Robust hiring spree halts four-day Wall Street slide

The biggest corporate hiring spree in five years ended a four-day slide in the stock market.

The Labor Department reported Friday that private employers hired 268,000 people last month, the most since February 2006. Taking into account job cuts of government workers, the economy added a total of 244,000 jobs overall last month, well above the 185,000 jobs that analysts had predicted.

But the unemployment rate rose to 9.0 percent from 8.8 percent, in part because more people who resumed looking for work.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 54.57 points, or 0.4 percent, to close at 12,638.74. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 5.10, or 0.4 percent, to 1,340.20. The Nasdaq composite rose 12.84, or 0.5 percent, to 2,827.56. 

Berkshire Hathaway reports first-quarter drop in profits

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said Friday that its first-quarter profit tumbled 58 percent from a year ago due to insurance losses from major disasters in Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

The sharp drop is in line with preliminary results outlined by Buffett at the Omaha, Neb.-based company’s annual shareholders’ meeting last Saturday.

Berkshire reported net income of $1.5 billion, or $917 per Class A share, for the three months ended March 31. That’s down from net income of $3.6 billion, or $2,272 per Class A share, a year ago.

The biggest drag on Berkshire’s quarter was $1.7 billion in insurance losses related to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the Feb. 22 New Zealand earthquake, as well as cyclones and floods in Australia, among other disasters. 

Florida bank is shut down, but U.S failure rate eases

Regulators Friday shut down a small Florida bank, bringing the number of U.S. bank failures this year to 40.

But the pace of closures has slowed as the economy improves and banks work through piles of bad debt. By this time last year, regulators had closed 68 banks.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. seized Coastal Bank of Cocoa Beach, with about $129.4 million in assets and $123.9 million in deposits as of March 31. 

Consumers increase use of credit cards in March

American consumers used their credit cards more in March, marking only the second increase in the more than two years since the height of the financial crisis.

The Federal Reserve said Friday that consumers increased their total borrowing by $6 billion in March, the sixth consecutive monthly gain. Consumers borrowed more to finance car loans for the eighth straight month. And a category of borrowing that includes credit card use rose for only the second time since August 2008.

More frequent credit card purchases could be a sign that consumers are feeling more confident about the economy.

Americans spent more in March on furniture and electronic products, according to the government’s latest report on retail sales. But they also had to pay higher prices for gas. Part of the rise in credit card borrowing may reflect the spike in pump prices. 

Fannie Mae seeks more aid to cover new loan defaults

Fannie Mae asked the government Friday for $8.5 billion in additional aid after sliding home prices caused more defaults on loans guaranteed by the mortgage giant.

The company said it lost $8.7 billion in the first three months of the year. Those losses led Fannie to request more than three times the federal aid it sought in the previous quarter. The total cost of rescuing the government-controlled mortgage buyer is nearing $100 billion — the most expensive bailout of a single company.

Combined with the bailout of sibling company Freddie Mac, the government expects their rescue to cost taxpayers about $259 billion.