Business Highlights

The Associated Press

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Retail sales increased 0.5 percent in October

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Americans spent more on autos, electronics and building supplies in October. The fifth straight monthly gain in retail sales suggests the economy maintained solid growth at the start of the fourth quarter.

Retail sales increased 0.5 percent, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Healthy auto sales helped. But even without them, sales rose 0.6 percent â¿¿ the best showing since March.

And when excluding autos and sales at gasoline stations, sales rose 0.7 percent, also the biggest increase since March.

Consumers spent more on electronics, appliances, hardware and building supplies. Sales also rose at grocery stores, bars and restaurants and health care stores.

Sales at department stores and specialty clothing stores fell.

Overall, the data were encouraging. Economists said the sales suggest the economy is growing at roughly the same 2.5 percent annual pace as the July-September quarter.

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Companies paid less in October for energy, autos

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Companies paid less for gas, new cars and other goods in October to drive down wholesale prices for the first time since June. Inflation pressures are easing largely because the costs of oil and other commodities have declined.

The Producer Price Index dropped 0.3 percent in October, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That follows a rise of 0.8 percent in September. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, core wholesale prices were unchanged after increasing for 10 straight months.

The index measures price changes before they reach the consumer.

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Apple names Arthur Levinson non-exec chair

Apple has named board member Arthur Levinson as its non-executive chairman to fill the vacancy left open when co-founder Steve Jobs died last month.

Levinson is chairman of Genentech Inc., a pharmaceuticals company he joined as a research scientist in 1980 and led as chief executive from 1995 to 2009. Levinson has been co-lead director on Apple Inc.'s board since 2005. He joined the board in 2000.

Robert Iger, president and CEO of The Walt Disney Co., was tapped as a director.

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Wal-Mart's 3Q results show US turnaround

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Wal-Mart got an early Christmas gift: Its strategy of offering the lowest prices and shoppers' favorite goods is starting to bear fruit just in time for the holiday shopping season.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Tuesday reported its first quarterly gain in revenue at stores open at least a year after nine consecutive quarters of declines at its branded U.S. business. It did this by hammering its message of low prices across the store and restocking the brands and products that people care most about.

That the world's largest retailer is turning a corner is a positive sign for the retail industry and the U.S. economy as a whole. Its core low-income shoppers have been particularly hard hit by joblessness and the other challenges of the nation's weak economy. The results indicate that those most hurt by the economic downturn are willing to spend if you offer them rock-bottom pricing.

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Occupy movement's future unclear after NYC sweep

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Hundreds of police officers in riot gear raided the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City in the pre-dawn darkness Tuesday, evicted hundreds of protesters and then demolished the tent city, leaving the future of the demonstration in limbo.

Later in the day, a New York judge upheld the city's crackdown. Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman said in his ruling that the protesters "have not demonstrated that they have a First Amendment right to remain in Zuccotti Park, along with their tents, structures, generators and other installations to the exclusion of the owner's reasonable rights ... or to the rights to public access of others who might wish to use the space safely."

The plaza, near the financial district ground zero, is open to the public but privately owned.

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Geron's exit a symbolic ding for stem cell research

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Geron Corp. is exiting the field it pioneered in a calculated business move that underscores the long, costly path embryonic stem cells face to become real-world products.

Late Monday, the company said it would halt its study of a stem cell-based treatment for spinal cord injury, the first embryonic stem cell trial approved in the U.S.

Geron's withdrawal leaves a handful of U.S. companies pursuing medicines using embryonic stem cells, which are capable of morphing into any of the more than 220 cell types in the human body. Scientists hope that one day stem cells might be used to replace or repair damaged tissue from ailments such as heart disease, Parkinson's and stroke.

The Menlo, Park-Calif., company had long been viewed as the undisputed leader in stem cell therapies, thanks to patents on technology used to grow, manipulate and inject stem cells into the human body. The company helped finance researchers at the University of Wisconsin who first isolated human embryonic stem cells in 1998, allowing the cells to be grown in the laboratory.

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Deficit hits record $26 billion for US pension insurer

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The federal agency that insures pensions for one in seven Americans ran the largest deficit last year in its 37-year history.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. says it ran a $26 billion imbalance for the budget year that ended Sept. 30.

The agency has been battered by the weak economy, which has brought more bankruptcies and failed pension plans.

Its pension obligations rose by $4.5 billion. The PBGC also earned less money in the stock market, which helps to fund pension plans. Returns were $3.6 billion, half what it earned the previous year.

The agency's director says taxpayers may have to bail out the agency "eventually" if Congress doesn't raise companies' insurance premiums. He didn't give a timeframe.

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Home Depot's 3Q net rises on storm boost

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Home Depot Inc.'s third-quarter net income rose 12 percent as consumers spent a bit more on home-improvement projects and repaired their homes after Tropical Storm Irene.

The No. 1 U.S. home-improvement retailer's results announced Tuesday beat analysts' average expectations. The company raised its 2011 earnings outlook and its dividend.

Home-goods sellers are facing cautious consumer spending and a prolonged weak housing market. They've had to adjust to fewer consumers making large-scale home renovations by cutting costs and improving services such as online shopping and customer service.

Atlanta-based Home Depot's smaller rival, Lowe's Cos., reported Monday that its third-quarter net income fell 44 percent on restructuring costs as it closes stores. Lowe's CEO Robert Niblock said Monday that he didn't expect any significant rebound in the housing market until 2013.

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Staples 3Q profit rises, lowers 2011 outlook

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. (AP) â¿¿ Staples Inc. said Tuesday that its profit climbed 13 percent in the third quarter, helped in part by improved sales of office and break room supplies to businesses.

But overall revenue came in short of Wall Street expectations and the nation's biggest office supply company cut its adjusted earnings forecast for the full year as its international performance weakened a bit.

Office suppliers have suffered during the recession and its aftermath, as consumers and small businesses continue to hold back on spending, something that is not likely to change soon, CEO Ron Sargent said.

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Dell earnings rise slightly though revenue was flat

ROUND ROCK, Texas (AP) â¿¿ Dell's third-quarter net income rose 9 percent though its revenue remained flat from last year as the computer maker continued pruning less profitable parts of its business.

The company also predicted full-year revenue will come in near the low end of the guidance it issued in August, which was itself a reduction from Dell Inc.'s previous expectations. In its earnings report, Dell cited the uncertain economy, as well as the "industry-wide hard drive issue" â¿¿ a reference to the recent flooding in Thailand that has hurt many tech companies' manufacturing operations.

For the quarter that ended Oct. 28, Dell earned $893 million, or 49 cents per share. This compares with $822 million, or 42 cents per share, in the same quarter in 2010.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 17.18 points, or 0.1 percent, to 12,096.16. The S&P 500 gained 6.02, or 0.5 percent, to 1,257.81. The Nasdaq added 28.98, or 1.1 percent, to 2,686.20.

Benchmark crude rose $1.23 to end the day at $99.37 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price many foreign oil varieties, climbed 50 cents to finish at $112.39 per barrel in London.

In other energy trading, heating oil rose less than a penny to end at $3.1713 per gallon, and gasoline futures rose 5.04 cents to finish at $2.5857 per gallon. Natural gas gave up 5.4 cents to finish at $3.4040 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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