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Thursday Afternoon Business Brief

February 2, 2012, 1:51 PM

Thursday Afternoon Business Brief
The Dow's down and the S&P and Nasdaq are seeing some gains as investors wait for tomorrow's government report on unemployment. The Labor Department says fewer people applied for jobless benefits last week. December's unemployment rate was 8.5 percent.
  • Ben Bernanke says the central bank's decision to hold interest rates at record-low levels for the next three years is a step to combat high unemployment while inflation is stable. The Federal Reserve chief was grilled today by the House Budget Committee. He says prices have stabilized since spiking in early 2011 and the dollar has shown no signs of weakening.
  • Americans were shopping in January, but not every store was feeling the love. Overall, merchants reported a 4.8 percent increase for January, up 3 percent from a trade group's expectation. Retailers that sell basic household goods did well, as did high-end chains. Stores selling mid-priced clothing were off.
  • The Obama administration is hoping new rules will help retirees. One proposal would make it easier for people with 401(k) plans to receive a portion of their funds as an annuity. That's a plan that pays out regularly over a lifetime.  Another would make fees charged in 401(k) plans more transparent.
  • The Senate is expected to approve a bill today that would ban insider trading by lawmakers as well as the executive branch. The bill would make lawmakers and top staffers file a public, online report within 30 days of buying or selling securities.

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