GE's market capitalization, Wednesday's annual meeting was essentially a mea culpa to investors and analysts alike.

"This has triggered a tough reaction and it should," Immelt told about 1,000 shareholders. "I can assure you that we look in the mirror and ask ourselves some very tough questions."

Immelt worked to reassure shareholders less than two weeks after GE reported a 6 percent loss in first-quarter profits. The surprising report came a month after GE promised investors 10 percent earnings growth in 2008.

BofA's Lewis says $4B Countrywide buy still a good idea

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Beleaguered Bank of America Corp. shareholders pleaded Wednesday with the bank's chief executive not to proceed with a $4 billion acquisition of distressed subprime mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp.

Shareholders told CEO Ken Lewis at the Charlotte-based bank's annual meeting that they were concerned about the company's position in a weakened economy and bearing the brunt of a collapsed stock price.

Lewis acknowledged the housing crisis wasn't over but said Bank of America paid a fair price for Countrywide and continues to perform deep due-diligence.

The two-and-a-half-hour meeting came two days after the nation's second-largest bank reported a 77 percent drop in first-quarter profit of $1.21 billion, largely because of missed payments on credit cards and home loans.

Bull market in gold means big bucks for old dental work

NEW YORK (AP) _ Dazzled by the bull market in gold, people are digging through drawers for old dental caps, fillings and bridgework they saved years ago and selling them at prices that would make the tooth fairy blush.

Instead of hanging on to the pieces as souvenirs, many are turning them over to pawnbrokers, coin shops and specialized firms that buy "dental gold," hoping to take a bite out of the metal's historic run to $1,000 an ounce.

A gold crown typically uses about one-tenth of an ounce of 16-karat gold, which would fetch around $40 to $50 at today's prices, Taber said. Heavier pieces of dental gold can command prices of several hundred dollars, he said.

By The Associated Press

The Dow rose 42.99, or 0.34 percent, to 12,763.22, after spiking 117 points, giving up those gains to trade down 17 points, and then recovering some ground.

Broader stock indicators also closed higher. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3.99, or 0.29 percent, to 1,379.93. The technology-focused Nasdaq composite index logged a more sizable advance, rising 28.27, or 1.19 percent, to 2,405.21.

Light, sweet crude for June delivery rose 23 cents to settle at $118.30 a barrel. On Tuesday, May crude futures rose to a trading record of $119.90 as investors scrambled to square positions before the contract expired. At the moment, June crude does not face the same pressure to rise, though many forecasters predict prices could eventually breach the $120 level.

In other Nymex trading Wednesday, May heating oil futures rose 0.81 cent to settle at $3.325 a gallon while May natural gas futures rose 17.4 cents to settle at $10.781 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, June Brent crude futures rose 51 cents to settle at $116.46 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.