NEW YORK -- Stronger reports on the job market and manufacturing sent stocks slightly higher Thursday.

Experts said the upturn reflects a shift in investors' attention away from Europe's debt woes and back to recent signs of strength in the U.S. economy.

The number of people applying for jobless benefits dropped last week to 366,000, the lowest level since May 2008. That's a sign that layoffs are easing, a first step toward bringing down the unemployment rate.

Also, a widely watched index measuring regional manufacturing from the New York branch of the Federal Reserve jumped to the highest level since May, far more than economists were expecting. A similar report from the Philadelphia branch also increased faster than analysts anticipated.

Economic bellwether FedEx said its quarterly income nearly doubled on strong growth in online shopping during the holiday season.

Duke Energy buyout of Progress hits roadblock

RALEIGH -- Federal regulators are blocking Duke Energy's planned acquisition of Progress Energy to form the country's largest electric company, ruling the companies haven't done enough to protect competition in their North Carolina and South Carolina markets.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had scheduled a Thursday hearing on changes to the merger, but regulators surprised the utilities late Wednesday by rejecting the companies' solution to protect competition. The action will delay the deal until at least March, the companies said. They had hoped the $13.7 billion merger would close before the end of this year.

If approved, the combined utilities will serve 7.1 million customers in the Carolinas, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

Mortgages this week hit their all-time low again

WASHINGTON -- The average rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage fell back down to 3.94 percent, the record low set earlier in the fall.

Freddie Mac says the rate fell from 3.99 percent the previous week. The National Bureau of Economic Research says 3.94 percent is the lowest rate ever.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage fell to 3.21 percent from 3.27 percent. That's also a new record.

Rates have been below 5 percent for all but two weeks in 2011. Yet the year may be the worst for home sales in 14 years.

BlackBerry maker's net income tumbles by 71%

SAN FRANCISCO -- BlackBerry maker Research In Motion said Thursday that its net income sank 71 percent to $265 million as revenue fell and the company took a large accounting charge because it had to sell its PlayBook tablet computer at a deep discount. The company said revenue fell 6 percent to $5.2 billion.

RIM shipped 14.1 million BlackBerry smartphones during the quarter and 150,000 PlayBook tablets. RIM is still deep in a struggle to compete with the iPhone and smartphones running Google's Android software. It's also having a hard time finding a niche in the tablet market, which is dominated by Apple's iPad.

Bank of South Carolina OKs quarterly dividend

The Bank of South Carolina Corp. approved a quarterly dividend of 11 cents a share for holders of its common stock. The Charleston-based bank owner said the dividend is payable Jan. 31 to shareholders of record on Dec. 30.