Apr 29 - Summary of business headlines: Obama pledges financial help to tornado-ravaged South; Traders betting guilty verdict as Rajaratnam jurors continue; Caterpillar earnings grow fivefold; Dow's best month of 2011. Conway Gittens reports.
Deadly tornados. The worst natural disaster to hit the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina left a path of destruction stretching across seven southern states and could cost billions of dollars to clean up. President Obama flew to the region to offer federal aid, but the clean-up will place additional financial burdens on local governments trying to dig out of recession. The jury in the high profile insider trading trial of Galleon hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam wrapped up without a verdict, but traders are betting there's a 90-percent chance he will be found guilty. Jurors return for further deliberation next week. There's a lot of attention on Warren Buffett as he prepares for his annual shareholder meeting this weekend. The closely-followed billionaire investor is expected to face a tough time after the departure of a key executive over questionable behavior. Consumer sentiment improved in April as shoppers hope higher energy costs won't stick. Americans have shown a willingness to keep shopping, according to March spending figures, despite the biggest year-over-year jump in consumer inflation in 10 months. Meantime, growth in Midwest manufacturing activity slipped for a second month. Caterpillar is the earnings story of the day. Profits at the heavy-duty equipment maker jumped fivefold as customers replace aging equipment. Earnings like that have fueled Wall Street's recent gains, giving the Dow its best month of the year. Stocks finished higher in Friday trade but the Nasdaq was constrained by Research In Motion. For the week: the Dow gained 2.4 percent, the Nasdaq gained 1.9 percent. In Europe: action was muted across the region with most focused on the royal wedding. Markets in London were closed. Conway Gittens, Reuters