By The Associated Press___ US holiday sales slowly pick up after Sandy WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. consumers shook off Superstorm Sandy last month and stepped up holiday shopping, helped by a steady job market and lower gas prices. Retail sales rose 0.3 percent in November from October, reversing the previous month's decline. Sales increased mostly because Americans spent more online, bought more electronics and began to replace cars and rebuild after the storm. A sharp drop in gas prices moderated the overall increase. Excluding gas stations, retail sales rose a solid 0.8 percent, according to the Commerce Department report released Thursday. ___ Fiscal cliff splits big, small businesses on taxes WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The "fiscal cliff" debate is splitting the business community over taxes, driving a wedge between two natural Republican allies. Negotiations between the White House and Congress are pitting corporate leaders who are helping strengthen President Barack Obama's bargaining position against the small business advocates bristling over the prospect of higher taxes. Obama has been courting top CEOs during the talks. They have responded by being open to Obama's demand that tax rates go up on household income above $250,000. Obama has promised to consider changes in the tax code that would lower corporate tax rates. ___ Google Maps return to iPhone with new mobile app SAN FRANCISCO (AP) â¿¿ Google Maps has found its way back to the iPhone. The world's most popular online mapping system returned late Wednesday with the release of the Google Maps iPhone app. The release comes nearly three months after Apple Inc. replaced Google Maps as the device's built-in navigation system and inserted its own map software into the latest version of its mobile operating system. Apple's maps application proved to be far inferior to Google's, turning what was supposed to be a setback for Google into a vindication.
___EU backs banking supervisor, Greece bailout BRUSSELS (AP) â¿¿ In one whirlwind morning, the European Union nations agreed Thursday to two key measures vital to the financial security of the region. As well as laying the groundwork for a full-fledged banking union, Greece's euro partners approved billions in bailout loans that will prevent the country from going bankrupt. The measures, approved by European finance ministers, ended weeks of haggling over ways to deal with the three-year financial crisis. Their decisions freed up the 27 EU leaders gathering for their summit Thursday evening to concentrate on solving the region's other economic and financial problems. A meeting of the 17 finance ministers from the EU countries that use the euro agreed early Thursday that Greece would get a total of â¿¬49.1 billion ($64 billion) between now and March, with â¿¬34.3 billion due in the coming days. Greece needs the money to stay afloat and avoid a calamitous default. ___ FDA review of tobacco products grinds to a halt RICHMOND, Va. (AP) â¿¿ Talk about a smoke break. Tobacco companies have introduced almost no new cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products in the U.S. in more than 18 months because the federal government has prevented them from doing so, an Associated Press review has found. It's an unprecedented pause for an industry that historically has introduced dozens of new products annually, and reflects its increasingly uneasy relationship with the Food and Drug Administration, which in 2009 began regulating tobacco. ___ Dispute raises doubt for China stocks in US market BEIJING (AP) â¿¿ A mounting dispute between Washington and Beijing over access to records of Chinese companies with U.S.-traded shares might force major corporate names such as oil giant PetroChina and search engine Baidu to withdraw from U.S. stock exchanges. The dispute highlights the clash between heightened U.S. anti-fraud efforts and official Chinese secrecy despite Beijing's desire to profit from deeper links with the global economy. This month the Securities and Exchange Commission accused the Chinese affiliates of five major accounting firms of impeding fraud investigations of nine companies by failing to hand over documents. Separately an American panel that oversees accounting wants to inspect Chinese auditors of U.S.-traded companies.
___GM gives its big pickups a much-needed makeover DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ General Motors is giving its big pickups a much-needed makeover. The company unveiled new versions of its top-selling Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra on Thursday, aiming to get them to showrooms by late spring or early summer. The timing is good. Truck sales are growing after a five-year slump. And the new pickups replace models that were last revamped in 2007. That means GM dealers have been offering pickups that are dated compared with newer Fords and Rams â¿¿ and that is hurting sales. ___ Christmas, New Year's travel busiest in 6 years NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ This Christmas travel season could be the busiest in six years, with AAA predicting that 93.3 million Americans will hit the road. That's 1.6 percent more than last year and just 400,000 people shy of the 2006 record. More cars will crowd the highways than ever before, largely because finding a seat on a plane at a desirable price has gotten more difficult. AAA says a record 84.4 million people will drive at least 50 miles between Dec. 22 and Jan. 1. That's 90.5 percent of holiday travelers, up from 89.3 percent six years ago. Put another way: one in four Americans will drive long distances for Christmas and New Year's. So expect plenty of traffic jams, crowded highway rest stops and overflowing toll plazas. The price of gas could be close to the average of $3.23 a gallon that drivers paid last Christmas Day. The price has dropped about 50 cents since September. AAA estimates the average price will range between $3.20 and $3.40 a gallon by New Year's Day, according to AAA. That's pricey, but hardly a deterrent to holiday travel. ___ Sprint offers $2.1 billion for the rest of Clearwire
NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Sprint Nextel has offered to buy out the minority shareholders of Clearwire for $2.1 billion in a deal that would give it total control of the struggling company and also more space on the airwaves for data services.Sprint said in a regulatory filing Thursday that it's offering $2.90 per share for the 49 percent of the wireless network operator that it doesn't already own. Clearwire's board hasn't approved the sale, but said it's in discussions with Sprint. Clearwire shares jumped 15 percent to $3.16, suggesting that investors believe a better offer may be coming. ___ Weekly US jobless aid applications drop to 343,000 WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply for a fourth straight week, a sign that the job market may be improving. The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 29,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 343,000, the lowest in two months. It is the second-lowest total this year. Applications are a proxy for layoffs, so the drop indicates that companies are cutting fewer jobs. But employers also need to step up hiring to rapidly push down the unemployment rate. ___ By The Associated Press(equals) The Dow Jones industrial average finished down 74.73 points, or 0.6 percent, to 13,170.72. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 21.65 points to 2,992.16. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 9.03 points, or 0.6 percent, to 1,419.45. Benchmark crude lost 88 cents to end at $85.89 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, finished down $1.56 at $106.46 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Heating oil fell 2 cents to end at $2.94 a gallon. Natural gas lost 4 cents to finish at $3.35 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline fell 4 cents to end at $2.60 a gallon.