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International markets gain...Jobless Benefit Applications...Verizon fine...China's Growth Slows

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UNDATED (AP) — International stock markets posted gains on the last day of 2014, led by a surge in China after a weak manufacturing report reinforced hopes for new stimulus. European stocks rose in early trading. Futures point to morning gains on Wall Street. Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell but remains above $53.50 a barrel. The dollar gained against the yen and the euro.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Labor Department will say in a few hours how many out-of-work people went to employment offices last week in search jobless benefits. The trend for first-time applications has been good in the past several weeks. And the national unemployment rate has held steady at 5.8 percent. The gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 5.0 percent in the third quarter.

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley says Verizon has paid more than $1.3 million to resolve an allegation that the company overcharged the state for telecommunications services under a statewide procurement contract. Coakley says the settlement resolves a lawsuit pending in Hampshire Superior Court and also requires Verizon to make additional payment offers to towns, cities and others affected by the alleged overbilling.

BEIJING (AP) — A survey of Chinese manufacturers has found their activity contracted in December in a new sign the world's second-largest economy is slowing despite government efforts to shore up growth. HSBC Corp. says its monthly purchasing managers' index fell to 49.6 on a 100-point scale. Numbers below 50 show activity contracting. Meanwhile, China's two biggest manufacturers of bullet trains have merged in hopes of creating a globally competitive producer. A statement says CNR Corp. and CSR Corp., both state-owned, want to create a "globally leading" supplier of high-end equipment.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's government has confirmed that the economy is struggling to emerge from a deep recession but President Nicolas Maduro said the crisis engulfing the oil-rich nation could have been a lot worse. In an almost three-hour long press conference, the socialist president blamed the severe slump on his government's opponents, who brought the economy to a standstill during deadly protests earlier this year.

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