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Business Highlights

The Associated Press

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Stocks record biggest gains of year; Dow up 218

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Bank stocks turbocharged a rally across the financial markets Tuesday, and all three major stock indexes posted their biggest gains of the year. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 218 points and closed at its highest level since the end of 2007.

The Nasdaq composite closed above 3,000 for the first time since December 2000, when dot-com stocks were collapsing.

There was already plenty of good news driving the market higher Tuesday â¿¿ the strongest retail sales gain since September and an encouraging assessment of the economy from the Federal Reserve.

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Fed notes better economy, takes no policy action

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The Federal Reserve sketched a mildly brighter view of the economy Tuesday after a burst of hiring since its last meeting in January. It took no further steps to aid the recovery and repeated its plan to keep short-term interest rates near zero through 2014.

After a one-day policy meeting, the Fed said unemployment should continue to decline gradually as the economy expands. It also noted that consumer spending and business investment have picked up.

And it took a more hopeful view of Europe's debt crisis. Though the crisis still threatens the global economy, the danger has eased, the Fed said.

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Students seek to stop loan interest rate hike

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Millions of college students could be in for a shock this summer when the interest rate on a popular federally subsidized student loan is to double unless Congress acts.

College students on Tuesday delivered more than 130,000 letters to congressional leaders asking them to stop rates from increasing from the current 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The rate hike affects new Stafford loans, which are issued to low- and middle-income undergraduates. The letter-writers hope to raise enough awareness to get Congress to stop it.

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