Poor retailer earnings slow Dow’s push toward 13.000

NEW YORK – The Dow Jones industrial average made another run at 13,000, but couldn’t quite get there.

Stocks recovered from an early loss Thursday and pushed the Dow within four points of the milestone. Investors were encouraged by more good news on U.S. jobs, but gains were limited by poor results from retailers such as Safeway and Kohl’s.

The Dow finished up 46.02 points at 12,984.69. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 5.80 points to close at 1,363.46. The Nasdaq composite index climbed 23.81 points to 2,956.98.

The Dow pierced 13,000 three times Tuesday but could not hold the milestone. The average hasn’t closed above 13,000 since May 19, 2008, four months before the financial crisis.

Investors were encouraged Thursday after the government reported that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits last week was unchanged. The four-week average was the lowest in four years.

High unemployment has been a problem for retailers, which have been forced to slash prices even though they are paying more to make and ship their goods.

Former KBR executive given 30 months for Nigeria bribes

HOUSTON – A former KBR Inc. chief executive has been sentenced to 30 months in prison and three years of probation for bribing Nigerian government officials in return for $6 billion in engineering and construction contracts.

Albert “Jack” Stanley was sentenced Thursday. The 69-year-old pleaded guilty in 2008 but has been free on bail while awaiting a sentencing date that’s been reset 16 times.

The scheme was related to KBR’s natural gas operations in Nigeria from 1995 to 2004.

Stanley was the Houston construction giant’s chief executive until 2001 and chairman until June 2004. He acknowledged conspiring with several other companies to funnel about $182 million in bribes to Nigerian government officials.

Sears spinning off stores to raise up to $770 million

CHICAGO – Sears Holdings Corp. said it plans to spin off its small-format hometown dealer stores and outlets and sell 11 stores to raise cash and shore up its money-losing retail business.

The long-suffering retailer, controlled by hedge-fund investor Edward Lampert, said it expects the steps to raise up to $770 million. The offering to separate the more than 1,000 hometown and outlet stores should raise $400 million to $500 million, the company said.

Hometown stores are small hardware stores, usually operated by independent dealers. Sears plans to sell the 11 mall stores to Chicago-based General Growth Properties Inc.

The decision comes as Sears swung to a loss of $2.4 billion for the fourth quarter on a 4 percent fall in revenue, to $12.48 billion.

“Our fourth-quarter earnings were unacceptable,” Lou D’Ambrosio, CEO and president, said in a conference call Thursday morning. “We know that and are taking immediate actions to address it.”

Sears took the unusual step of hosting an earnings conference call in an effort to squash investor concerns that the company could be running out of money.

— From news service reports