Big Penalties, Big Investments, and Big Deals: Mid-Day Buzzers

Markets are down on Thursday afternoon as policymakers resume fiscal talks in Washington. They return from the Christmas recess with less than a week before the New Year and the fiscal cliff trigger, and a warning from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that the federal debt limit will be reached on December 31.

At 12:40 PM: S&P: -1.16%, Nasdaq: -1.20%, Dow: -1.00%.

Here’s what’s buzzing in the afternoon

Initial jobless claims for the week ended December 22 were 350,000, a 3.3 percent drop from last week’s revised figure. The four-week moving average fell 3 percent to 356,750.

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Toyota Motor Corporation (NYSE:TM) announced that it will take a “one time, $1.1 billion pre-tax charge against earnings to cover the estimated costs of the economic loss settlement and possible resolution of costs of civil litigation” that are the result of a series of safety concerns and massive recalls in 2009 and 2010 that centered around unintended acceleration. Costs related to the world-wide recalls and safety probes have now reached as much as $3.1 billion. The company still faces two ongoing lawsuits related to the issue.

Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (NASDAQ:MRVL), a leading provider of integrated silicon solutions, announced that it was found guilty of willfully infringing on patents owned by Carnegie Mellon University. A jury awarded damages of $1.17 billion, one of the largest on record for a patent case. Marvell will seek to overturn the finding, and according to a statement expects that “there should be no disruption to their business or to customers as a result of the verdict.”

Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F) announced that it will be spending over $773 million in southeast Michigan as part of its commitment to invest $6.2 billion in the United States by 2015. The investment in Michigan, spread across six manufacturing facilities, will create 2,350 new hourly jobs and retain 3,240 positions. The Dearborn Stamping Plant will see the bulk of this round of investment.

Bloomberg reports that fourth-quarter merger-and-acquisition activity was the highest since the third-quarter of 2008. Businesses around the world announced about $691.9 billion in purchases for the quarter, while full-year 2012 transactions were 10 percent lower than 2011.

On that front, TD Ameritrade (NASDAQ:AMTD), a 7 percent stakeholder, has pledged its support for Getco’s $1.4 billion bid for Knight Capital Group (NYSE:KCG). TD Ameritrade’s support pretty much guarantees a majority of shareholders will approve the deal.

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