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November 20, 2013 01:58 PM

Wednesday Afternoon Business Brief

Stocks are mixed in early afternoon trading on Wall Street, with the Nasdaq slightly higher and the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 turning lower. Stocks had been mostly higher earlier in the day, after the government reported a surprisingly large increase in U.S. retail sales last month.

  • Minutes just released from the Federal Reserve's late-October meeting show participants wrestled with how to assure investors that even after it starts to pull back on its economic stimulus, it still intends to keep its keep short-term rate near record lows. All but one Fed official said it was appropriate to wait before taking the first step to reduce the $85 billion per month in bond purchases. Several believed the Fed should keep its short-term rate low even after unemployment falls below 6.5 percent.
  • Federal regulators are going to require seat belts on all new tour buses, and on buses that carry passengers on scheduled routes between cities. It's a safety measure that's been sought by accident investigators for nearly a half century. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says an average of 21 people in such buses are killed each year in crashes, and thousands more are injured. The agency said seat belts could reduce fatalities and moderate-to-severe injuries by nearly half.
  • Democrats on Capitol Hill have launched a drive to renew jobless benefits averaging less than $300 a week nationwide for people out of work for more than six months. Benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed people expire just three days after Christmas. Lawmakers say another 1.9 million people would miss out on the benefits in the first six months of next year. At issue are federally paid benefits available to out of work people after 26 weeks of state benefits run out.
  • The Republican-controlled House is considering three energy bills aimed at speeding up drilling for oil and natural gas. One of the bills expected to win approval today would restrict the Interior Department from enforcing proposed rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands. A second would set strict deadlines for federal approval of oil and gas permits. A third bill would streamline permitting for natural gas pipelines.
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  • Economy/Stocks