Strong 2011 auto sales continue through December

Strong sales in December capped off a great year for U.S. carmakers — especially Chrysler — and 2012 should be even better.

For their biggest Japanese rivals, a year of natural disasters and other struggles ended on a sour note, with U.S. sales falling and the outlook for next year just as challenging.

Chrysler Group, in the midst of a comeback after its 2009 trip through bankruptcy court, said Wednesday that sales surged 37 percent in December and 26 percent for all of 2011. Demand was particularly strong for the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Chrysler 200. Chrysler catapulted itself ahead of Honda Motor Co. as the fourth-largest automaker by sales in the U.S.

U.S. auto sales rose 10 percent to 12.8 million in 2011. That’s up 22 percent from 2009, when the U.S. auto industry and the financial system were in peril. 

Stocks stay steady as investors hang onto gains

Stocks barely budged Wednesday, and investors held on to their gains from a strong opening to the year. It wasn’t much, but after the lurching, up-and-down weeks of 2011, investors were grateful for the winning streak.

Strong December sales helped the stocks of automakers and specialty stores. Banks, health care companies, and utilities fell slightly. Netflix surged after its first good news in months.

But nothing else moved much. The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 21.04 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 12,418.42. The Dow opened the year with a 180-point gain Tuesday, which brought it to the highest level since July.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index and Nasdaq also had big gains Tuesday but only moved a fraction of a point a day later. The S&P inched up 0.24 to close at 1,277.30. The Nasdaq fell 0.36 to 2,648.36. 

Apple to sell its popular iPhone 4S in China Jan. 13

Siri, how do you say “profit” in Chinese? One answer Apple’s digital assistant might consider giving is: Start selling the iPhone 4S in China.

And on Jan. 13, Apple will do just that.

The company said Wednesday that China would be among 22 new countries that soon would get the newest iPhone model. The iPhone now accounts for nearly half of Apple’s annual revenue, and some analysts believe it earns the company more than 60 percent of its profit.

China is one of the world’s largest mobile device markets, with close to a billion cellphone users by some estimates. 

State: Website is best way to file for unemployment

The Maine Department of Labor is ramping up for a rush of post-holiday seasonal layoffs.

Officials are reminding laid-off workers that the best and quickest way to apply for unemployment is to file online at the Labor Department website at www.file4ui.com.

The year 2011 ended with significantly fewer unemployment claims than a year ago. Still, the department says a rush of claims is expected.

Although laid-off workers can phone in their unemployment claims, call volumes tend to be very high this time of year and wait times to get through to a claims representative can be long.