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NYSE finds support from shareholders
NYSE Euronext
(NYSE: NYX) investor-owners approved the plan to merge with Deutsche Boerse, the German stock exchange platform. The merger will create the largest trading group in the world.

Nearly all the shares voted were in favor of the merger, with a 96% majority. The deal still has to face the voting from investors in the Deutsche Boerse, whose shares are due to tender in favor of the offer by July 13. So far, only 11% of the offers have been turned in. Deutsche Boerse still has options for extending the tender offer, though it says many of its shareholders were waiting for the outcome of NYSE investors' voting. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

 Mortgage lenders near a foreclosure agreement
After many government allegations of faulty foreclosure claims, JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM), Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), and three others have set July 13 as the date to close a settlement, Bloomberg reported. The settlement will deal with how banks treated borrowers during a foreclosure surge and whether properties were taken away. The settlement could exceed $20 billion.

The other banks are Citigroup (NYSE: C), Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC), and Ally Financial. Sources said those involved in the deal may try to close it at the same time the action plan required by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is due. Read more at Bloomberg.

More hiring and fewer jobless claims help push up stocks
Big-time payroll processor Automatic Data Processing reported a 157,000-employee increase in employment for the month of June. The number beat analyst expectations by 68,000. In addition, a report by the Labor Department announced jobless claims fell 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 418,000 last week, once again beating analyst expectations of 420,000.

Commercial retailers also reported gains beyond analyst expectations. Costco (Nasdaq: COST), Target (NYSE: TGT), and Limited Brands (NYSE: LTD) were among those with unexpected gains. With an improving job market and housing prices braking their free fall, it could mean the recovery is gaining traction. Read more at The New York Times and Reuters.

Facebook allies with Skype
In an increasingly competitive social-networking market, Facebook has one more way to lure in users. Mark Zuckerberg announced Wednesday afternoon that his site had sealed a partnership with Skype. This will allow Facebook users to make video calls from Facebook to any of their contacts for free. The Web calling software will be bought by Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), which invested $240 million in Facebook in 2007.

Facebook, which many expect to go public sometime next year, is forging ties with other media companies like Netflix and Time Warner. This will probably add value to its IPO, despite new competition brought by Google, with its new Google+ social-networking software. Read more at Bloomberg.

European Central Bank raises rates after Portugal is downgraded
It wasn't a surprise when the European Central Bank raised its benchmark interest rate for the second time this year in an attempt to get inflation to precrisis levels. The new interest rate was set at 1.5%, up from 1.25%, despite heightened fears of Greek debt.

On Wednesday, Moody's ratings agency downgraded Portuguese bonds to junk status, putting more stress on the European Union. Moody's also announced it expects Ireland to be the next country facing trouble. Despite the warning, the ECB insists they will not go into selective default, and banking giants like Germany's Deutsche Bank and France's Allianz Bank will be able to contain countries' defaults. Read more at The New York Times.

So there you have it, the top financial stories for this afternoon. Check throughout the day for commentary on these and other stories. Also, follow us on Twitter, on Facebook, or through our email digests.

Michelle Zayed owns no shares of any companies mentioned in the story. The Motley Fool owns shares of JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, Google, Limited Brands, and Costco Wholesale. The Fool owns shares of and has opened a short position on Bank of America. The Fool owns shares of and has created a ratio put spread position on Wells Fargo. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft, NYSE Euronext, Costco Wholesale, Google, and Netflix. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a diagonal call position in Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying puts in Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.