Business Highlights

By The Associated Press

___

Discounts abound as stores try to salvage season

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ When it comes to fat holiday discounts, better late than never.

This holiday shopping season, many stores haven't been offering the same blockbuster deals as they did last year. Instead, they've dangled offers of free shipping and no-fee layaways to lure shoppers.

But during the final weekend before Christmas, shoppers should expect to see more "70 percent off" and "buy one, get one free" signs as stores try to salvage a season that so far has been disappointing.

___

No more Government Motors: US selling GM shares

DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ The U.S. government's foray into the car business is slowly coming to an end.

The Treasury Department said Wednesday that it will sell its remaining stake in General Motors in the next year or so, winding down a $50 billion bailout that saved the iconic American car giant but also set off a heated debate about government intervention in private business that even influenced this year's presidential election.

Taxpayers will lose money on the deal, but it gets the government out of the car business. GM has done well over the past three years, piling up $16 billion in profits as car sales bounced back. Now it looks forward to losing the stigma of government ownership â¿¿ including the derisive moniker "Government Motors" â¿¿ that it claims cost it sales since it left bankruptcy protection in 2009.

___

Government issues new online child privacy rules

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ New online child privacy rules will keep anonymous advertisers and marketers from siphoning personal information about preteens but won't restrain innovation among technology companies and businesses that rely on the Internet to reach consumers, government officials said Wednesday.

But those assurances failed to win over software developers who said the cost of complying with the new regulations and the risk of violating them will cause many responsible businesses to abandon the children's marketplace.

Information about children that cannot be collected unless a parent first gives permission now includes the location data that a cellphone generates, as well as photos, videos, and audio files containing a human image or voice, according to the rules announced Wednesday. Data known as "persistent identifiers" that allow a person to be tracked over time and across various websites are also considered personal data and covered by the rules, the agency said.

___

Obama: He and Boehner 'pretty close' to a deal

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Optimistic despite a tightening deadline, President Barack Obama said Wednesday he and House Speaker John Boehner are "pretty close" to a grand fiscal deal to avoid a first-of-the-year shock to the economy, but that congressional Republicans "keep on finding ways to say no as opposed to finding ways to say yes."

Obama cast a resolution to the "fiscal cliff" as a matter of political will. He said in the aftermath of the massacre of school children in Connecticut, the nation deserves a compromise by its political leaders.

Obama spoke to reporters at the White House after announcing an administration-wide response to Friday's shooting at an elementary school in Newtown that killed 20 first-graders and six adults.

___

US seeks 'balanced' trade relationship with China

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The U.S. is seeking a more balanced trade relationship with China at talks Wednesday that could set the tone for cooperation after political transitions in the world's two largest economies.

The annual joint commission on commerce and trade meeting comes weeks after President Barack Obama's re-election and the elevation of new leaders of China's ruling Communist Party.

Few concrete outcomes are expected, but Washington will be looking for signs of the economic policy direction under new Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The U.S. wants China to stimulate domestic demand and become less reliant on export growth and allow more market access for American companies.

___

US housing starts slowed to 861,000 in November

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ U.S. builders broke ground on fewer homes in November after starting work in October at the fastest pace in four years. Superstorm Sandy likely slowed starts in the Northeast.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that builders began construction of houses and apartments at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 861,000. That was 3 percent less than October's annual rate of 888,000, the fastest since July 2008.

Still, the decline follows months of strong gains. Housing starts remain on track for their best year in four years, and the housing market overall appears to be sustaining its recovery.

___

UBS to pay $1.5 billion over rate-rigging scandal

GENEVA (AP) â¿¿ Swiss bank UBS agreed Wednesday to pay $1.5 billion in fines for trying to manipulate a key interest rate that affects borrowers around the world.

The settlement with U.S., British and Swiss regulators caps a tough year for the company and the reputation of the global banking industry. The fine on UBS, which will also see two former traders charged with conspiracy, is triple the amount that British bank Barclays PLC agreed to pay in June to settle similar charges.

And it comes a week after HSBC agreed to pay nearly $2 billion to settle allegations of laundering money for Mexican drug cartels and countries under U.S. embargoes, such as Iran.

___

Getco buying Knight Capital in $1.4 billion deal

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Nearly five months after a major software malfunction at Knight Capital roiled financial markets, the trading firm has agreed to sell itself to a competitor, Getco, in a cash-and-stock deal that the companies value at $1.4 billion.

Knight shareholders can choose $3.75 per share in cash or one share of stock in the new holding company. The per-share price â¿¿ which is more than the $3.50 per share that Getco offered last month â¿¿ is a 13 percent premium to Knight's Tuesday closing price. But it's a fraction of the company's worth before the meltdown.

Knight Capital Group Inc. has one of the most advanced platforms for trading brokerages. The Jersey City, N.J., company takes stock trading orders from brokers like TD Ameritrade and E-Trade and routes them to the New York Stock Exchange and other exchanges.

___

Dr Pepper maker fills out 10-calorie lineup

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ When it comes to the calories in diet soda, Dr Pepper thinks 10 is the new zero.

Starting next month, the country's No. 3 soft drink company plans to roll out 10-calorie versions of five of its biggest soda brands: 7-Up, Sunkist, Canada Dry, RC Cola and A&W Root Beer. The drinks are an extension of Dr Pepper Ten, which was launched last year as a better-tasting alternative for men who don't like the image or taste of diet soda.

But the new 10-calories sodas are being marketed to both men and women.

Unlike traditional diet sodas that use only artificial sweeteners and have zero calories, Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. says its 10-calorie sweetener mix has just enough high-fructose corn syrup to overcome any reservations people might have about the weak or cloying taste of diet drinks. And by taking away most the calories â¿¿ a can of regular typically has about 150 calories â¿¿ the company is washing away much of the guilt.

___

FedEx says it can grow by cutting costs

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ FedEx may be pessimistic about the U.S. economy, but it's confident about growing its earnings.

The world's second-largest package delivery company, a bellwether for economic health because of the vast number and kinds of shipments it handles, lowered its economic forecast for the U.S., saying there remains a lot of uncertainty for the country.

FedEx maintained its earnings forecast for the full fiscal year ending in May, counting on a massive cost reduction plan and a slightly more optimistic view of growth overseas. Shares rose $2.06, or 2.2 percent, to $94.42 in afternoon trading, even though its forecast for the current quarter, which includes the critical holiday season, falls short of Wall Street expectations.

___

By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 98.99 points, or 0.7 percent, at 13,251.97. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 10.98 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,435.81. The Nasdaq composite index fell 10.17, or 0.3 percent, to 3,044.36.

Benchmark crude jumped $1.58, or about 1.8 percent, to finish at $89.51 per barrel in New York. In energy futures trading Brent crude, used to price international varieties of oil, rose $1.52 to end at $110.36 per barrel in London.

Heating oil rose 4 cents to finish at $3.04 a gallon. Natural gas fell 10 cents, or 2.9 percent, to end at $3.32 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline gained 5 cents to finish at $2.74 a gallon.

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

If you liked this article you might like

What's Behind the Surge in Energy Stocks

What's Behind the Surge in Energy Stocks

Hillary Clinton Says Prosecuting Individuals is Key to Wall Street Reform

Hillary Clinton Says Prosecuting Individuals is Key to Wall Street Reform