Judge refuses to block Phoenix mining merger

DOVER, Del. - A Delaware judge is refusing to block the merger of Phoenix-based mining company Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold with oil and gas producer Plains Exploration & Production Co.

Some Plains shareholders challenged the merger, seeking a preliminary injunction to block it, saying Plains' board of directors failed to get the best sale price and did not provide adequate information to shareholders. The judge denied the request Thursday, saying the plaintiffs have not shown their claims have a reasonable probability of success.

Freeport said in December that it would pay $6.9 billion in cash and stock for Plains, and $2.1 billion for McMoRan Exploration Co., another oil and gas producer. Plains shareholders will vote on the deal May 20.

American Airlines settles safety claims for $24.9M

DALLAS - American Airlines has agreed to pay $24.9 million to settle $162 million in potential fines that were proposed by U.S. safety regulators.

American called the payment "a reasonable resolution" to the Federal Aviation Administration's claims that it had violated safety regulations involving electrical wiring on planes and other issues.

"This settlement recognizes the many changes, including enhancements to our maintenance and engineering processes, increased training, inspections, and audits that have taken place at American over the past several years that address past FAA concerns," said the spokeswoman.

American, its American Eagle regional-flying affiliate and two other subsidiaries denied wrongdoing. They said the outcome of litigation with the FAA can be uncertain and the settlement was good business judgment.

Retailers had strong April; jobless-benefit claims fall

In economic reports Thursday:

• Americans spent briskly during the early spring months. Revenue at stores open at least a year - an industry measure of a store's health - rose 4.7 percent in April compared with the same month a year ago, according to a preliminary tally of 12 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers trade group.

• The number of Americans who applied for unemployment benefits fell by 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 323,000, a five-year low, the Labor Department said. Layoffs have returned to pre-recession levels.

• Wholesale businesses stepped up their restocking of supplies in March, but their sales fell sharply, the Commerce Department said.

Record profit signals healthier Fannie Mae

WASHINGTON - Fannie Mae said something Thursday that would have been unthinkable a few years ago: It earned a record $58.7 billion profit in the January-March quarter.

And it made clear it's on the cusp of repaying taxpayers for one of the most expensive bailouts of a single company in the financial crisis.

More Americans are buying homes. Prices are rising at their fastest rate since the housing bubble burst. Banks are lending only to the most qualified buyers. And many fewer homes are falling into foreclosure. All of that is a boon to Fannie and its smaller sibling Freddie Mac, which own or guarantee half of all U.S. mortgages and back nearly 90 percent of new ones.

Meanwhile, Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year fixed mortgage loan edged up to 3.42 percent from 3.35 percent last week. That's still near record lows.

The Associated Press