Stocks slide early but rebound later

NEW YORK -- Stocks recovered from an early slump and ended higher after traders picked through the market for beaten-down stocks.

The Dow Jones industrial average posted its first gain in five days, after having been down as much as 102 points Wednesday. The market opened lower following weak reports on new-home sales and durable-goods orders, renewing fears that the economic recovery is losing steam.

Buying interest picked up steadily in the afternoon, however, bringing the Dow back up above the 10,000 level.

Traders willing to dip back into riskier assets also pared their holdings of Treasurys, which had been rallying in recent days on economic worries.

Thrifts post fourth consecutive profit

WASHINGTON -- U.S. thrifts posted a second-quarter profit in the latest sign that the industry is stabilizing amid the economic recovery.

The federal Office of Thrift Supervision said Wednesday that savings and loans had total net income of $1.49 billion in the April-June period.

That compared with a net loss of $94 million a year earlier.

It was the thrift industry's fourth profitable quarter in a row. The OTS, a Treasury Department agency that oversees about 750 institutions but will be abolished in the near future, said the number of "problem" thrifts edged up to 54 as of June 30, from 50 three months earlier.

Google unveils PC telephone service

SAN FRANCISCO -- Google is adding a free e-mail feature that may persuade more people to cut the cords on their landline phones.

The service unveiled Wednesday enables U.S. users of Google's Gmail service to make calls from microphone-equipped computers to telephones virtually anywhere in the world.

All calls in the United States and Canada will be free through at least the end of the year.

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That undercuts the most popular PC-to-phone service, Skype, which charges 1.2 cents to 2.1 cents per minute for U.S. calls.

It also threatens to overshadow another free PC-to-phone calling service called MagicTalk that was just introduced by VocalTec Communications.

Skype, Google and many other services have been offering free computer-to-computer calling for years.

Wal-Mart seeks end to suit over wages

WASHINGTON -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a massive class action lawsuit alleging gender discrimination over pay for female workers.

Wal-Mart is the world's largest private employer and could face billions of dollars in legal damages if the lawsuit is heard and if the company loses. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April that Wal-Mart should face charges in court that it pays women less than men for the same jobs.

The lawsuit was first filed by six women in federal court in 2001. They also allege that female employees receive fewer promotions and have to wait longer for those promotions.

The company, based in Bentonville, Ark., filed its appeal with the Supreme Court on Wednesday.