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Unemployment, food prices hurt economy

WASHINGTON --- Jobs are scarce and food prices are likely to stay high through next year, according to new data that reinforced evidence of a U.S. economy stuck in a weak patch.

There was some good news in the spate of reports released Thursday. The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in April after American companies sold more goods overseas and imports fell.

Thursday's data showed:

- The number of people seeking unemployment benefits hardly changed for a second consecutive week, the Labor Department said. Applications ticked up 1,000 to a seasonally adjusted 427,000 last week.

- A wet spring will likely cut the size of this fall's corn harvest and keep food prices high through 2012, the Agriculture Department said.

- Exports of U.S. goods and services rose to a record $175.6 billion while imports dipped to $219.2 billion, the Commerce Department reported. But a key reason the U.S. trade deficit narrowed was a 25.5 percent decline in imports from Japan, which is recovering from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

- Wholesale companies added to their stockpiles in April for a 16th consecutive month, a separate Commerce report said. That boosted inventories to the highest level since October 2008, a sign that businesses in early spring were expecting stronger sales.

Microsoft ordered to pay in patent case

SEATTLE --- Microsoft has lost a Supreme Court patent case and must pay $290 million to tiny Toronto software company i4i.

The court ruled Thursday in an opinion written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor with six judges joining. Three judges concurred. Chief Justice John Roberts took no part in the ruling because he owns shares of Microsoft stock.

i4i originally sued Microsoft claiming that Microsoft Word had included an XML editing feature that i4i invented.

A federal jury in Texas in 2009 decided against Microsoft and awarded $200 million in damages, which was then raised to $290 million by a U.S. District Court judge who affirmed the decision.

After a federal appeals court affirmed the lower court's decision and denied Microsoft's request for a review, the company appealed to the nation's highest court.

It was the largest patent verdict to withstand appellate review in U.S. history.

Citibank credit card data is breached

NEW YORK --- About 200,000 Citibank credit card customers in North America have had their names, account numbers and e-mail addresses stolen by hackers who broke into Citi's online account site.

Citigroup Inc. said it discovered that account information for about 1 percent of its credit card customers had been viewed by hackers. Citi has more than 21 million credit card customers in North America, according to its 2010 annual report. The New York-based bank, which discovered the problem during routine monitoring, didn't say exactly how many accounts were breached. Citi said it was contacting those customers.

The bank said hackers weren't able to gain access to social security numbers, birth dates, card expiration dates or card security codes, but details about their bank accounts and financial information linked to them could be acquired using the e-mail information and account numbers hackers stole.

Federal regulators have taken notice and are asking banks to improve security.

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Christmas Eve rains to dry up

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