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Business Highlights

The deficit fell to $107.5 billion in the third quarter, down 9 percent from the second quarter imbalance of $118.1 billion, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. It was the lowest trade gap since the final three months of 2010.

The current account is the broadest measure of trade. It tracks the sale of merchandise and services between nations, as well as investment flows. Economists watch the current account as a sign of how much the U.S. needs to borrow from foreigners.

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US homebuilder confidence at 6 1/2-year high

LOS ANGELES (AP) â¿¿ Confidence among U.S. homebuilders inched up this month, to the highest level in more than six and a half years, as builders reported the best market for new homes since the housing boom.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Tuesday increased 2 points to 47 from a revised 45 in November. That's the highest reading since April 2006, just before the housing bubble burst.

Readings below 50 suggest negative sentiment about the housing market. It has been trending higher since October 2011, when it stood at 17.

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US fines Toyota again for delayed safety reports

DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ The U.S. government has slapped Toyota Motor Corp. with a record $17.4 million fine for failing once again to quickly report problems to federal regulators and for delaying a safety recall.

The fine from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the maximum allowed by law. It's the fourth fine levied against Toyota in the past two years for similar infractions, and it's the largest single fine ever assessed against a car company over safety defects. In 2010, Toyota paid a total of $48.8 million in fines for three violations.

The latest infraction raises questions about whether the fines are big enough to deter automakers that withhold information from NHTSA, and whether the government agency can do enough to stop repeat offenses. The fine, announced Tuesday, is a tiny fraction of Toyota's earnings. The company, which this year regained its position as the world's biggest automaker, posted $3.2 billion in profit in the third quarter alone.

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