Jan 15 (Reuters) - The following were the top stories in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.
* The government is close to finalizing a deal that would give billions in additional aid to Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) to help it close its acquisition of Merrill Lynch.
* Despite dramatic drops in revenue and profits at Madoff's original stock trading business in recent years, the firm continued to raise staff pay.
* IBM (IBM.N) said it plans to open a remote computer-services center in Dubuque, Iowa, that will employ up to 1,300 people by the end of 2010.
* Mark Cuban, the investor and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, is asking a federal court to dismiss a civil suit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission in November that accused Mr. Cuban of insider trading.
* Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) is seriously exploring significant work force reductions that could be announced as early as next week, in a sign that the weak economy is prompting tough decisions even at one of the steadiest ships in the technology industry.
* Google Inc (GOOG.O) said it is laying off 100 recruiters and is closing some engineering offices, as the downturn continues to take its toll on the Internet giant.
* Interest rates on fixed-rate mortgage loans for prime borrowers have fallen to below 5 percent, the lowest level since the 1950s, triggering a wave of mortgage-loan inquiries from borrowers eager to refinance. But lenders and mortgage companies say that as many as half of the people who want to refinance can't meet the credit hurdles and won't get approved.
* Oil refiners' prospects are improving with lower crude prices and historically low gasoline inventories.
* Seeking to enhance the safety awareness of pilots, flight attendants and aircraft dispatchers, U.S. aviation regulators have proposed the most sweeping changes since the 1980s to update and make more realistic employee training programs across the airline industry.
* Smurfit-Stone Container Corp SSCC.O, one of the country's largest makers of cardboard boxes, has told lenders it could file for bankruptcy amid weakening sales and a cash crunch, people familiar with the matter said.
* Investors and analysts cheered signs that bank lending in China has started to revive, with news that loans expanded nearly 19 percent last month sending the Shanghai stock market up 3.5 percent Wednesday.
* Just a week after reassuring investors and employees about his health, Apple Inc (AAPL.O) Chief Executive Steve Jobs disclosed he has a "more complex" medical condition and would take a leave of absence until the end of June.
* Egypt and Hamas have narrowed in on the outlines of a 10-day cease-fire in Gaza, as the Palestinian death toll in the war passed 1,000 and smoke from Israeli airstrikes rose over Gaza City's devastated streets.
* The price tag of the economic-recovery plan sought by President-elect Barack Obama has risen to nearly $850 billion, as congressional Democrats nailed down details on a spending-and-tax-cut initiative that could be unveiled as soon as Thursday.
* The Bush administration plans to sign a nuclear-cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates, according to officials involved in the negotiations, despite concerns in Congress.
* Motorola Inc MOT.N said it will cut 4,000 jobs, or about 6 percent of its work force, and issued a disappointing fourth-quarter forecast.
* Nortel Networks Corp NT.TO filed for protection from creditors in the U.S. and Canada, reeling from sliding demand for its telecom equipment.
* Tribune Co, which owns the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, is in talks with the Washington Post Co WPO.N about a deal to pay the Post for foreign and national coverage for Tribune's eight major dailies. Meantime, the New York Daily News has reached an agreement with a Boston-based start-up called GlobalPost to use the company's network of part-time foreign correspondents.
* Eli Lilly & Co (LLY.N) could reach a settlement with federal prosecutors as soon as Thursday in an investigation into alleged improper marketing of the blockbuster antipsychotic drug Zyprexa.
* Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) said tough market conditions drove it to a loss of about $6.3 billion for the fourth quarter.
* Construction of a one-kilometer-tall tower slated to be the world's tallest has been delayed by its government-owned developer, in a sign of how a city that seemed to have limitless resources and ambition now is struggling to avoid a hard crash.