By The Associated Press___ Economy, year-end sales help auto industry in 2012 DETROIT (AP) â¿¿ A steadily improving economy and strong December sales lifted the American auto industry to its best performance in five years in 2012, especially for Volkswagen and Japanese-brand vehicles, and experts say the next year should be even better. Manufacturers on Thursday announced their final figures, which were expected to total 14.5 million â¿¿ 13 percent better than 2011. More than three years after the federal government's $62 billion auto-industry bailout, Americans had plenty of incentive to buy new cars and trucks in the year just ended. ___ US job market resilient despite budget fight WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The U.S. job market showed resilience in three reports Thursday, suggesting it may able to withstand a federal budget battle that threatens more economic uncertainty in coming months. A survey showed private hiring increased last month, while layoffs declined and applications for unemployment benefits stayed near a four-year low. The data led some economists to raise their forecasts for December job growth a day before the government releases its monthly employment report. ___ Retailers report higher December sales NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ A last-minute surge in spending saved the holiday shopping season. Major retailers including Costco, Gap and Nordstrom on Thursday reported better-than-expected revenue in December. That comes as a relief for stores, which can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue in the last two months of the year. Americans spent cautiously early in the season as the Northeast recovered from Superstorm Sandy. Then they held back because of fears that the U.S. economy would fall off the "fiscal cliff," triggering massive budget cuts and tax increases that would have amounted to less money in their pockets. But shoppers spent more freely in the final shopping days of the year.