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Business Highlights

By The Associated Press

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Dec. auto sales falter; 2013 still best in 6 years

DETROIT (AP) a¿¿ December U.S. auto sales slowed a bit from the brisk pace earlier this year, but automakers still were on target to finish 2013 with the best numbers in six years.

Nissan posted an 11 percent gain for December and Chrysler managed a 6 percent increase. But General Motors, Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen each posted disappointing numbers. Still, most major automakers reported at least a 7 percent increase for 2013, and analysts expect full-year sales to be up around 8 percent to 15.6 million when all the numbers are in. That would be the highest sales figure since 16.1 million in 2007.

But automakers may need to do more to lure shoppers into showrooms. Analysts say discounts rose in December, and there were signs that automakers were beginning to lower prices to match competitors. That could foreshadow better deals in the new year, especially on pickup trucks and midsize cars.

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Bernanke: 2014 could be better year for US economy

WASHINGTON (AP) a¿¿ Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Friday predicted a stronger year for the U.S. economy in 2014, saying several factors that have held back growth appear to be abating.

Americans' finances have improved and the outlook for home sales is brighter, Bernanke said. He also expects less drag from federal spending cuts and tax increases.

The combination "bodes well for U.S. economic growth in coming quarters," Bernanke said during a speech to the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in Philadelphia.

Bernanke made a similar assessment of the economy at a Dec. 18 news conference after the Fed's last meeting. At the meeting, the Fed announced it would begin in January to reduce its monthly bond purchases from $85 billion to $75 billion, noting signs of an improving economy. The bond purchases are intended to keep long-term interest rates low and encourage more borrowing and spending.

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