Stocks head higher...Jobless claims drop...Productivity slows...Factory orders fall

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NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are higher in early trading on Wall Street after the Labor Department reported that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits last week fell more than expected. Kroger rose 3 percent after the nation's largest supermarket chain reported better sales than investors were expecting. Staples plunged 12 percent after the office supply chain said it would close 10 percent of its stores.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of people seeking unemployment benefits has fallen to its lowest level in three months. The Labor Department says applications for jobless benefits dropped by 26,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 323,000. The less volatile four-week average fell slightly to a seasonally adjusted 336,500. The Labor Department releases its February jobs report tomorrow.

WASHINGTON (AP) — It turns out U.S. productivity grew at an even slower annual rate than previously thought in the final three months of last year. The Labor Department says the amount of production per hour of output grew at an annual rate of 1.8 percent in the October-December quarter. The new estimate is lower than the 3.2 percent gain the government had previously reported and a slowdown from 3.5 percent productivity growth in the third quarter.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Commerce Department says orders to U.S. factories fell in January for a second straight month, and declined more than first reported in December. Orders dipped 0.7 percent in January following a 2 percent decline December. Demand for durable goods was down 1 percent while non-durable goods orders slipped 0.4 percent. But orders for core capital goods, a key category that signals business investment plans, rose 1.5 percent in January after a 1.6 percent drop in December.

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. (AP) — Staples will close up to 225 stores in North America by the end of next year as it seeks to trim about $500 million in costs annually by 2015. The nation's largest office-supply retailer says nearly half of its sales are now generated online, so it will aggressively cut costs to become more efficient.

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