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Business Highlights

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Discounts spur surprising Aug. retail sales gains

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ This year's back-to-school season isn't as big a bust for retailers as they feared â¿¿ or as last year's â¿¿ but it's not great either.

Americans are spending only when the item and price are just right, according to August reports from major chains released Thursday that showed shoppers bought a little more than a year ago.

Analysts expect stores will need to keep discounting to get shoppers to spend this fall and for the holiday season while they grapple with job worries and tight credit.

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Data shows jobless claims drop, retail sales rise

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ A weak economy got a little lift Thursday with new data suggesting companies aren't pursuing mass layoffs and stores are a little busier.

New applications for unemployment benefits declined for a second straight week after rising in the previous three. Retailers reported surprisingly strong sales in August. And more people signed contracts to buy homes.

Economists were mildly encouraged by the news, which followed several downbeat reports on housing and weaker economic growth last week. But few saw signs that the economy is gaining momentum.

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Second Gulf spill puts moratorium back in question

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Just when America's ban on offshore exploration seemed like it might end, another disaster in the Gulf of Mexico put Big Oil back on the defensive.

An offshore production platform owned by Mariner Energy Inc. caught fire Thursday morning about 200 miles west of BP's blown-out well. The incident raised more doubts in Congress about the risks of offshore drilling.

The Obama administration had been mulling a quick end to its drilling moratorium, now that BP has brought its leaking well under control. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the Mariner explosion shouldn't affect a decision on the ban, and he would not link it with BP's well.

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