WASHINGTON -- Retail sales -- helped by sizzling activity in auto showrooms -- jumped by 1.2 percent in December, providing a solid finish to a year in which sales climbed at the fastest pace since 1999. The December increase in retail sales pushed total spending for the month to a seasonally adjusted $349.4 billion, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. launched a media charge Thursday to counter criticism that the world's largest retailer is a behemoth that takes advantage of its workers and stifles competition. The company bought full-page ads in more than 100 newspapers nationwide to highlight its message that it provides opportunity for advancement and that its stores provide mainly full-time jobs that come with a broad benefits package.
ST. LOUIS -- A Brazilian court has temporarily halted royalty payments to agriculture biotech giant Monsanto Co. by a farmers' group using its herbicide-resistant soy seed in a country where the company long has struggled to collect the fees. The ruling applies only to a group of about 8,700 growers in Rio Grande do Sul, the South American country's third-largest soy producing state.
FRANKFURT, Germany -- The European Central Bank left its key interest rate unchanged at 2 percent Thursday as it awaits signals that the continent's hesitant recovery has built up more strength. The decision by the bank's 18-member governing council, meeting in Frankfurt, was widely expected by economists. The key refinancing rate, which sets the cost of central bank credit to commercial banks, has stood unaltered since June 2003.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The former chief of human resources at America Online pleaded guilty to fraud Thursday for a scheme in which he allowed himself to profit from a sham consulting contract. Court records indicate that Gregory S. Horton, 38, of Weston, Fla., also defrauded two former employers of more than $2 million in similar schemes.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- US Airways will have access to the cash it needs to keep flying through June as a result of a bankruptcy judge's approval Thursday of a deal between the nation's seventh-biggest carrier and the federal Air Transportation Stabilization Board. An interim financing deal between the two parties had been set to expire on Saturday.