Business Highlights

The Associated Press

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Rising gas prices crimp Americans' spending

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Higher gas prices are crimping consumer spending and slowing the already-weak U.S. economy. And they could get worse in the coming months.

The Federal Reserve this week took steps to boost economic growth. But those stimulus measures are also pushing oil prices up. If gas prices follow, consumers will have less money to spend elsewhere.

Americans are already feeling pinched by high unemployment, slow wage growth and higher gas prices.

Consumers increased their spending at retail businesses by 0.9 percent in August, the Commerce Department reported Friday. But that was largely because they paid more for gas. Excluding the impact of gas prices and a sizeable increase in auto sales, retail sales rose just 0.1 percent.

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Dow average dumps Kraft Foods for UnitedHealth

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ The Dow Jones industrial average is dumping Cool Whip for copays.

The Dow, perhaps the most widely known barometer of the U.S. stock market, announced Friday that it would boot Kraft Foods to make room for UnitedHealth Group, the insurance company.

The change takes effect Sept. 24. S&P Dow Jones Indices, which manages the average, said it was dropping Kraft because it is about to become a much smaller company after spinning off its North American grocery business.

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Egan-Jones cuts US debt rating to AA- from AA

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Egan-Jones, an independent credit-research firm, downgraded its rating on U.S. government debt to AA- from AA on Friday, citing the Federal Reserve's plans to try to stimulate the economy.

The credit rating agency said the Fed's plans to buy mortgage bonds will likely hurt the economy more than help it.

The plan will weaken the value of the dollar and push up prices for oil and other commodities, Egan-Jones said. That would leave less for consumers to spend on other things.

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