Dec 23 (Reuters) - The following were the top stories in The New York Times business pages on Thursday. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.
* Hilton Worldwide and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide HOT.N reached a settlement over claims that Hilton executives stole confidential documents related to Starwood’s successful W chain.
* The last-minute holiday surge is heralding the return of the American consumer, who is shedding the recession’s thrifty ways and rediscovering the pleasure of shopping. The malls are jammed, parking lots snarled and sales expected to stay strong in the few remaining days before Christmas.
* The number-crunchers on Wall Street are starting to crunch something else: the news. Math-loving traders are using powerful computers to speed-read news reports, editorials, company Web sites, blog posts and even Twitter messages — and then letting the machines decide what it all means for the markets.
* As cities and states struggle to pay for pensions, Prichard, Alabama, is a worst case. Some retirees have become destitute. Prichard, Alabama did something that pension experts say they have never seen before: it stopped sending monthly pension checks to its 150 retired workers, breaking a state law requiring it to pay its promised retirement benefits in full.
* The Obama administration filed a case against China with the World Trade Organization on Wednesday, siding with an American labor union, the United Steelworkers, in accusing Beijing of illegally subsidizing the production of wind power equipment.
* Time Inc is splitting its signature magazine division in two, the latest and final piece of a broader reorganization by the new chief executive, Jack Griffin, to realign swiftly the many diffuse and distinct units within the world’s largest magazine publisher.
* Rising prices for birds and gold pushed the cost of the 12 gifts — from the partridge in the pear tree to the 12 drummers drumming — up by 9.2 percent to $23,439.38, according to PNC Wealth Management, the second-biggest increase since the Christmas Price Index was started 27 years ago.
* Spain surpassed France as the European country operating the biggest high-speed train network with about 1,240 miles, compared with France’s 1,178 miles.
* As confidence returns, some London bankers expect European takeovers to increase more than 15 percent next year from this year.