Economy, Bhutto's death weigh on stock markets

NEW YORK — Stocks fell sharply Thursday on worries about political unrest after the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. The Commerce Department's weaker-than-expected durable goods orders report fueled concerns about the economy.

Thursday's drop may have been exaggerated by light trading volume during a holiday week. Many investors likely sold because they were uneasy going into a holiday weekend.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 192.08, or 1.42 percent, to 13,359.61. The S&P 500 lost 21.39, or 1.43 percent, to 1,476.27. The Nasdaq composite fell 47.62, or 1.75 percent, to 2,676.79.

Oil futures price climbs as inventories decline

NEW YORK — Oil futures rose Thursday after the government reported larger-than-expected declines in crude and heating oil inventories.

The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said oil inventories fell 3.3 million barrels last week, more than double the 1.3 million barrels analysts expected.

Light, sweet crude for February delivery rose 65 cents to settle at $96.62 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange after rising as high as $97.79.

Judge wants to examine ex-CEO's settlement

MINNEAPOLIS — A settlement between UnitedHealth Group Inc. and its former CEO could be in danger after a federal judge wrote that he wants to know whether he can examine its merits.

U.S. District Court Judge James Rosenbaum asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to clarify whether state law allows him to review the settlement between the company and former Chairman and CEO William McGuire. The ruling kept frozen McGuire's $874 million in remaining stock options.

The judge's request could disrupt McGuire's settlement with the company he ran for 15 years. He left in late 2006, the most prominent casualty in a stock options backdating scandal that has ensnared dozens of companies.

Sony will stop making rear-projection TV sets

TOKYO — Sony is dropping its money-losing rear-projection TV business to focus on two flat-panel technologies: liquid crystal display and organic light-emitting diode, the company said Thursday.

Sales of rear-projection TVs had been declining recently as LCD TVs gain in popularity and get bigger.

In October, Sony lowered its sales forecast for rear-projection TVs to 400,000 from 700,000, down from 1.1 million last year. In contrast, Sony expects to sell 10 million LCD TVs this fiscal year through March.

Insurers' disaster losses nearly doubled in 2007

BERLIN — From winter storms in Europe to flooding in Britain and wildfires in the U.S., losses to insurers from natural disasters nearly doubled this year to almost $30 billion after an unusually quiet 2006, a leading reinsurer said Thursday. Munich Re warned that climate change could mean a growing number of weather-related catastrophes.

The company put total economic losses this year from natural disasters, including losses not covered by insurance, at $75 billion, a 50 percent increase from last year's $50 billion but far below the 2005 figure of $220 billion.