Thursday morning headlines

Stocks try bouncing back: But buying momentum has yet to really pick up. Dow is up 20 points.

Jobless claims dip lower: Weekly filings fell by 2,000, to 351,000, the lowest level in four years and another sign that the job market is slowly improving. (AP)

Another good month for auto sales: Despite higher gas prices, Chrysler was up 40 percent in February compared with a year earlier and Ford was up 14 percent. From the NYT:

Ford's chief sales analyst, Erich Merkle, said underlying demand for new vehicles was strong enough that gas prices were not deterring consumers from buying new vehicles. They are going ahead with their purchase but increasingly choosing smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, he said. Many people put off replacing their current car or truck during the recession and are now in a position where the vehicle needs to be replaced. The average age of a vehicle on the roads today is 10.8 years, the highest on record, according to the research firm R. L. Polk.

Gas, oil update: Price spurt appears to be slowing down, but an average gallon of regular in the L.A. area still rose another penny overnight, to $4.368, according to the Auto Club. Oil prices, meanwhile, are back up, with NY crude trading at nearly $108 a barrel.

Motorists cutting back: And that was before the recent jump in gas prices. California gas use totaled 1.169 billion gallons in November, down 2.6 percent from a year earlier. It was the ninth straight month of declines. (Sacramento Bee)

Chain store sales also picking up: February was a good month for Target, Macy's, and Limited Brands Inc., with gains that exceeded Wall Street estimates. From AP:

An unusually mild winter, which depressed sales of cold weather goods like coats during the holiday season, turned out to be a blessing in February. It helped to kick off spending of spring merchandise in February. But what had a bigger impact is the improving economy, which boosted shoppers' moods during the month to the highest level in a year, according to a widely-watched barometer of consumer confidence released yesterday by private research group the Conference Board.

B of A considers new fees: Sounds like the bank is looking at several possibilities, including a monthly fee on checking accounts unless customers agree to bank online or maintain certain balances. From the WSJ:

It is unclear whether the bank, which counts more than 55 million U.S. households as customers, will stick with its initial idea for a basic flat-fee checking account that doesn't offer a way to avoid paying a charge. That scenario is considered less likely than telling checking-account customers they will face a new fee unless they go online or take other steps outlined by the bank. Banks often lose money on accounts like basic checking that they use in part to lure younger customers. They offer the accounts in part because they hope to retain customers as they grow more affluent and use services such as mortgage and business loans and credit cards.

Tribune Co. bankruptcy fees reach $233.3 million: The two main law firms handling the long-running Chapter 11 filing get almost half of all the money. The company and its creditors are still trying to resolve a reorganization plan. (Bloomberg)

Mattel appeals Bratz award: The El Segundo-based toymaker is asking a federal appelate court to reverse a ruling last year that awarded rival MGA Entertainment $310 million in damages and fees. The squabble is over ownership of MGA's Bratz dolls. (Bloomberg)

Legislation for driverless cars: Measure introduced by state Sen. Alex Padilla would establish guidelines for so-called autonomous vehicles that are being tested and operated in California. (LAT)

More retail at Westfield Topanga: City Council signed off on a plan to add a Costco and a bunch of other stores to the already mammoth Woodland Hills complex. (Daily News)

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
Recent California stories:
Volcanic cinder in Owens Valley
Holiday shopping: On your marks, get set... spend!
14 California bookstores in nine days
Uproar over health care sites could be settling down
BART strike to end Tuesday in the Bay Area

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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