LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Business) -- Stocks end higher Thursday after two reports provided more evidence that the U.S. is maintaining a slow but steady economic recovery.

First, the Labor Department said that the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped last week and is now near its lowest level since June 2008.

Those weekly applications dropped by 9-thousand last week to a seasonally adjusted 323,000 that's just 1,000 away from a five-year low reached last month.

Meanwhile, a separate survey from private payroll company ADP showed that American businesses added 176,000 jobs in August that's fewer than in June and July but roughly in line with the monthly average for the year.

Both reports coming ahead of today's monthly jobs report issued by the government. We'll know the latest on the nation's unemployment rate when that report is released in just about 45 minutes.

Walmart workers protest in NYC over job conditions

Thursday, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville faced protests from a union-backed labor group in 15 cities yesterday and one of those protests leading to three arrests.

The protests, which called on the world's largest retailer to raise wages, provide better jobs and allow workers to unionize, were led by the group OUR Walmart, which also led last year's Black Friday protests.

At least three current or former Wal-Mart employees were arrested in New York City for disorderly conduct as part of the demonstration. The group was attempting to deliver a petition to the office of a Wal-Mart director, Chris Williams.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the protests had little impact on the company's stores.

Arkansas' Simmons First bidding on bank

There's two new bidders making a play to buy Metropolitan National Bank of Little Rock.

Simmons First National Corp. of Pine Bluff has submitted a $16.9 million bid to acquire the undercapitalized bank, according to an SEC document filed Wednesday. And Arvest Bank of Fayetteville, the state's largest bank, has also signaled that it will bid for Metropolitan.

Metropolitan is being offered for sale through the bankruptcy of its holding company, Rogers Bancshares Inc.

A Dallas investment fund, Ford Financial, has already submitted its own bid and will have the right to match Simmons' or any other bidder's proposal to buy the bank.

It's unclear if any other companies have submitted bids.

Simmons said that if it's successful, it will combine the Metropolitan's operations with its own.

The historic auction for the bank, the first of its kind in Arkansas banking history, takes place Sept. 9.

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