March 31, 2023

You’re the Boss Blog: This Week in Small Business: Leave the Building


A weekly roundup of small-business developments.

What’s affecting me, my clients and other small-business owners this week.

The Big Story: Immigration Reform

A bipartisan group of senators reveals an immigration reform plan, and President Obama backs “start-up visas” for foreign-born tech entrepreneurs. One blogger says it’s a good plan for small businesses. Beth Goodbaum hopes it will stimulate high-skilled manufacturing. Here are five things economists know about immigration. Ezra Klein says that to fix the economy we need to fix immigration. Kid President gives a pep talk.

The Other Big Story: G.D.P. Contracts

A decline in gross domestic product means the economy shifted into reverse in December. Joe Weisenthal says it is because of the big drop in military spending. The White House blames lower government spending over all. John Nolte disagrees. This chart sums up the decline. The Federal Reserve continues its stimulus plan, and Evan Schnidman congratulates the Fed on reaching its $3 trillion benchmark. Bob McTeer says “it’s just a number.” Some prominent economists argue that our deficits are not the real problem. Mark Thoma urges an investment in infrastructure as a way to reduce long-term debt.

The Economy: A Five-Year High

Texas manufacturing expands, manufacturer optimism increases, and Gallup says optimism surges to a five-year weekly high. Home prices continue to rise and household debt has fallen by $833 billion since 2008. Personal income increases the most in eight years and consumer spending is up slightly. But the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index is back down to 2011 levels, and some are blaming tax increases. Orders for durable goods increased, but Doug Short is more concerned about core orders. A popular index finds small-business revenue is falling but employment is rising. ADP says 192,000 private jobs were added to payrolls in January but unemployment claims jumped and the unemployment rate remained unchanged. John Elkington and Charmian Love look at the ways capitalism is changing to make a better world. And Volkswagen says everything will be all right.

Your People: Leave the Building

Erin Hatton laments the rise of the permanent temp economy. Fewer small businesses are offering employee benefits. Ken and Scott Blanchard explain how to get your team emotionally engaged. Margaret Heffernan suggests ways to make employees more creative, including: “Leave the building.” Russ Anderson has tips for designing your home workplace. Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook says employers should ask female employees if they plan to become pregnant. This infographic shows how brilliant women make their businesses bloom. Lebron James tackles a fan who sinks a $75,000 shot. S.N.L. says YOLO, and a surfer may have ridden a 100-foot wave.

Management: Pricing

Steve Woods explains how big businesses are fueling small-business growth. Nadia Goodman suggests four strategies to sharpen your focus. Jim Connolly summarizes what every business owner needs to know about prices and fees: “Your prospective clients don’t care that you need to earn X every month. They care that the value they receive from you is greater than the price.” Ben Yoskovitz lists six things you need in order to pivot successfully. Seth Godin explains why small businesses fail. Intuit grants a small-business owner’s wish. Cats kill billions of creatures every year.

Starting Up: A New Incubator

Donna Harris reports on new start-up communities. A start-up that makes thermostats is worth $800 million. Taylor Soper lists 10 social media tools every start-up should have. The New York Times introduces a start-up incubator. This Web site lets you compare start-up salaries and equity, and this is how two undergraduates went from Forever Alone to thousands in sales. Get ready: mantyhose (a k a brosiery or guylons) is headed our way.

Marketing: Google Takes Second

Google Plus is now the No. 2 social media site for active users. This tool helps bad spellers. Facebook shows that a mobile strategy is mandatory. Chris Garrett says the secret element of successful marketing is momentum. Rohit Bhargava explains how great brands rethink their expiration dates. Bob Phibbs offers five ideas to market your services and products. Rhonda Campbell has suggestions for marketing a successful business event. Penelope Trunk explains how to ask for help. Successful sales representatives have moderate temperaments.

Retail: Mom and Pop Are Back

After being crushed by big-box stores during the 1980s and 1990s, mom-and-pop shops are enjoying something of a rebirth. Barnes Noble learns that it pays to be small. Most retailers are not expected to charge extra when customers use their credit cards. Foursquare courts small-business owners with a new mobile app, Intuit announces new technologies small businesses will use to pay their bills, and both Angie’s List and Verizon announce collaborations with the mobile payment service Square. Meanwhile, the intrigue continues at Downton Arby’s.

Finance: Save on Expenses

Chase tops $20 billion in 2012 small-business loans, and Bank of America’s chief tells his employees to give customers better service. Carlo Pandian has suggestions for saving on common expenses. Juan M. Sánchez and Emircan Yurdagul explain why corporations are holding so much cash. Scott Wolfe Jr. explains what a mechanics lien is and how it can help construction businesses collect. Here are five principles to follow when buying a business. Acquisitions of private tech companies are up, and Karen Klein looks into what is driving the spike in small-business acquisitions.

Red Tape Update: Being Squeezed

James Pethokoukis says not to expect tax reform anytime soon. If you’re filing your W-2s late, you may be penalized. Make sure to ask these questions before hiring a new tax preparer. The Internal Revenue Service is hiring new employees faster. Here are five reasons a small business should incorporate. These small businesses are being squeezed by local regulations. A new Web site helps small businesses track and comment on proposed regulations.

Health Care Update: Good Times

The White House reminds small businesses of what they need to know about the Affordable Care Act, and the Small Business Administration opens a health care Web site. Paul Christiansen says that to outsmart “Obamacare,” you can “go protean.” The Angry Bear sums up the future of your health insurance premiums. Some experts see good times ahead for small businesses under health care reform. The panel charged with helping devise solutions to the nation’s health care work force crisis is having a work force crisis of its own. Aaron Carroll believes that being a doctor is still a great gig.

Around the Country: Thank You!

A new competition from Grow America awards $35,000 to innovative small businesses. An entrepreneur introduces a campaign to thank small businesses. A well-known restaurant chain releases an entrepreneurial challenge. Colleges in Texas and Pennsylvania start entrepreneurial programs. Entrepreneurs in Washington State are looking to cash in on cannabis, and a small business in Portland, Ore., wants to reinvent the kiln. A company near Philadelphia gets into the slippery business of shipping eels, and a Startup Weekend is planned for Honolulu. A new analysis from Atlas Van Lines finds that for the seventh consecutive year, Washington, D.C., had the highest percentage of inbound moves and Wyoming had the highest percentage of people moving out. A scandal grows in higher education. North Dakota struggles to cope with its oil-boom prosperity. Noah Smith says it is going to be a whole new world for solar energy. The wind industry had a record year.

Around the World: $217 in the Bank

Iceland teaches a few lessons on how to solve a banking crisis. France’s labor minister says the country is “totally bankrupt.” Zimbabwe has $217 left in the bank. South Korea leads the world in per capita plastic surgery. Charles and Camilla take a ride on the tube. Retail sales in Germany decline. Vladimir Putin hires Boyz II Men to promote Russian fertility. Canada’s G.D.P. increases. David Beckham pledges his salary to charity.

Technology: Seven Shows for Geeks

These three start-ups are eager for the release of the BlackBerry 10, and this is everything you need to know about the new BlackBerrys. Thorin Klosowski says that you don’t need to give up your smartphone; you just need to change how you use it. Amazon dominates the worldwide Android tablet market. Justin Kownacki explains why “The Avengers” is actually the ultimate explanation of geek culture, and a 29-year-old game developer lists his seven favorite TV shows for geeks and nerds. Microsoft signs a huge deal with the Department of Defense and releases a new, cloud-based version of Office. Here are some tech women to watch in 2013. Here are five innovative tech solutions for common small-business problems. Here’s a guide to this year’s crop of 3-D printers. And in what was just another week in the cloud, Twitter, Amazon and Facebook all had failures.

Tweet of the Week:

@justinwolfers: Underneath the bad GDP report, we see solid growth in consumption and investment. Actually, it looks like private spending was humming along.

The Week’s Bests:

Lewis Edward explains why storytelling is so important in small-business sales: “The best professors that I ever had were ones which engaged the class into the discussion by incorporating real examples into their teaching. By storytelling, my instructors were not only helping me learn and retain the information but also making me enjoy doing so. When explaining how your business can help new clients, engaging them with a good story will prove much more advantageous than simply lecturing them on the benefits.”

Andrea Simon offers six ideas for turning innovation into an actuality, including, “Get out of your office, often, and go explore how people are using your products”: “PG requires their brand managers to get out of their offices and spend time with customers who are actually using their products. What does this do? Try spending a day in the life of your customer and see what you could learn about their pain points, challenges and opportunities where you could play a role in helping their business grow.”

This Week’s Question: Will immigration reform help your business?

Gene Marks owns the Marks Group, a Bala Cynwyd, Pa., consulting firm that helps clients with customer relationship management. You can follow him on Twitter.

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You’re the Boss Blog: This Week in Small Business: They’re Talking About Us!


A weekly roundup of small-business developments.

What’s affecting me, my clients and other small-business owners this week.

The Debate: Small Businesses Front and Center

The first presidential debate favored Governor Romney, and small businesses were front and center. Stocks rallied the next day. Unfortunately, too many people were playing drinking games to pay attention. But these are five good takeaways from the night. And here’s one issue the candidates missed.

The Fiscal Cliff: Fears Grow

Fears begin to build about the looming cliff, and some people are concerned it may impede job growth. Americans may see smaller paychecks next year as payroll tax breaks expire. Senate leaders work on a plan to avoid mandatory cuts. A group offers a $2 trillion alternative. Rick Newman advises on how to prepare. Dana Blankenhorn says the real fiscal cliff is economic growth: “So let’s assume we’re all about to be made happy, with faster growth, and lower unemployment starting to push up wages. What happens, then, to the government’s costs for borrowing new money? It goes up. And small increases in interest rates make for a big change in costs, when calculated as a percentage. It’s simple math.” Chairman Bernanke answers five questions. The Postal Service defaults again.

The Economy: Slow Growth, Rising Stress

The unemployment rate falls to 7.8 percent, and ADP says companies added 162,000 jobs to payrolls. Jack Welch says the president cooked the books; Paul Krugman says Republicans can’t handle the truth. Advertised vacancies rise. But weekly unemployment claims go up again. An Intuit index shows that small-business growth is slowing, and TD Bank says small-business owners’ stress levels are rising. Wells Fargo’s chief financial officer offers a sober outlook on the economy. Chief executives sharply reduce their expectations. Harlan Levy says that “other than technology, it’s hard to see any part of the U.S. economy growing more than 1 percent or 2 percent.” Retailers report slower sales growth. The domestic office market barely gains in the third quarter. Manufacturing new orders are “a disaster.” Curt Schilling may even have to sell his bloody sock. But mall vacancies declined and auto sales stayed strong with Ford reporting truck sales at their best pace since 2007. The service sector grew in September and holiday sales are expected to rise 4.1 percent. Home prices went up in August.

Your People: More Caffeine

The debate continues over whether an entrepreneurial M.B.A. degree is worth the time and money. This is how one teenage entrepreneur snubbed college to build an apps empire. Leigh Branham says there are seven reasons employees move on. Here’s a guide to maternity and paternity leave for small businesses. These 15 professions drink the most coffee.

Marketing: Free Cookies

Neil Patel has some advice on handling sales, including: “Offer a free trial.” Here are four things for small businesses to keep in mind as they consider how they can leverage the media, both online and off. Drew McLellan offers seven tips for creating compelling case studies. Girl Scout cookie packaging gets a redesign. Laura Click says there are seven mistakes that will kill your e-mail marketing, like not offering a “cookie” to sign up (she’s not talking about Girl Scout cookies). Marcus Sheridan says there are seven reasons blogging is failing to generate leads for so many marketing agencies, starting with this: “The reality is the marketing industry is full of blogs that simply are boring.” Rebekah Henson explains how to market like Google.

Social Media: Mars Has a Mayor?

The first Foursquare check-in is made from Mars. The Bengals celebrate Gangnam style. A tweet from KitchenAid shows (yet again) why social media needs mature talent. Facebook tops a billion users. Here are five social lessons small businesses can learn from big businesses. This music video was made by 2,601 people. David discusses the pros and cons of creating video or keeping it audio only.

Customer Service: Generating Word of Mouth

U.P.S. is now providing a new online destination that answers small-business owners’ requests for support. Jeremy Epstein explains how Merrell Shoes generates word of mouth. Andy Sernovitz shares a tale about a boring store: “If people aren’t stopping in their tracks in front of your door, you’re missing the point. Close your store and start a direct-mail business.” Tina Imperial says that customer touch points are your chance to show how good you are.

Start-Up: A Floating Touch Screen!

A new study from the Kauffman Foundation shows where entrepreneurs come from. Women are flocking to start-ups but trailing in computer tech. This start-up promises a touch screen that floats in the air. Jim Smith wonders if you should start a business in a red or a blue state. Catherine Clifford goes inside the workings of an accelerator. Seven cancer survivors turn their experiences into small-business ideas. Cezary Pietrzak explains why your start-up’s name matters. A company amasses restaurant data so that subscribers can update their own profiles in local search directories.

Management: A Tale of Two Arcades, a site for cheaters, questions Groupon’s ethics, and Noah Fleming has ideas for how the daily deal site can save itself. Goldman Sach’s chief executive says that operating a small business is as hard as running his firm. An I.B.M. executive gives advice for growing businesses. President Obama’s approach to management depends heavily on routines, such as wearing only gray or blue suits. In a video, Teri Geymi explains how to break free from the limitations of fear. This tale of two pinball arcades shows why one struggles while the other survives. Dean Black wants to know what your daily calendar looks like. These are the 2012 MacArthur grant winners. Tracey Schelmetic wonders if clusters are the future of advanced manufacturing. This is what B movies tell us about entrepreneurship. A team of high school soccer players show how to stick together.

Cash Flow: When to Buy Furniture

Small-business lending rises. Chase claims small-business successes. Here’s how companies manipulate earnings. Here’s some advice on when to buy new office furniture, and this is an irreplaceable guide to buying Halloween candy. A regulation overhaul is on the horizon for New York City small businesses. Valpak is giving $10,000 to North America’s favorite small business.

Around the World: Russia Loses $58 Billion

Eurozone unemployment hits 11.4 percent, and one in 10 European employees is depressed. Matthew Kalman tells the story of a successful Palestinian start-up. Eric Krell lists the riskiest countries in the world and how to protect yourself. This game proves that you’re much worse at geography than you thought (but not as bad as Apple.) Rob Cox says that Vietnam is a bad example for emerging markets. Manufacturing growth in India holds steady. China gears up to make more overseas investments. Mexico’s economy may be giving Brazil and China a run for their money. Russia watches $58 billion in capital leave the country. A human-flesh meat market opens in London. Start-Up Chile gains traction.

Technology: A Headstone App

The Internal Revenue Service revamps its Web site to make it more small-business friendly. Tim Murphy takes you inside the technology of the Obama campaign. Meanwhile, the White House gets attacked online. Researchers at the University of Surrey have made a great step forward in storing hydrogen or methane to power cars. PayPal introduces free online invoicing for small businesses. QR Codes are appearing on headstones. This infographic shows how small businesses are using mobile apps. Mass production of the mini-iPad is reported, and Intel’s production problems may affect Microsoft’s new tablet. Ultrabook sales forecasts are cut in half. Emily Suess lists five smartphone apps for businesses. This is how much energy a smartphone uses in a year (and what it means for your budget). And even though there are too many battery factories and too few electric cars, the battery of the future might run on sugar.

Tweets of the Week

@cfibTO – They should have called this the presidential #debate on small business. Two dozen mentions of #smallbiz in the first 20min. Amazing!

‏@armano – Oh snap. I need to wear a suit tomorrow. It’s like Superman eating a bowl of Kryptonite

This Week’s Bests:

Daniel Kehrer explains how rock star customers can help you grow. “Rock star customers won’t help grow your business on their own. Even customers who identify themselves as ‘promoters’ in customer surveys — saying they’d be highly likely to refer you to a colleague or friend — aren’t actually doing so. Studies have shown that only about 10 percent of self-described promoters actually refer profitable new customers. The key is this: You have to take the initiative and make it easy for them to do so.”

Two researchers find there’s a dark side to flattery: “Our theory suggests how high levels of flattery and opinion conformity can increase C.E.O.’s overconfidence in their strategic judgment and leadership capability, which results in biased strategic decision making.”

Michael Schuman reports on the myth of Chinese efficiency. “I can imagine pampered visitors thinking China is something it is not. If you fly into the nifty airports in Beijing or Shanghai, get whisked by a waiting driver to your snazzy hotel, have a few meetings, and then get escorted out again, China might appear to be a sparkling vision of modernity. But spend any time here, or try to really do anything, and the notion that China is an efficient place is rudely exposed as a myth.”

This Week’s Question: Did the debate alter your thinking?

Gene Marks owns the Marks Group, a Bala Cynwyd, Pa., consulting firm that helps clients with customer relationship management. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Unemployment Claims Drop, but Economic Growth Is Slower

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 364,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That was the lowest number since April 2008.

In other economic news, a survey released on Thursday showed that consumer sentiment rose in December to its highest level in six months. And a gauge of future economic activity increased more than expected in November because of a sharp pickup in new permits to build homes.

But revised data showed that the nation’s economic growth was slower than previously estimated in the third quarter because of a sharp drop in health care spending. Stronger business investment and a fall in inventories pointed to a pickup in output in the current period.

The United States economy has shown signs it is gaining steam as the year ends, although the recovery still could be derailed by any big flare-up in Europe’s debt crisis.

JOBLESS CLAIMS The decline in jobless claims last week was a more positive development than expected. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 375,000 last week.

The previous week’s jobless claims data was revised up to 368,000 from the previously reported 366,000.

The level of unemployment claims has fallen in recent weeks, and analysts say fewer layoffs means employers are probably more likely to hire.

Economists at Goldman Sachs said earlier in the week that weekly claims below 435,000 pointed to net monthly gains in jobs. Their research was based on figures available through October.

In November, the jobless rate dropped to a two-and-a-half-year low of 8.6 percent. The Federal Reserve last week acknowledged an improvement in the jobs market, but said unemployment remained high and left the door open for further measures to help the economy.

ECONOMIC OUTPUT In a report released on Thursday, the Commerce Department said in its final estimate that gross domestic product grew at a 1.8 percent annual rate in the July-September quarter, down from the previously estimated 2 percent.

Economists had expected growth to be unrevised at 2 percent. Though spending on health care dropped by $2.2 billion, spending on durable goods was stronger than previously estimated, indicating that the household appetite to consume remained healthy.

A previous report said that health care spending increased at a $19.7 billion rate. Health care spending subtracted about 0.1 of a percentage point from the G.D.P. change in the final revision, whereas in the previous estimate, it added 0.61 of a percentage point to growth.

Despite the downward revision, the third-quarter growth is still a step up from the April-June period’s 1.3 percent pace. Part of the pickup in output during the last quarter reflected a reversal of factors that held back growth earlier in the year.

A jump in gasoline prices weighed on consumer spending earlier in the year, and supply disruptions from Japan’s big earthquake and tsunami in March curbed auto production.

The government revised consumer spending to a 1.7 percent growth rate from 2.3 percent because of adjustments to health care services, in particular nonprofit hospitals.

Spending on durable goods was, however, revised up to a 5.7 percent pace from 5.5 percent.

Business inventories dropped by $2 billion, which sliced 1.35 percentage points from G.D.P. growth. Inventories previously were estimated to have declined $8.5 billion.

The drag from inventories was offset by strong business spending, which increased at a 15.7 percent rate, instead of 14.8 percent.

CONSUMER SENTIMENT In a fresh sign of economic hope, a survey released Thursday showed that Thomson Reuters University of Michigan’s final reading on the overall index on consumer sentiment rose to 69.9 points in December from 64.1 the previous month.

It topped the median forecast of 68 points among economists polled by Reuters and beat December’s preliminary figure of 67.7.

Over all, real spending is expected to increase by 1.8 percent in 2012 as long as action is taken on extending the payroll tax cut, the survey said.

The survey’s barometer of current economic conditions rose to 79.6 points from 77.6, while the survey’s gauge of consumer expectations gained to 63.6 points, from 55.4. All three indexes were at their highest level since June.

“I think it’s a reflection of improving job statistics, we’re seeing an increase in retail sales and even housing seems to be going up,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. “A lot of the key bookends of our economy appear to be really strengthening and that’s supporting confidence.”

LEADING INDICATORS A report released Thursday by the Conference Board suggested that economic momentum could increase by spring.

The private firm’s Leading Economic Index rose 0.5 percent in November to 118 points, following a 0.9 percent increase in October. It was the seventh consecutive monthly gain in the index.

“The risk of an economic downturn in the near term has receded,” said Ataman Ozyildirim, an economist at the Conference Board.

Ken Goldstein, another Conference Board economist, said the index suggested the economy could pick up steam by spring.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected the index to rise 0.3 percent in November.

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Businesses Struggle With the Burden of Unemployment Claims.

Ms. White, 51, the founder of, a bed-and-breakfast search engine and booking site, hired the employee after the employee’s previous company, a Web site that matched aspiring authors with ghostwriters, went out of business. But then the ghostwriting site’s owner resurrected his business and hired the employee back. “And then, lo and behold, he went out of business again,” Ms. White said.

That left the employee unemployed and made Ms. White’s company responsible for $1,956 in unemployment claims. That put Ms. White’s account in deficit and threatened to drive up her unemployment insurance tax rate — even though the former employee had left her company voluntarily.

“You sit here afraid to hire anyone else,” Ms. White said. “It gives me pause and goes into my decisions. As a small business, I’m paying attention to what brand of coffee I buy for the office.”

With the economy stalled and the official unemployment rate hovering stubbornly around 9 percent, many small businesses are struggling to understand how unemployment insurance premiums are determined. The system is anything but simple and it varies by state, but it can be mastered and managed. Above all, owners should know that the more unemployment claims a company generates, the more it has to pay into the system.

The federal government charges employers a base rate of 0.6 percent of the first $7,000 of each employee’s wages each year. That federal money is used to cover the administrative costs for state unemployment programs; a loan program for states that do not have enough in their unemployment trust funds to pay claims; and extended unemployment benefits during economic downturns. When a state does not repay its loans — states now owe the federal government about $39 billion — the federal government raises the employer tax rate in annual increments of 0.3 percentage points. Right now, Michigan employers are facing a 0.9 percent surcharge.

While employers have no control over federal unemployment insurance rates, they can mitigate their state costs. In general, the states charge an unemployment insurance tax on part of each employee’s income based on the company’s unemployment history. Most states calculate a business’s tax rate each year based on a formula that considers payroll size, the amount the company has paid into the system and the amount of unemployment benefits former employees have collected.

That means a worker who collects unemployment can push his former employer (or multiple former employers, when there are several over the state’s base period) into a higher unemployment insurance tax bracket, often for several years.

A typical unemployment claim against a business increases the amount that business pays in state premiums in a range of $4,000 to $7,000 over a three-year period, said David Prosnitz, owner of Personnel Planners, a company based in Chicago that fights 15,000 unemployment claims a year for its 1,000 business clients. But it can be much worse.

Here is how the math works: Say you have a 10-employee business in Illinois. If you had not had any unemployment charges during the previous three years, the state unemployment insurance rate would be 0.7 percent — the Illinois minimum — of the first $12,740 of each employee’s wages, costing your business about $900 per year. If a laid-off employee then collected $10,000 against your account, your rate would go up to almost 5 percent, increasing what you pay to more than $6,000 a year for three years and costing your business more than $16,000 in increased unemployment insurance payments over that period — more than the employee would collect.

How can an owner manage the process?

“Hiring the right people is the first step in managing unemployment costs,” said David Blaine, a Bakersfield, Calif., employment lawyer with Klein, DeNatale, Goldner, Cooper, Rosenlieb Kimball. But if you make a mistake, act quickly. In Illinois and Virginia, for example, an employer becomes liable for unemployment benefits after 30 working days. It is important to know the period in your state and to be aware of the target date for each employee you hire.

“If you recognize you’ve made a bad hire,” said Ronald Adler, chief executive of Laurdan Associates, a human resources company in Potomac, Md., “the sooner you fire them, the better.”

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Markets Unsettled as Greece’s Borrowing Costs Surge

Markets on Wall Street and European were lower on Thursday as investors took in several economic indicators that raised concerns about the recovery.

In the United States, the latest reports pointed to higher inflation and highlighted the continued weakness in the job market. The weekly unemployment claims rose back above the 400,000 level and the government said the core producer prices rose slightly faster than expected in March.

Indexes in Europe declined as Greece faced a new surge in its debt costs and Chinese inflation returned as an investment concern.

In early trading, the Dow Jones industrial average declined 87.34 points or 0.71 percent, while the broader Standard Poor’s 500-stock index lost 9.87 points or 0.75 percent. The technology heavy Nasdaq dropped lost 23.78 points or 0.87 percent.

The FTSE 100 in London was down 0.96 percent, while the DAX in Frankfurt declined 0.84 percent and CAC 40 in Paris lost 1.2 percent. Earlier, the Nikkei benchmark closed up 0.1 percent, held back by continued worries about the impact of its earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters. Shares in Hong Kong and Shanghai ended lower.

“The initial focus today will be more on earnings and the worldwide growth and inflation issues,” said Brian Lazorishak, portfolio manager at Chase Investment Counsel, but the jobless number should create additional selling pressure.

Greece’s borrowing costs, along with those of Ireland, Portugal and Spain, soared after Germany said for the first time that Athens may need to restructure its debt, a move one central banker warned would be a catastrophe.

Growing talk of restructuring by Greece, the first euro zone member to receive a bailout a year ago, points to a new stage in the debt crisis that has driven Ireland and Portugal to seek aid and forced draconian budget cuts in Spain.

Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, acknowledged on Wednesday that Greece might need to restructure.

But it is also clear that policy makers are divided on the issue, and a member of the European Central Bank’s executive board, Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, warned that such a move by Greece would cripple its banks and economy.

“Ultimately it’s up to Greece to decide the way forward, given that it will suffer the worst consequences,” Mr. Bini Smaghi told Italian business daily Il Sole 24 Ore. “But other countries must avoid pushing it towards a catastrophe.”

The growing debate about the sustainability of Greece’s debt load goes to the core of the troubles facing Europe’s most-indebted economies as they struggle with budget cuts that undermine their ability to grow and service their debt.

Greece received a bailout of 110 billion euros — about $140 billion — from the European Union and International Monetary Fund nearly a year ago, followed by Ireland in November. Portugal asked for a bailout last week, which could reach 80 billion euros.

“The severe economic recession and the lack of improvement in tax revenues suggest Greece may already be in the vicious spiral of too tight fiscal policy and too weak economic performance, where a write-off of part of the debt would be the only possible way out,” Giada Giani, an economist at Citibank, said in a report.

The return that investors demanded to hold two-year Greek bonds jumped to 18.30 percent, up 0.83 percentage point and the highest rate since after the country asked for a bailout last year.

The yields are now much higher than 10-year rates, pointing to concern among investors that it is shorter-term bonds that will lose the most value in any restructuring.

European officials are hoping that Portugal’s bailout will be the last one, and debt markets have broadly shown both that Spain and Italy appear to be succeeding in keeping investors’ faith.

European stocks were also pressured by concern that Chinese inflation after a media report suggested inflation figures there will be higher than expected in March.

Investors are particularly concerned about Chinese inflation, fearing that government attempts to restrain it could prompt a “hard landing” for the economy.

“Inflation in emerging economies has become a serious issue, as the impact from high commodity prices is stronger for those countries,” Arnaud Scarpaci, fund manager at Agilis Gestion in Paris, said.

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Stocks & Bonds: Last Day of Strong Quarter, and Shares Close Mixed

The index of 30 large companies gained 742 points in that stretch. Measured against other first quarters, that is the largest point gain since 1998 and the second best on record.

The price of oil rose to a 30-month high. Slightly disappointing reports on unemployment claims and factory orders also weighed on the market.

Stocks rose in the first quarter despite uprisings in the Arab world, a jump in oil prices and the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan.

“This is a market that has been defined by resilience in the face of uncertainty,” said Andrew D. Goldberg, a market strategist at J. P. Morgan Funds.

On Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 30.88 points, or 0.25 percent, to 12,319.73. The Standard Poor’s 500-stock index fell 2.43 points, or 0.18 percent, to 1,325.83. The Nasdaq composite index rose 4.28 points, or 0.15 percent, to 2,781.07.

The S. P. 500 rose 5.4 percent during the first quarter and the Nasdaq gained 4.8 percent.

Shares of Berkshire Hathaway lost 2.1 percent after the company said that David Sokol, once a candidate to succeed Warren E. Buffett as the head of the conglomerate, resigned.

Stocks swung between small gains and losses on Thursday as the price of oil surged to settle at $106.72 a barrel. In Libya, troops loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi retook control of the crucial oil port of Ras Lanouf from rebel forces. The power shift threatens the quick restart of oil exports promised by a rebel victory.

Oil prices have risen $20 a barrel since the Libyan uprising began in February. Higher oil prices can pinch spending by forcing consumers to pay more for gasoline and could cut into economic growth.

Spot gold prices also rose $4.52 an ounce to $1,423.02.

There were also slightly disappointing reports on new unemployment claims and factory orders. The Labor Department said fewer people applied for unemployment benefits last week, signaling that companies may be slowing layoffs. The number of new claims declined 6,000, to 388,000. Analysts expected a larger decline.

The news comes a day before the Labor Department’s monthly employment report. The unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged at 8.9 percent.

Banks in Ireland were also under pressure. The country’s central bank said Thursday that four of its banks needed another 24 billion euros in coming months to show that they will not collapse in the face of future crises. Ireland has already put 46 billion euros into the country’s banks since 2009. The four banks will need to draw on an emergency credit line from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Still, stocks in Europe broadly rose. The FTSE 100 in London closed up 16.13 point to 5,948.30 while the CAC-40 in Paris rose 36.64 points, to 4,024.44.

Interest rates were a little higher on Thursday. The Treasury’s benchmark 10-year note fell 7/32, to 101 11/32, and the yield rose to 3.46 percent from 3.43 percent late Wednesday.

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