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Business Highlights

Economic reports signal modest growth ahead

NEW YORK (AP) – The economic recovery seems on track for slow but steady gains after new reports Tuesday showed growth in manufacturing activity, construction spending and contracts to buy homes.

The batch of new economic data lifted spirits on Wall Street. But analysts cautioned that the economy won’t come roaring back from the worst recession in seven decades. Some say the rebound’s modest growth could falter next year as unemployment keeps rising.

In one hopeful sign, the Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing index showed growth in November for a fourth straight month. The reading of 53.6 was slightly lower than October’s 55.7. But any reading above 50 indicates growth.

US November auto sales struggle to gain ground

DETROIT (AP) – U.S. auto sales struggled to gain ground in November and big improvements aren’t expected until people stop worrying about losing their jobs.

Sales last month were mostly stable, but even higher incentives couldn’t push the needle much beyond last November’s dismal lows, when a credit freeze and the financial meltdown kept car buyers at home.

One strength was sales of fuel-efficiency cars and crossovers, which are as roomy as SUVs but are built on lower car frames, bolstering fuel economy. Last month’s big winner, again, was South Korea’s Hyundai, which posted double-digit sales growth. Sales at the top three U.S. sellers – General Motors, Ford and Toyota – held steady, while Chrysler struggled for another month.

Stocks climb as falling dollar boosts commodities

NEW YORK (AP) – The stock market is picking up where it left off before its scare over debt problems in Dubai.

Major stock indicators rose more than 1 percent Tuesday, including the Dow Jones industrial average, which jumped 126 points and traded above 10,500 for the first time since October of last year.

The weakening dollar again boosted stocks, a pattern that has played out for months. The cheaper U.S. currency drove up commodities prices and lifted the stocks of energy and materials companies that produce them.

Analysts said a mostly upbeat array of economic reports and easing worries about the fallout from debt struggles in Dubai gave investors who had jumped out of the market last week reason to return.

GM CEO Henderson resigns

DETROIT (AP) – General Motors’ CEO Frederick “Fritz” Henderson has resigned after eight turbulent months as head of the largest U.S. automaker.

The company said Tuesday that Chairman Ed Whitacre Jr. will serve as interim CEO. The company plans an international search for a new president and chief executive.

At a press conference here, Whitacre read a brief statement thanking Henderson for his work during a period of challenge and change.

Henderson, 51, succeeded Rick Wagoner on March 29 after the Obama administration ousted GM’s former CEO as the company worked through a government-led reorganization.

Staples sees N.A. retail sales improvement

NEW YORK (AP) – Staples Inc., the largest U.S. office supply retailer, provided an upbeat outlook Tuesday as it reported that its customers bought more school and office supplies and technology products in its stores in the third quarter.

Staples North American retail sales rose 1 percent to $2.6 billion in the third quarter, the first rise in five quarters. But contract sales remained weak as small businesses are slow to recover from the recession.

CEO Ron Sargent said the company is feeling “increasingly optimistic about the future” and predicted total sales will rise in the current quarter – which includes January, when many businesses start afresh with new budgets. He also expects a better holiday season than last year’s.

Shopping center group trims Nov. sales forecast

NEW YORK (AP) – A prominent retail trade group trimmed its November sales growth forecast on Tuesday, citing more shoppers saying they’ve delayed holiday purchasing compared with a year ago.

Michael P. Niemira, chief economist for the International Council of Shopping Centers, now predicts that November sales at stores open at least a year – a key industry barometer – will be up 3 to 4 percent, below his original forecast for growth in a range of 5 to 8 percent. That compares with the steep 7.7 percent drop a year ago.

The uneven start is worrisome to economists because how consumers behave during the holidays and beyond will be key to how strongly the economy rebounds from the worst recession since the 1930s.

Pfizer inks deal for new drugmaking technology

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – Pfizer Inc. will spend up to $115 million for rights to an Israeli biotech company’s experimental drug and its promising technology for making that drug and others in carrot cells.

The world’s biggest drugmaker said Tuesday its deal with Protalix BioTherapeutics Inc. involves a “groundbreaking” technology, the first to use plant cells to make protein-based drugs, that would be safer than the animal cells now used by biotech companies.

The deal also gives Pfizer worldwide rights, except in Israel, to sell a genetically engineered drug called taliglucerase alfa to treat a rare inherited condition called Gaucher’s disease. Caused by deficiency of a particular enzyme, it damages the liver and bone marrow, sometimes leading to death.

Oil settles above $78 on sliding dollar

Oil prices climbed Tuesday as the dollar weakened and new figures showed energy demand for crude may be growing in China.

Benchmark crude for January delivery rose $1.09 to settle at $78.37 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The dollar grew weaker against the euro, and since oil is largely bought and sold in dollars, investors holding stronger currencies can buy more crude for less.

Oil also got support from a Chinese industry group that said manufacturing activity expanded in November for a ninth straight month along with rising stock markets around the world.

Northrop may to drop out of tanker competition

Defense company Northrop Grumman says it will drop out of the running for a major Air Force tanker project valued at $35 billion unless the government changes its request for bids.

Northrop Grumman President and Chief Operating Officer Wes Bush wrote to the Pentagon saying the company cannot accept the financial burdens included in the government’s request for proposals.

The letter leaves the door open for Northrop Grumman to bid on the tanker if the Defense Department changes the way the bidding is set up.

Northrop and Boeing Co. have been fighting over the tanker contract for more than five years. The Pentagon has tried and failed twice to award a contract to replace its old tankers that refuel military planes in flight.

Govt proposes tougher side air bag requirements

WASHINGTON (AP) – New cars and trucks would be required to have larger and stronger side air bags to prevent motorists from being tossed out of vehicles during rollover crashes, the government proposed Tuesday.

The plan is the latest attempt by the government to address deadly rollover crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the proposal, combined with anti-rollover technology, would attempt to reduce the more than 10,000 deaths in rollover crashes every year.

Car makers would need to meet performance standards in rollover crashes that would likely lead to “side curtain air bags made larger to cover more of the window opening, (and) made more robust to remain inflated longer,” the government said in the proposal. By The Associated Press

The Dow rose 126.74, or 1.2 percent, to 10,471.58, its highest close since October last year.

The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 13.23, or 1.2 percent, to 1,108.86, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 31.21, or 1.5 percent, to 2,175.81.

Benchmark crude for January delivery rose $1.09 to settle at $78.37 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other Nymex trading in January contracts, heating oil rose 3.01 cents to settle at $2.0780 and gasoline gained 3.08 cents to settle at $2.0423. Natural gas lost 8.6 cents to settle at $4.762 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude for January delivery gained 88 cents to settle at $79.35 on the ICE Futures exchange.