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BEYOND TAMPA BAY

THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE seeking U.S. unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level in almost seven years, falling 32,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 300,000. The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, fell 4,750 to 316,250. Fewer Americans sought benefits last week than at any point since the Great Recession began at the end of 2007. Applications are at their lowest level since May of that year.

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THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION reported Thursday that only 70.7 percent of domestic flights arrived within 14 minutes of schedule, the leeway allowed while still being counted as on-time. The on-time rate fell sharply from the 79.6 percent in February 2013 but was better than January's 67.7 percent mark. Airlines reported 23,719 canceled flights, or 5.5 percent of all scheduled departures, the highest rate for February since the government started keeping track in 1995, according to the Transportation Department.

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BEEF PRICES have reached all-time highs in the U.S. and aren't expected to come down any time soon. Extreme weather has thinned the nation's beef cattle herds to levels last seen in 1951, when there were about half as many mouths to feed in America. The retail value of "all-fresh" USDA choice-grade beef jumped to a record $5.28 a pound in February, up from $4.91 the same time a year ago. The same grade of beef cost $3.97 as recently as 2008.

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NINTENDO is bringing its Tomodachi game for the portable 3DS system to the U.S. and Europe after its success in Japan. Called Tomodachi Life, the game geared mostly toward kids is similar to the Sims and Nintendo's Animal Crossing. The game features Mii characters, which can be created by players from scratch or based on a photo of the player. The characters live on their own island, where they eat, sleep, ask each other out and perform rap battles, among other activities. Tomodachi Life goes on sale June 6 in the U.S. for $35.

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NUMBER OF UNDERPERFORMING STORES Family Dollar plans to close, which will eliminate an undisclosed number of jobs while reducing annual operating costs by as much as $45 million

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THE BOTTOM LINE: Rite Aid drugstore chain earned $56.7 million in fourth quarter, a 54 percent drop from a year earlier ...Ally Financial's shares dropped $1.02, or 4 percent, to close at $23.98 on their first day of trading in largest initial public stock offering so far this year on U.S. markets

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