Fed's comments propel stocks to highs for 2011

NEW YORK -- Stocks rose to another high for the year Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said central bank officials expect the economy to continue recovering as the jobs market strengthens.

The Russell 2000, an index of small stocks, hit a record surpassed its previous record of 855.77 reached in July 2007 to close up 5.27 to 858.31. The S&P 500 index has now doubled from its lows reached during the financial crisis.

--The Dow Jones industrial average rose 95.59 points, or 0.8 percent, to close at 12,690.96. The last time the Dow was this high was in May 2008.

--The S&P 500 rose 8.42, or 0.6 percent, to 1,355.66, its highest level since June 2008.

--The Nasdaq composite index rose 22.34, or 0.8 percent, to 2,869.88.

SCE&G rate hike helps add 9% to bottom line

The parent of South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. reported a slight gain in first quarter earnings, saying the modest increase was in line with expectations.

Scana Corp., the only Fortune 500 business still based in the state, made $128 million for the first three months of the year, up about $1 million compared to the same period of 2010.

Higher electric rates boosted the bottom line at SCE&G by about 9 percent, to $70 million. At March 31, the Scana's primary business subsidiary had about 663,000 electric customers and 315,000 natural gas customers, up 0.6 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively, from a year ago. SCE&G is the Charleston region's top power and gas provider,

Earnings at the Cayce-based parent company were slowed by a weather-induced decline in business at Scana Energy, which sells natural gas in 460,000 customers in Georgia. That unit earned $22 million, a 26 percent drop from the first quarter last year.

Va. container business to open Lexington plant

LEXINGTON -- A Virginia company plans to open a container plant in Lexington that will create 60 jobs. Gov. Nikki Haley's office announced Wednesday that Interstate Container of Arlington, Va., will spend $13 million renovating an existing plant.

The plant will make specialty boxes used to ship food products. The company expects the plant to begin operations in September. Hiring is to begin this month.

Higher prices, demand fuel Norfolk Southern

NEW YORK -- Norfolk Southern said Wednesday that its first-quarter net income jumped 26 percent as higher prices and shipments of everything from coal to retail merchandise offset sharply higher fuel.

The railroad -- one of two that serve the Charleston region -- earned $325 million. Revenue rose 17 percent to $2.62 billion.

Insurance giant Allstate quadruples 1Q profits

NEW YORK -- Home and auto insurer Allstate Corp. said Wednesday that its profits more than quadrupled in the first quarter as catastrophe losses eased.

In the three months ended March 31, the company said net income climbed to $519 million, up from $120 million in the year-ago period.

Catastrophe losses were $333 million in the quarter, down from the near-record of $648 million a year ago. The year-ago period reflected severe winter weather in eastern states.

Starbucks profit up, but commodities a concern

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Starbucks Corp. brewed up a strong second quarter but warned investors that rising costs for fuel and dairy are a bigger problem than it anticipated for the year.

Starbucks said its net income jumped 20 percent to $261.6 million for the quarter.

Revenue rose nearly 10 percent to $2.79 billion, as it took over its consumer products business and more customers visited its stores.