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In Brief

WASHINGTON

Vehicle recall count in 2010
is highest in U.S. since 2004

Automakers recalled about 20 million vehicles in 2010, led by high-profile recalls by Toyota that prompted new scrutiny of the auto industry’s safety record.

The number of recalls this year was the largest in the United States since 2004, an analysis of federal data by The Associated Press shows. The auto industry set a record with 30.8 million recalled vehicles that year.

Toyota Motor Corp. recalled about 7.1 million vehicles in 2010 to fix faulty gasoline pedals, floor mats that could trap accelerators, defective braking and stalling engines. The safety woes by the world’s No. 1 automaker brought more attention to auto safety from government regulators and the public, which filed more than 64,000 complaints with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly double the number in a typical year.

NEW YORK

Stocks climb, stay on pace for best December in 20 years

Stocks finished higher Wednesday as the market continued on pace for its best December in nearly 20 years.

The Standard and Poor’s 500 stock index, the market measure used by most professional investors, has gained 6.7 percent this month. If it closes Friday at this level or higher, it will be the best December return for the index since 1991.

Strong corporate profits have helped push stocks higher for much of 2010.

“The primary theme of 2010 was that corporate profits were much better than expected,” said Philip Dow, director of equity strategy at RBC Wealth Management in Minneapolis. “As we enter into 2011, my hope and belief is that we move from recovery to expansion and a self-sustaining economy.”

Stocks rose across the market, with eight of the 10 industry groups in the S&P index posting gains.

NEW YORK

As East Coast digs out of blizzard, energy prices drop

Energy prices fell Wednesday while the East Coast continued to dig itself out of Monday’s blizzard and a cold snap swept across other parts of the country.

Heating oil, natural gas and other energy commodities usually get costlier as the weather chills. But analysts said most traders already have locked in their energy contracts for the year, and those still buying are looking ahead to 2011.

Benchmark oil for February delivery gave up 37 cents to settle at $91.12 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil jumped above $90 per barrel this month, setting two-year highs as investors anticipated rising demand in 2011. Prices have held above that level all week.

The rise in oil pushed gasoline prices higher, too. The national average added 1.2 cents overnight at $3.061 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. A gallon of regular is 20.4 cents higher than it was a month ago and 45.3 cents more than it was last year at this time.

SAN FRANCISCO

Groupon files to raise as much as $950 million in stock sale

Groupon Inc., the Chicago-based online coupon site that spurned a $6 billion offer from Google this month, has filed to raise as much as $950 million from the sale of preferred shares.

The company amended its certificate of incorporation, allowing it to issue about 30.1 million shares of Series G preferred stock at a price of $31.59 a share, a Dec. 17 filing with the state of Delaware shows. The financing would value Groupon at as much as $7.8 billion, exceeding Google’s offer, reports VCExperts, a website offering data and analysis for venture capitalists and private equity investors.

Groupon Chief Executive Officer Andrew Mason said in a Twitter message Tuesday that Groupon was completing a new round of financing.

Julie Mossler, a spokeswoman for the company, declined comment Wednesday.

NEW YORK

Woman who told managers of unannounced profits arrested

A California woman who tipped off two portfolio managers about the unannounced earnings of technology companies is the latest person arrested in a federal crackdown on consultants and others who specialize in feeding inside information to hedge funds, federal authorities announced Wednesday.

Winifred Jiau, 43, was ordered detained until a Monday bail hearing in federal court in San Francisco. She had been arrested Tuesday at her Fremont, Calif., home. Her lawyer, Josh Cohen, did not return a message for comment.

Jiau was charged with securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud for accepting more than $200,000 over a two-year period from an expert networking firm that promises to provide “institutional money managers and analysts with market intelligence” through a “Global Advisory Team of Experts,” a statement from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

Although the firm’s name was not in court papers, the same language had been used after previous arrests to refer to Primary Global Research, a Mountain View, Calif.-based firm that advertised consulting services to investors on industry trends, issues and regulations.

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