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Economy Briefs: Poor holiday sales drive market lower

- - Wednesday, December 26, 2012

NEW YORK — Stocks are closing lower after a weak holiday shopping report sent shares of major retailers lower.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 24 points to close at 13,114 Wednesday. It was the third straight loss for the Dow.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell six to 1,419 and the Nasdaq composite lost 22 to 2,990.

The MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse report found that sales of electronics, clothing, jewelry and home goods increased just 0.7 percent in the two months before Christmas.

That's well below the growth of 3 percent to 4 percent analysts expected and the worst performance since 2008.

Macy's, Sears and Urban Outfitters all fell.

Falling stocks outnumbered rising ones 2-to-1 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was very low at 2.3 billion shares.

CHINA

New high-speed train cuts 1,428-mile trek to 8 hours

BEIJING — China opened the world's longest high-speed rail line Wednesday, one that more than halves the time required to travel from the country's capital in the north to Guangzhou, an economic hub in southern China.

The opening of the 1,428 mile-line was commemorated by the 9 a.m. departure of a train from Beijing for Guangzhou. Another train left Guangzhou for Beijing an hour later.

China has massive resources and considerable prestige invested in its showcase high-speed railways program.

Trains on the latest high-speed line initially will run at 186 mph with a total travel time of about eight hours. Before, the fastest time between the two cities by train was more than 20 hours.

TRANSPORTATION

Berkshire Hathaway sells two short-line railroads

OMAHA, Neb. — Warren Buffett's company has sold two short-line railroads it recently discovered it owned to satisfy regulators who might have reviewed Berkshire Hathaway's 2010 acquisition of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.

Berkshire told the Transportation Department's Surface Transportation Board earlier this month that it had completed the sale of both short-line railroads ahead of schedule.

If Berkshire had reported owning those railroads when it bought BNSF, the Surface Transportation Board would have had to scrutinize the deal. Berkshire first disclosed owning the railroads to the board in September.

OUTLOOK

Small businesses face big challenges in 2013

NEW YORK — In 2013, small business owners will contend with many of the same issues that made it hard to run their companies over the past 12 months.

They're also heading into the new year with a lot of uncertainty. It's unlikely that negotiations in Congress will resolve all of lawmakers' disagreements over tax and budget issues that affect small businesses.

And there are still many questions about the implications of the health care law for small companies.

That points to continued caution — and perhaps slow hiring — among the nation's small companies.

From wire dispatches and staff reports