Stocks close nearly flat ahead of Fed's meeting

NEW YORK — Stocks finished little changed Monday as investors turned cautious ahead of the Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting that starts today.

Stocks fluctuated in the morning before turning higher, then pulling back modestly toward the end of trading.

Fed policymakers are widely expected to cut a key interest rate by a quarter-point Wednesday and leave them alone for the rest of 2008.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 20.11, or 0.16 percent, to 12,871.75. Broader indexes were mixed. The S&P 500 index slipped 1.47, or 0.11 percent, to 1,396.37, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 1.47, or 0.06 percent, to 2,424.40.

Sweet deal: Mars to buy Wrigley's gum empire

CHICAGO — Snickers and M&Ms candy maker Mars Inc. is buying Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., which makes Juicy Fruit and Doublemint gum and Life Savers, for about $23 billion in cash.

Family-owned Mars is the world's largest chocolate seller. If the deal is completed, the combined companies would unseat Cadbury Schweppes as the world's largest confection maker.

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway will buy a $2.1 billion equity interest in the Wrigley unit.

American, Delta nick air travelers with new fees

American Airlines on Monday became the latest carrier to announce it would require passengers to pack light or pay up.

To help offset rising fuel costs the nation's biggest airline said it will charge passengers $25 for checking a second bag. The fee applies to domestic economy-class tickets on or after May 12. It also will affect passengers on American Eagle, which serves Charleston International Airport.

Separately, Delta Air Lines, Charleston's top carrier by passenger volume, said Monday it raised domestic fares in most cases by $10 to $40 per round trip, in the form of a fuel surcharge.

Report: Circulation slides at most big daily papers

NEW YORK — Top U.S. newspapers posted further declines in circulation Monday with the exception of USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, which have held up better than others as more readers go online.

Apart from those two national dailies, every other paper in the top 20 posted declines, according to figures released by the Audit Bureau of Circulations for the six-month period ending in March.

USA Today remained the top-selling U.S. paper, with an average daily circulation of 2,284,219, up 0.3 percent. The Wall Street Journal kept its No. 2 spot at 2,069,463, up 0.4 percent. The New York Times was third at 1,077,256, down 3.9 percent from the same period of 2007.

The Post and Courier's daily circulation for the six-month period rose about 0.25 percent to 100,400.

Bank of America vows to expand foreclosure help

LOS ANGELES — Bank of America Corp. says it will expand efforts to help Countrywide Financial Corp. borrowers avoid foreclosure on troubled mortgages.

Bank of America said it will modify at least $40 billion in problem loans from at least 150,000 borrowers over the next two years. The Countrywide acquisition is expected to close in the third quarter.