LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Business) -- Stocks ended higher on Thursday after earnings gains at major U.S. companies and some encouraging economic news.

A drop in claims for unemployment benefits signaled a healthier economy and encouraged investors to buy stocks.

Separately, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia said manufacturing activity in the mid-Atlantic region grew in July at the fastest pace in more than two years.

Home Bancshares Reports record earnings

Here in Arkansas, more earnings from public companies based here in the state.

Home BancShares Inc. of Conway, the parent company of Centennial Bank, reporting second-quarter earnings early Thursday.

Its second-quarter net income reaching about $18 million, a record for the company, up 14 percent from the same quarter last year.

Home BancShares, of course, now working on its deal, announced last month, to purchase Liberty Bank of Arkansas Inc. of Jonesboro.

Simmons First National Corp. earnings at $6 million

And Simmons First National Corp. of Pine Bluff is also reporting earnings. Simmons said second-quarter earnings were $6 million nearly unchanged from the same time last year.

One dead after Springdale recycling center fire

A tragedy at a recycling plant in northwest Arkansas; officials say one worker is dead after a fire at Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies' plant in Springdale.

The company, which makes composite decking material, says three workers suffered burns in the fire and all were taken to area hospitals.

AERT President Tim Morrison says the company is providing support to families and employees.

Firefighters say the fire started in a mixing vat. The company says the facility is still offline.

AERT has a had other fires at its Springdale operation and a site in Junction, Texas, in the past.

In 2003, it paid $700,000 to settle a lawsuit by the Lloyd's of London insurance company relating to a Texas fire.

Detroit: Largest U.S. city to file bankruptcy

Back to some national news, Detroit has become the largest American city ever to file for bankruptcy.

Thursday's filing could lead to layoffs for municipal workers and scaling back of basic services like trash collection.

Detroit has been in decline for decades as the once-booming auto-making capital saw residents and tax dollars flee to the suburbs.

A city manager says Detroit will pay its bills.

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