US logs better growth, but still weak

WASHINGTON - The economy logged slightly better - but weak - growth in the first quarter, spurred by improved sales of U.S. products overseas. While that's heartening, the country is still far from being out of the woods.

In fact, a closer look behind the 0.9 percent increase in the gross domestic product during the January-to-March period revealed much caution on the part of consumers who have been clobbered by the housing, credit and financial debacles.

'What emerges is a picture of an economy that's gasping for air,' said Bernard Baumohl, managing director of the Economic Outlook Group.

Consumers - major shapers of overall activity and thus the economy's lifeblood - boosted their spending at the slowest pace since the last recession, in 2001. And, their decreased appetite for shopping sprees reduced sales of foreign-made imports here, which also helped to narrow the trade deficit.

Courts throw out Vioxx verdicts

NEWARK, N.J. - Appeals courts in New Jersey and Texas on Thursday scrapped verdicts against the drugmaker Merck & Co. Inc. stemming from some of the earliest trials involving its once popular painkiller Vioxx.

A Texas court reversed a $26 million verdict against the drug company stemming from the first trial. The court found no evidence that Robert Ernst suffered a fatal heart problem from a blood clot triggered by Vioxx. He had been taking the now-withdrawn drug for eight months before being stricken in May 2001.

His widow had won a $253 million verdict against New Jersey-based Merck in 2005, but Texas punitive damage caps later cut that to about $26 million.

Also Thursday, a New Jersey appeals court voided $9 million of the $13.9 million awarded to John McDarby in 2006 by a jury in Atlantic City.

Bear Stearns shareholders OK buyout

NEW YORK - Bear Stearns shareholders have approved JPMorgan Chase's buyout, ending the saga of the 85-year-old pillar of Wall Street that crumbled under the weight of its own wagers on high-risk mortgages.

The tumult is far from over, however, for JPMorgan Chase & Co. - which now must mesh Bear Stearns' maverick culture with its own - and the thousands of workers affected by the takeover.

Bear Stearns officially becomes part of JPMorgan Chase on today, after a widely anticipated 'yes' vote that won with 84 percent of the vote Thursday morning at Bear Stearns' midtown Manhattan headquarters.

19,000 to take GM buyout offers

DETROIT - General Motors Corp. said Thursday that a quarter of its U.S. hourly workers will take the company's latest buyout and early retirement offers, opening the door for new hires who will make less money.

The automaker said that 19,000 workers had agreed to take the buyout offers and leave the company by July 1. GM offered buyouts to all 74,000 of its hourly workers in February.

GM never said how many workers it hoped would take the buyouts, but under a new labor agreement reached last fall with the United Auto Workers union, GM may hire up to 16,000 non-assembly workers at half the old wage of $28 per hour. GM said it would fill job openings with current employees wherever possible, but would also be hiring new workers.