Dropoff in commodities puts investors on edge

NEW YORK — A free-fall in commodities and an unexpected jump in unemployment claims put financial markets on edge Thursday, dragging the stock market lower.

Oil prices fell nearly $10, or 9 percent, to close below $100 a barrel for the first time since mid-March. Silver lost 8 percent to settle at $34.41; the metal already had its biggest one-day drop in three decades on Tuesday and is nearly $16 off its high of $50 reached last week.

Gold fell 2.3 percent to $1,474.90.

Thursday’s pullback indicated that some commodity speculators were locking in gains and that other investors were protecting profits because of concerns that today’s jobs reports may be worse than originally thought, experts said. That could lead to weaker demand from consumers.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 139.41 points, or 1.1 percent, to 12,584.17.

The S&P 500 dropped 12.22, or 0.9 percent, to 1,335.10.

The Nasdaq composite fell 13.51, or 0.5 percent, to 2,814.72.

Wal-Mart remains atop Fortune 500 revenue list

NEW YORK — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. remains atop the Fortune 500 list even as it struggled to keep its U.S. customers coming in the door. The world’s largest retailer held onto the top spot for the second year in a row thanks to gains at its international stores.

Fortune Magazine, which ranked companies based on revenue for 2010, released its annual list Thursday. It was filled with examples of how rising fuel prices are affecting the economy. Wal-Mart was followed by the three largest American oil companies, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips.

Fortune said that America’s top companies profited by boosting productivity and cutting jobs. Many also relied on growing operations overseas. The strategy helped them increase earnings 81 percent to $318 billion, the third-largest combined profit gain in the list’s history.

Visa’s profit shows more consumers using plastic

NEW YORK — Visa said its fiscal second-quarter profit leaped 24 percent, as more consumers used their credit and debit cards in the U.S. and abroad.

Visa said it earned $881 million, or $1.23 per share, in the quarter ended March 31. Revenue rose 15 percent to $2.25 billion. Wall Street was expecting profit of $1.20 per share, on revenue of $2.23 billion.

As home buying enters peak season, rates fall

NEW YORK — Fixed mortgage rates dipped to the lowest level of the year this week. The third straight weekly decline comes at the start of the peak buying season.

Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on the 30-year loan fell to 4.71 percent, from 4.78 percent the previous week. That matched this year’s low reached in January. The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage slipped to 3.89 percent, from 3.97 percent.

Low rates have done little to boost home sales. Most sales occur from April to August.

GM is recalling 150,000 Cruzes to check steering

DETROIT — General Motors is recalling about 150,000 2011 Chevrolet Cruze compact sedans to verify that their steering shafts were installed properly.

The cars were built in Lordstown, Ohio, and sold in the U.S. and Canada. GM said no crashes or injuries have been attributed to the issue, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received no consumer complaints.

The Cruze has been a hot seller for GM. In April it sold over 25,000, up 84 percent from sales of its predecessor, the Chevrolet Cobalt, in April 2010.