Sustainability support: $500,000 grant to help with energy-saving home improvements

AmeriCorps program participant Eric Fiatti (left) pulls down the attic stairs to show Mayor Joe Riley the insulated attic box that was built around the entrance to make the downtown home more energy-efficient. Charleston was awarded $500,000 in grant fund

Grace Beahm

NEW YORK -- Signs of progress in Europe's debt crisis and an unexpected drop in unemployment claims pushed stocks higher Thursday, a day after the stock market took its worst fall since the summer.

Greece named a new prime minister Thursday and Italy borrowed $6.8 billion at lower interest rates than analysts expected. Italy's benchmark rate dropped below 7 percent after spiking above that level Wednesday.

Investors were also relieved by talk that economist Mario Monti is likely to replace Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who was seen as an obstacle to meaningful economic reforms. Italy's president pledged that Berlusconi will step down soon.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 112.92 points, or 1 percent, to close at 11,893.86. The S&P 500 index gained 10.60, or 0.9 percent, to 1,239.70. The Nasdaq rose 3.50 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,625.15.

Rate on 30-year mortgage dips below 4% for 2nd time

WASHINGTON -- The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage has fallen below 4 percent for just the second time in history.

Freddie Mac said Thursday that the rate on the 30-year fixed loan fell to 3.99 percent, down from 4 percent last week. Five weeks ago it dropped to a record low of 3.94 percent.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage fell last week to 3.30 percent from 3.31 percent. Five weeks ago it too hit a record low of 3.26 percent.

Mortgage rates track the yield on 10-year Treasury notes, which fell this week as investors shifted money into safer Treasurys amid fears that Europe's debt crisis could worsen.

Low mortgage rates have done little to boost home sales. Rates have been below 5 percent for all but two weeks this year, yet home sales are on pace to be the lowest in 14 years.

Kohl's 3rd-quarter profit increases 20%; stock climbs

NEW YORK -- Department store operator Kohl's Corp. said Thursday its third-quarter profit rose 20 percent, helped by strong demand for exclusive brands like Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony.

Kohl's raised its full-year outlook and said it is counting on continued spending during the holiday period. Its shares jumped nearly 2 percent in trading.

Kohl's, like many department stores with moderately-priced merchandise, is facing challenges in getting its middle-income shoppers to spend. Kohl's results underscore a trend that is playing out in stores across the country in this down economy.

Shoppers are focused on getting the cheapest prices on basics like T-shirts, but are willing to spend a premium to snag affordable luxuries.

Kohl's stepped up its marketing and deepened promotions on some basic items during the quarter, which drew deal-seeking shoppers. Shares rose $1.07 to close at $55.36.

Anheuser-Busch to release new taste for Bud Light

ST. LOUIS -- Anheuser-Busch is coming out with a sweeter, higher-alcohol-content version of Bud Light as the company tries to build on the popularity of one of its top beers.

Bud Light Platinum will come in a cobalt blue bottle, and it will be 6 percent alcohol by volume, compared with Bud Light's 4.2 percent, the company said.

The brewer said Thursday that the new, sweeter-tasting product will hit shelves in late January and offer a more upscale option for drinkers of light beer.

Santa to start making mall appearances this weekend

The holiday shopping season is approaching full speed, and Santa Claus is already making early appearances.

The red-suited gift bearer will be at Citadel and Northwoods malls starting each weekend, starting Saturday through Christmas Eve, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.

On Christmas Eve, which is on Saturday, he will be available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Also, download the free Santa Fun App exclusive to the malls on the android market and iPhone app store to get organized with gift lists, have children write letters to Santa, view his responses and track Santa's world-wide journey on Christmas Eve.