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Roundup: Airlines seek November trial date for merger; unemployment aid applications rise to 336K; more

| Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

US Airways, American want November trial date for merger

US Airways and American Airlines said on Thursday that they want a Nov. 12 court date to argue their case for a merger in front of a judge, but the Department of Justice wants to schedule the trial next year. A federal judge will ultimately make the scheduling decision. US Airways CEO Doug Parker told employees in a message that the company is trying to get to court as quickly as possible to fight the Justice Department. “Along with our colleagues at American Airlines, we are looking forward to proving in a court what all of us have known all along — that this merger is good for competition and, as a result, extremely good for consumers,” said Parker. The Justice Department shocked US Airways and American executives when it sued last week to block the merger on antitrust grounds, saying the combination would drive up ticket prices and fees for fliers by eliminating competition.

Jobless applications rise to 336,000

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week after reaching the lowest level in 5 12 years. But the broader trend suggests companies are laying off fewer workers and could step up hiring in the months ahead. The Labor Department said on Thursday that applications for first-time benefits rose 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 336,000 in the week ending Aug. 17. That's up from 323,000 in the previous week, which was the lowest since January 2008. The four-week average, which smooths week-to-week fluctuations, fell by 2,250 to 330,500. That's the sixth straight decline and the lowest for the average since November 2007. At the depths of the recession in March 2009, applications numbered 670,000.

More problems plague MarkWest plant

MarkWest Energy Partners LP had a “system disruption” and lost power at its Washington County gas processing plant on Thursday, the latest in a string of issues at the plant. Department of Environmental Protection officials were investigating the incident, an agency spokesman said. It happened at the same time the company is negotiating with the agency about how quickly to fix repeated emissions of black smoke from the plant in Chartiers, a problem the company is likely to get fined for, according to the DEP. Company spokesman Robert McHale did not say what triggered the problems, but did write in an email that the smoke from the plant was a sign the emergency flare worked as it's supposed to. The company has brought in outside experts and engineering consultants to fix the ongoing problems, he said. The work will require custom manufacturing “and may take some time to fully test and implement,” he said.

30-year mortgage loan jumps to 4.58%

Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages rose this week to their highest levels in two years, driven by heightened speculation that the Federal Reserve will slow its bond purchases later this year. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said on Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year loan jumped to 4.58 percent, up from 4.40 percent last week. The average on the 15-year fixed loan rose to 3.60 percent from 3.44 percent. Both averages are the highest since July 2011. Rates have risen more than a full percentage point since May. The spike last week occurred after more Fed members signaled they could be open to reducing the bond purchases as early as September. The purchases have helped keep long-term interest rates low, including mortgage rates. Despite the increase, mortgage rates remain low by historical standards. And recent reports suggest the jump in rates has yet to sap the housing recovery's momentum.

AK Steel settles air pollution violations

AK Steel Corp. is paying a $1.6 million civil penalty to resolve air pollution violations that occurred at its now-closed coke plant in Ashland. The settlement calls for AK Steel to spend at least $2 million to improve emissions at its Ashland West Works facility. The West Chester, Ohio, company said in a statement on Wednesday that the settlement was reached “without admission of the alleged violations by AK Steel.” Robert Dreher of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division says the settlement holds AK accountable for years of violations at the plant. AK Steel closed the coke plant in June 2011.

— Staff and wire reports

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