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Business Highlights

By The Associated Press

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US auto sales accelerate in February

DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ Americans want new cars and trucks, and they're not letting higher gas prices or political dysfunction stand in their way.

New car and truck sales were up 4 percent in February as rising home construction and cheap financing kept the U.S. auto recovery on track. While the pace of growth is slowing, industry analysts expect more gains in the coming months, saying there's little that could derail demand for new cars.

Car buyers have already shrugged off higher Social Security taxes, which cut their take-home pay starting in January. Gas prices â¿¿ which rose 36 cents to $3.78 per gallon in February â¿¿ didn't change their habits, either. And they ignored the debate over automatic spending cuts that were due to take effect Friday.

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US factories see best growth since June 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. manufacturing expanded in February at the fastest pace since June 2011, buoyed by increases in new orders and production. The third straight month of growth suggests factories may help the economy this year after slumping through most of 2012.

The Institute for Supply Management said Friday that its index of factory activity rose last month to 54.2, up from January's reading of 53.1. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.

The pickup in factory activity in February was encouraging because it showed demand for goods is stronger even as consumers have less take-home pay because of higher Social Security taxes. It followed a separate report that consumers cut back spending on long-lasting manufactured goods in January, likely because of the tax increase.

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US consumer spending up 0.2 percent in January

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. consumers increased spending modestly in January but cut back on major purchases that signal confidence in the economy. The decline in spending on goods suggests higher tax rates that kicked in on Jan. 1 may have made consumers more cautious in some buying.

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