Stocks plow ahead on factory activity

NEW YORK -- Investors barreled into stocks Wednesday after an upbeat report on industrial production raised hopes that the economy is strengthening.

The Dow Jones industrial average hit another high for the year as General Electric and International Business Machines jumped. It was the market's eighth gain in nine days.

A promising report from the Federal Reserve said that industrial activity surged 0.8 percent in August, topping expectations. The Fed also said the improvement in industrial production for July was twice what it initially had reported.

The industrial report and rising commodity prices lifted shares of manufacturing companies like aluminum producer Alcoa. Other big gains came from financial stocks, which have been building momentum as they push above certain price levels watched by traders.

Buffett: Economy likely at a bottom

OMAHA, Neb. -- Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said the economy appears to have leveled off at the bottom of the recession over the summer, but Berkshire Hathaway's chief executive officer still isn't seeing much improvement. He talked about the economy on CNBC.

"I think the odds are very much against getting significantly worse. It's sort of plateaued at the -- at the bottom right now," Buffett said. But he said things could get worse if there were some new catastrophe like the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Oracle of Omaha's comments followed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's statement Tuesday that the worst recession since the 1930s is "very likely over." Buffett was among the first in March 2008 to say the economy was in a recession.

Optimism ticks up, builder group says

LOS ANGELES -- The National Association of Home Builders said Wednesday that its housing market index rose in September, reflecting growing optimism in the industry about rising home sales. The association said the one point rise to 19 was its highest reading since it hit 20 in April last year.

Index readings below 50 indicate negative sentiment about the market. The last time it was above 50 was in April 2006.

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Aquarium lands a business donation

Packaging giant MeadWestvaco Corp. provided the South Carolina Aquarium with a $25,000 gift toward the attraction's Free Scholarship-based Structured School Program, a curriculum that provides students with education and training in marine science.

The money from the Richmond, Va.-based company ensures that 3,640 children can participate in the program this school year. The program began in 2001, and it has served about 84,000 South Carolina students and nearly 4,000 teachers.

Dredging contract is let for waterway

North Charleston-based Southern Dredging Co. received a nearly $6 million contract to remove more than 900,000 cubic yards of material from the Intracoastal Waterway, according to Lisa Metheney with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Metheney said the contract covers an area between Winyah Bay near Georgetown and the Ashepoo River and extends from Oct. 15 to March 15.