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Economy Briefs

- - Tuesday, November 15, 2011

COMMERCE

Consumers doing more to boost economy

Consumers are giving a modest lift to the economy.

They spent more on trucks, electronics and building supplies in October to boost retail sales for the fifth straight month.

The gains provide an encouraging start for the October-December quarter. They come just as separate reports show that wholesale prices are flattening and U.S. shoppers are spending more at Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer.

Still, consumers might not be able to sustain their spending growth if unemployment remains high and pay raises scant. And Europe may be on the brink of a recession that could further slow U.S. growth next year.

Retail sales rose 0.5 percent from September to October, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Healthy auto sales helped. Even without autos, sales rose by the most since March.

PENSIONS

Deficit hits record $26B for pension insurer

The federal agency that insures pensions for one in seven Americans ran the largest deficit last year in its 37-year history.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. says it ran a $26 billion imbalance for the budget year that ended Sept. 30.

The agency has been battered by the weak economy, which has brought more bankruptcies and failed pension plans.

Their pension obligations rose by $4.5 billion. The PBGC also earned less money in the stock market, which helps to fund pension plans. Returns were $3.6 billion, half what it earned the previous year.

The agency's director says taxpayers may have to bail out the agency "eventually" if Congress doesn't raise companies' insurance premiums. He didn't give a time frame.

THANKSGIVING

Online petition targets Target's midnight opening

OMAHA, Neb. — An Omaha man's online petition asking Target to drop plans to open stores at midnight on Thanksgiving has garnered tens of thousands of signatures in less than two weeks.

Anthony Hardwick works part-time as a cart attendant for a second job. The 29-year-old launched his petition Nov. 3 after learning of the chain's plans to have employees report for work at 11 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.

Mr. Hardwick says the midnight opening means he and other Target employees will have to miss Thanksgiving gatherings in order to get enough rest and come in to work that night.

The petition asks that Target push back the opening to 5 a.m. on "Black Friday." It had nearly 88,000 signatures by midday Tuesday.

Target officials say the midnight opening is a response to customer demand.

CALIFORNIA

Levinson named Apple's new chairman

CUPERTINO — Apple has named board member Arthur Levinson as its chairman.

He fills a post left open when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died last month.

Mr. Levinson, who is chairman of Genentech Inc., has been co-lead director on Apple Inc.'s board since 2005. He joined the board in 2000.

Robert Iger, president and CEO of the Walt Disney Co., was tapped as director.

The appointments were announced Tuesday.

OIL INDUSTRY

BP loses two Gulf spill rulings

NEW ORLEANS — BP has lost two big rulings in its fight to shield itself from potentially having to pay billions of dollars more in damages related to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that BP PLC is not entitled to coverage for the spill under insurance policies totaling $750 million held by Transocean Ltd., owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that BP was leasing at the time of last year's Gulf of Mexico disaster.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier also ruled Monday that Alabama and Louisiana can pursue punitive damages against BP and other companies.

From wire dispatches and staff reports