THURSDAY FOR FRIDAY

THURSDAY FOR FRIDAY

TOP STORIES:

ECONOMY-GDP

WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy grew at a 2.5 percent annual rate from April through June, much faster than the previously estimated 1.7 percent. The steep revision was largely because U.S. companies exported more goods and imports declined. By Martin Crutsinger.

UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits remained near the lowest level in more than five years last week, a sign that companies are cutting few jobs. The Labor Department says weekly applications for benefits fell 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 331,000. By Christopher S. Rugaber.

FAST FOOD PROTESTS

NEW YORK — Fast-food protests are under way in cities including New York, Chicago and Detroit, with organizers planning for the biggest walkouts yet in a push for higher wages. In New York, about 300 to 400 protesters marched and flooded inside a McDonald's near the Empire State Building. Whether the actions will have any impact on business isn't clear. By Candice Choi and Karen Matthews.

VODAFONE-VERIZON

LONDON — Britain's Vodafone PLC, one of the world's largest cellphone companies, confirmed Thursday that it was talking to Verizon Communications about selling its U.S. operations. The U.K. company is mulling its options for its 45 percent stake in the U.S.'s Verizon Wireless, of which Verizon Communications owns the other 55 percent. By Danica Kirka.

EU-SWITZERLAND-ZURICH INSURANCE

GENEVA — The chairman of the Zurich Insurance Group abruptly resigned Thursday over the apparent suicide of its chief financial officer, claiming he wants to avoid damaging the company's reputation. Josef Ackermann, who is Swiss and a former CEO of Deutsche Bank, Germany's largest, said in a company statement that he was resigning because he believed the undisclosed accusations leveled against him by the family of deceased CFO Pierre Wauthier could hurt Zurich's top ranks. By John Heilprin.

MARKETS & ECONOMY:

BANK EARNINGS

WASHINGTON —U.S. banks earned more from April through June than during any quarter on record, aided by a steep drop in losses from bad loans. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. says the banking industry earned $42.2 billion in the second quarter, up 23 percent from the second quarter of 2012. The figures were buoyed by greater income from fees and fewer losses from bad. The largest banks are driving the industry's profits, while many smaller institutions continue to struggle. By Marcy Gordon.

MORTGAGE RATES

WASHINGTON — Freddie Mac reports on mortgage rates for this week. Last week, the average on the 30-year fixed mortgage rose to 4.58 percent from 4.4 percent the previous week. The average on the 15-year loan increased to 3.6 from 3.44 percent. Both averages were two-year highs. A steep drop in new-home sales suggests that higher mortgage rates may have started to slow the housing recovery. Still, rates remain low by historical standards. By Marcy Gordon.

WALL STREET

NEW YORK —Stocks edge higher in early trading on Wall Street after encouraging reports on the U.S. economy.

— OIL PRICES — The price of oil fell to near $109 a barrel Thursday, easing off a two-year high, after official figures showed a rise in U.S. crude inventories.

INDUSTRY:

DRIVING IN AMERICA

WASHINGTON — Driving in America has stalled, leading researchers to ask: Is the national love affair with the automobile over? By Joan Lowy.

AP photo.

— AMR-BANKRUPTCY — A judge is expected to rule on whether he can approve AMR Corp.'s reorganization plan before the Justice Department's lawsuit challenging AMR's merger with US Airways is resolved. Developing from 11 a.m. hearing.

— FRANCE-RENAULT — French carmaker Renault has announced that its chief operating officer, Carlos Tavares, is unexpectedly stepping down to pursue personal projects. Spokeswoman Raluca Barb said Thursday that Tavares is not leaving the company.

INTERNATIONAL:

PHILIPPINES-CHINA

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines and China, already locked in a territorial dispute, engaged in a diplomatic tussle Thursday, with the Philippine president canceling a visit to a trade fair in China after being told to stay away, and Beijing saying it never invited him in the first place. By Hrvoje Hranjski.

Also:

— PHILIPPINES-ECONOMY — The Philippine economy expanded 7.5 percent in the second quarter, still one of Asia's fastest growing, as robust domestic spending insulated it from weak global demand. By Hrvoje Hranjski.

MALAYSIA-SALES TAX

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia hopes to impose a goods and services tax by 2015 to boost revenue and curb its fiscal deficit. The announcement comes as Malaysia's economy and financial markets come under pressure amid rising domestic debt, a swollen fiscal deficit and a shrinking current account surplus. By Eileen Ng.

— GREECE-FINANCIAL CRISIS — Unions representing government workers are staging work stoppages across Greece, launching a fall protest campaign against government plans to ax thousands of state jobs as part of its cost-cutting commitments to international lenders.

—GERMANY-MARKEL'S CHALLENGER — Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-left challenger is promising to swiftly introduce a national minimum wage and raise taxes for top earners if elected.

— EU-GERMANY-ECONOMY — The number of people out of work Germany ticked up slightly in August, but not enough to alter the unemployment rate, which remained stable at 6.8 percent.

— INDONESIA-CENTRAL BANK — Indonesia's central bank raised its benchmark interest rate by half a percentage point to 7 percent, hoping to stem a slide in the local currency and keep the country's current account deficit at a sustainable level.

EARNINGS:

— CHINA-EARNS-BANKS — Two of China's major state-owned banks posted higher half-year profits even as the world's No. 2 economy slows and authorities seek to cool a credit boom.

— EU-FRANCE-EARNS-CARREFOUR — French big box store Carrefour posted a significant improvement in profit in the first half of the year, hailing it as a sign that its turnaround plan is beginning to bear fruit.

— FRANCE EARNS L'OREAL— Cosmetics giant L'Oreal reports its first-half earnings. Embargoed until around 4 p.m.

— EU-FRANCE-EARNS-PERNOD-RICARD — Strong growth in the U.S. and emerging markets helped French wine and spirits company Pernod Ricard boost its annual profit by 4 percent despite a difficult year in Europe.

— AUSTRALIA-EARNS-QANTAS — Qantas Airways reported a modest 5 million Australian dollar ($4.5 million) annual profit as cost cuts offset losses at its international arm.

— NEW ZEALAND-EARNS-AIR NZ — Air New Zealand said its annual profit more than doubled from the previous year and it is moving ahead with plans to buy 21 new planes.