May 8 (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.
* Italian aerospace and defense company Finmeccanica SIFI.MI is in advanced talks to purchase New Jersey defense company DRS Technologies Inc DRS.N, according to people familiar with the matter.
* A Senate proposal to combat speculation in energy markets could have damaging unintended effects, a top regulator warned. Exchange officials say it could rob the market of liquidity.
* Edward Lazear, the White House’s top economist, said he’s confident the U.S. economy hasn’t slid into recession, and expressed optimism that stimulus checks could bolster growth in the current quarter, earlier than expected.
* About a dozen of the United State’s largest oil companies agreed to pay $423 million in cash to settle litigation with 153 public water providers in 17 states that sued over groundwater contaminated by the gasoline additive MTBE.
* DirecTV Group DTV.O said it plans to raise $2.5 billion in new debt to buy back stock, a sign that skittish credit markets are on the mend — at least when it comes to well-performing companies with conservative balance sheets.
* Brian Clarkson, the driving force behind Moody’s Investors Service’s push into lucrative but riskier businesses, is stepping down as president and chief operating officer of the oldest bond-rating firm, the company said.
* Congressional Democrats are renewing pressure on the drug industry’s direct-to-consumer advertising amid growing tension over the marketing of several best-selling drugs.
* Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), under pressure to craft a strategy for competing online that doesn’t involve Yahoo Inc YHOO.O, informally approached social-networking website Facebook to gauge its interest in selling itself to Microsoft, says a person familiar with the situation.
* The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is pressuring investment banks to publicly disclose details of their funding levels after the second quarter, the agency’s first step to increase disclosure in light of the collapse of Bear Stearns Cos BSC.N.
* News Corp NWSaN posted a strong profit increase for its fiscal third quarter as a big gain on an asset swap and higher results from its television unit offset a decline in the company’s film segment.
* Advanced Micro Devices Inc AMD.N plans to produce chips with six electronic brains, and then 12, to continue a longtime game of high-tech leapfrog with rival Intel Corp (INTC.O).