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US Jobless Claims Rise; GE Rating Falls

There was another flurry of grim news for the U.S. economy Thursday, with rising jobless claims and a falling credit rating for a huge company.

The number of U.S. workers who have been collecting unemployment aid for more than a week has hit another record-high as the recession forced companies to slash jobs to cut costs.

The Labor Department says more than 5.3 million Americans were getting long-term jobless help last week, while first-time unemployment claims also rose slightly by 9,000 to a total of 654,000.

The recession is also causing problems for one of the world's largest and strongest companies, General Electric. Standard & Poor's, a rating agency, cut GE's credit one notch down from the top level from AAA to AA+ because of concerns about potential losses from the company's lending operations.

Besides loans, GE makes everything from jet engines to television programs, so investors see the company as a gauge of the overall economy.

Other reports from the government said business inventories fell more than one percent in January as firms cut stock to cope with falling demand. It was the fifth month in a row for declining inventories.

Reduced inventories can also signal additional layoffs.

Another report said a key driver of the U.S. economy also declined in February, as retail sales fell one-tenth of a percent.

Some information for this report was provided by Bloomberg, AP and Reuters.