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NEW YORK — The scramble to hire holiday workers is just beginning, and early signs from companies like Wal-Mart, FedEx, Kohl's and UPS show a big bump up from last year. Some experts expect holiday hiring to be the highest since 1999. A combination of increasing optimism about consumer spending and the need to improve customer service in the age of Amazon is driving stores to look for more temporary help. By Anne D'Innocenzio and Paul Wiseman. UPCOMING: 700 words by 4 p.m., photos.
ALIBABA IPO-US INVASION
NEW YORK — Amazon and eBay should watch their backs. As Chinese e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba readies what could be the biggest initial public offering ever on the New York Stock Exchange, it is quietly hinting at plans to expand into the U.S. The company controls nearly 80 percent of all e-commerce in China, and chairman Jack Ma has ambitions that go beyond the country's borders. While the specifics of Alibaba's U.S. expansion are unclear, the company's recent stateside investments may offer clues. By Mae Anderson. SENT: 700 word, photo.
ALIBABA IPO-TECH CHAMPIONS
BEIJING — Alibaba Group's U.S. stock offering is a wakeup call about an emerging wave of technology giants in China's state-dominated economy. Until now, Chinese companies that made a splash in global stock markets were state-owned banks and oil companies. But they are big by decree, not because they sell products customers want. By contrast, private sector tech champions such as Lenovo Group in personal computers and search engine Baidu Inc. survived bruising competition to rise to the top of their industries. By Joe McDonald. SENT: 1,100 words, photos.
— ALIBABA IPO-INSIDERS — Control over Alibaba Group will stay in the hands of founder Jack Ma and other company veterans after the Chinese e-commerce giant goes public on the New York Stock Exchange in a record busting share sale. SENT: 950 words.
WASHINGTON — Strong stock market gains and higher home prices boost Americans' net worth in the April-June quarter to a record high, a trend that could encourage more spending. U.S. households also took on the most new debt in five years, driven mostly by student and auto loans. Household wealth rose 1.7 percent in the second quarter to $81.5 trillion. Americans' stock and mutual fund portfolios gained $1 trillion. The value of their homes increased $230 billion. By Christopher S. Rugaber. SENT: 600 words.
DIGITAL LIFE-REVIEW-APPLE IOS 8 SOFTWARE
NEW YORK — The scores of new features in Apple's software update for mobile devices can be boiled down to one word: unity. Many iPhone owners also have iPads and Mac computers, and family members are likely to have Apple devices, too. With the new iOS 8 software for iPhones and iPads, those devices start to act like one. Apps on devices begin to act in unison, too. The free update is available starting Wednesday. By Anick Jesdanun. SENT: 860 words, photo.
— Digital Life-Review-Apple iOS 8 Software-Now or Later — Apple's iOS 8 software update for iPhones and iPads is worth getting — but not necessarily right away. SENT: 220 words.
MARKETS & ECONOMY:
WASHINGTON — The number of people applying for U.S. unemployment benefits drops by a sharp 36,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 280,000, a sign that the job market is strengthening. By Josh Boak. SENT: 320 words, photo, glance.
WASHINGTON — U.S. home construction plunges in August, led by steep decline in the volatile apartment category. But single-family house construction, a larger and more stable portion of the market, fell only modestly. By Josh Boak. SENT: 610 words, photo.
WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen says the Great Recession showed that a large number of American families are "extraordinarily vulnerable" to financial setbacks because they have few assets to fall back on. By Martin Crutsinger. SENT: 430 words, photo.
WASHINGTON — Mortgage company Freddie Mac says the nationwide average for a 30-year loan jumped to 4.23 percent from 4.12 percent last week, marking their largest one-week gain this year. By Marcy Gordon. SENT: 320 words, photo, glance.
NEW YORK — The U.S. stock market heads higher in afternoon trading as investors receive more encouraging news on the economy. By Matthew Craft. SENT: 700 words, photos. UPCOMING: 700 words by 5 p.m.
NEW YORK — PepsiCo Inc.'s CEO Indra Nooyi has made a double-edged statement on the NFL's problems handling domestic violence, calling some players' behavior "repugnant" but saying that Commissioner Roger Goodell is "a man of integrity." By Mae Anderson. SENT: 420 words, photo.
PITTSBURGH — Chevron becomes the first energy company to meet a new set of voluntary shale gas drilling standards that aim to go beyond existing state laws in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, the Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale says. By Kevin Begos. SENT: 500 words.
SEOUL, South Korea — A consortium led by Hyundai Motor Co. offered more than $10 billion for land in Seoul's tony Gangnam district where it will build a new headquarters. The sky high price surprised shareholders who sent the automaker's shares down nearly 10 percent. By Youkyung Lee. SENT: 400 words, photo.
— GERMANY-BAYER — German pharmaceuticals and chemicals company Bayer AG says it plans to spin off its polymer division with a separate stock listing. SENT: 160 words.
— EU-AIRLINE SURCHARGES — The European Union's highest court says airlines are allowed to charge passengers an extra fee for checking in luggage. SENT: 150 words.
— SALMONELLA OUTBREAK-TRIAL — Jurors weighing a fraud case against the owner of a Georgia peanut plant that was the source of a salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds are deliberating without considering a tragic fact of the case: nine people who ate the company's tainted peanut butter died. By Russ Bynum. UPCOMING: Will be updated from deliberations later in the day.
— HORSE-POWERED FARMING — While most modern farmers work their fields accompanied by the rumble of a trusty tractor, sheep farmer Donn Hewes labors to the faint jingling of harnesses in rhythm with the hoofbeats of horses and mules. SENT: 650 words.
TECHNOLOGY & MEDIA:
— NEWS CORP-GOOGLE ANTITRUST — The media conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch is joining the fray in Google's protracted European antitrust case, saying the technology company unfairly distorts competition. SENT: 140 words.
— OBAMA-SOLAR PANELS — The U.S. will train at least 50,000 veterans to become solar panel installers in the next six years, the White House says. It will launch this fall at one or more military bases. SENT: 230 words, photo.
— PHILIPPINES-CYBERSEX — Philippine authorities say they have arrested 43 suspected members of a syndicate that runs a lucrative online cybersex operation catering to clients worldwide. SENT: 130 words.
FRANKFURT, Germany — The European Central Bank launches a new stimulus program aimed at getting banks to lend more — but low demand for its super-cheap money shows the difficulty it faces in trying to revive a stalling economy. The central bank for the 18-country eurozone handed out 82.6 billion euros ($107 billion) in ultra-low interest loans to 255 banks. By David McHugh. SENT: 600 words, photo.
— EUROPE-YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT — Some 200 companies pledge to create new work and training opportunities for Europe's young jobseekers, of which one out of four is unemployed. SENT: 380 words.
— IRELAND-ECONOMY — Ireland's economy is growing at a rapid pace last experienced at the tail-end of the Celtic Tiger boom, government statisticians report as economists declared that the country's debt crisis was dead and buried. SENT: 680 words.
— ARGENTINA-PRICE LAW — Argentina's congress approves a law that lets the government intervene in setting prices and profits. SENT: 150 words.
— GREECE-UNEMPLOYMENT — Greek unemployment drops considerably in the second quarter but still afflicts more than a quarter of the workforce, as the country struggles to climb out of a punishing six-year economic recession. SENT: 150 words.
— JAPAN-TRADE — Japan logs a 948.5 billion yen ($8.7 billion) trade deficit in August, the 26th straight month of red ink, as slack demand from China and the U.S. stymied exports. SENT: 430 words, photos.
— JAPAN-ENDANGERED-EELS — Japan agrees to cut purchases of eel fry from neighboring East Asian countries by 20 percent as part of moves to protect the endangered species. SENT: 220 words, photos.
— INDIA-CHINA — Indian and Chinese troops face off along their Himalayan border on Thursday as the countries' leaders held a rare meeting in New Delhi, promising to boost economic cooperation and substantially increase Chinese investment in India's infrastructure. SENT: 830 words, photos.
— ALBANIA-CENTRAL BANK GOVERNOR — Albania's parliament fires the country's central bank governor, following his recent arrest after millions of dollars from the bank's reserves went missing. SENT: 140 words, photos.
— CYPRUS-DRILLING — Cyprus' energy minister says Egypt and Jordan are interested in buying natural gas from the Mediterranean island nation to meet their domestic needs.
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Banking on higher rates
Financial stocks are the best performers among the S&P 500's 10 industry groups in the last month. The reason: Banks typically do well in an improving economy and when interest rates are expected to go higher. The Federal Reserve is expected to raise its federal funds rate, or the rate the Fed charges banks to borrow money, starting next year.
Pier 1 cuts outlook
Shares of Pier 1 Imports ran aground Thursday, falling to their lowest level since 2011 after the home-decor retailer cut its profit forecast for the year.