Business Highlights

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Big stakes as Black Friday, shopping season arrive

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Retailers awaiting the arrival of Black Friday are on the edge. How well they do during the biggest shopping season of the year will have lasting consequences not just on them, but the still-fragile economic recovery.

This weekend, many stores will for the first time use midnight openings along with the usual bevy of deals as they try to lure consumers, whose appetite for good-buys has been increasing since the Great Recession.

Economists and business executives will be watching closely.

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Sales of midsize cars shrink as buyers go smaller

DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ You can't drive far in the U.S. without seeing a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Ford Fusion.

Midsize sedans have been America's favorite cars for decades. That's changing. More people are choosing small cars like the Chevrolet Cruze and even smaller ones like the Honda Fit because they're worried about gas prices and car payments. There's another reason, too: Small cars are no longer the cramped econoboxes of the 1980s and 1990s, and they have many of the same features as larger cars.

Compact cars will outsell midsize ones as early as this year, forecasts J.D. Power and Associates, a marketing information firm. That hasn't happened in at least two decades.

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Slightly more people seek unemployment benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The number of people seeking unemployment benefits ticked up slightly last week after two months of steady declines.

But the increase isn't enough to reverse the downward trend. The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, fell to its lowest level since April. The decline in the average signals that companies are laying off fewer workers.

Weekly applications for unemployment aid rose 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 393,000, the Labor Department said Wednesday. It's only the second increase in six weeks. The four-week average fell to 394,250. That's the eighth drop in the past nine weeks.

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Consumer spending up slight 0.1 percent in October

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Consumers barely increased their spending in October but their incomes rose by the most in seven months. The rise in take-home pay could boost spending during the upcoming holiday shopping season.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that spending increased 0.1 percent last month, the poorest gain in four months. But incomes increased 0.4 percent, the best showing since March.

Private wages and salaries drove the income gain.

The slight October gain in consumer spending represented a big slowdown from a 0.7 percent September increase. Spending on durable goods such as autos showed a solid increase but spending on nondurable goods such as food and clothing fell.

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October durable goods orders fell 0.7 percent

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Business orders for long-lasting manufactured goods fell for a second straight month in October. While much of the weakness came from a big drop in demand for commercial aircraft, a key category that tracks business investment spending fell by the largest amount since January.

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that orders for durable goods fell 0.7 percent following a September decline of 1.5 percent. Orders for core capital goods, considered a good proxy for business investment spending, dropped 1.8 percent, the biggest decline since a 4.8 percent fall in January.

Manufacturing has been one of the strongest sectors in the economy in this sub-par recovery, but this sector slowed this year as consumer demand faltered and auto factories had trouble getting parts following the March natural disasters in Japan.

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Deere 4Q profit up 46 percent on strong sales

Deere & Co. says strong sales of its farm equipment helped boost its fourth-quarter profit by 46 percent and says it expects robust demand will lead to further growth next year.

The quarterly results beat Wall Street expectations, and Deere shares rose more than 3 percent in afternoon trading.

The Moline, Ill., company said Wednesday that equipment sales were up 20 percent in the quarter. That included 14 percent sales growth in the United States and Canada, and 31 percent growth in the rest of the world outside those two countries.

The sales growth helped Deere generate net income of $670 million, or $1.62 per share, for the three months ended Oct. 31, up from $457 million, or $1.07 per share, a year ago.

Revenue grew 20 percent to $8.6 billion from $7.2 billion a year ago. Both sales volume and equipment prices increased.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected earnings of $1.43 per share on revenue of $7.91 billion.

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KKR to buy oil company Samson for $7.2 billion

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ The energy resources trapped in shale formations across the U.S. continue to attract investors. But now investors are after oil, not natural gas.

Private equity firm KKR & Co. LP and three partners announced Wednesday say they have agreed to buy the privately held oil and gas company Samson Investment Co. for $7.2 billion.

KKR's partners include the investment firms Natural Gas Partners and Crestview Partners and the Japanese trading company Itochu Corp. Financial details, including how much each partner is paying and whether they are borrowing money or paying in cash, stock, or some combination, were not disclosed.

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PMI Group files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (AP) â¿¿ Private mortgage insurer PMI Group Inc. is seeking shelter from creditors under the Chapter 11 bankruptcy code after the seizure of two of its subsidiaries by regulators in Arizona.

The company said Wednesday that it filed a petition for relief with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, but will continue operating as usual.

PMI intends to use bankruptcy protection to assess its options in light of the action taken by the Arizona Department of Insurance.

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Nokia Siemens to lay off 17,000 worldwide

HELSINKI (AP) â¿¿ Wireless equipment maker Nokia Siemens Networks will slash 17,000 jobs â¿¿ almost one-quarter of its work force â¿¿ in a move to cut annual costs by $1.35 billion by 2013, company officials said Wednesday.

The joint venture between Finland's Nokia Corp. and Siemens AG of Germany said it would focus on mobile broadband networks and services as it slims down with a view to becoming an independent company.

Nokia Siemens has struggled to make a profit amid stiff competition in the global market for network infrastructure â¿¿ the technology and services needed to run mobile and fixed-line networks.

___ By The Associated Press

The Dow industrial average fell 236.17 points, or 2.1 percent, to close at 11,257.55. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 26.25, or 2.2 percent, to 1,161.79. The Nasdaq fell 61.20, or 2.4 percent, to 2,460.08.

West Texas Intermediate crude, the benchmark used to price oil in much of the U.S., fell $1.84 to finish at $96.17 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, which is used to price oil produced in many foreign countries, fell $1.95 to end at $106.70 a barrel in London.

In other energy trading in New York, natural gas rose 4 cents to end at $3.46 per 1,000 cubic feet, and heating oil fell 8 cents to finish the day at $2.9591 a gallon.

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

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