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Today in business: 5 things you need to know
Auto sales rise, Cyprus' finance minister quits, and more in our roundup of the business stories that are making news and driving opinion
 
Cypriot Finance Minister Micahelis Sarris abandons his sinking ship.
Cypriot Finance Minister Micahelis Sarris abandons his sinking ship. AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

1. AUTO SALES SPIKE
Automakers had their strongest month in nearly six years in March. General Motors and Ford said their sales rose by 6 percent compared to the same month last year. Chrysler, which posted a 5 percent gain, had its best sales month since December 2007. Overall, automakers sold nearly 1.5 million vehicles, automotive information company Edmunds reported Tuesday. Toyota reported its best month in the U.S. since the Cash for Clunkers economic stimulus program boosted sales in August 2009. Ford and Chrysler were helped by high demand for pickups and SUVs, while a GM executive chalked up the performance to "a strengthening economy and new products." [Los Angeles Times]
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2. CYPRIOT FINANCE MINISTER QUITS
Cypriot Finance Minister Michalis Sarris resigned Tuesday after completing talks on the country's controversial $13 billion bailout deal, He had faced harsh criticism for his handling of the Mediterranean nation's financial crisis. On the same day, Cyprus' benchmark stock index fell by 2.6 percent as the market opened for the first time in two weeks. The Cyprus General Market Index has declined by 13 percent this year, and it's down 98 percent from its October 2007 high. Trading on the country's two biggest banks, the Bank of Cyprus and Cyprus Popular Bank, remains suspended, and they account for 60 percent of the market index's weighting. [BBC News, Bloomberg]
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3. HEALTH INSURERS GET A BOOST FROM MEDICARE
Health-care stocks rose early Tuesday after the federal government announced that it would hike Medicare reimbursement rates, instead of reducing them as previously expected. Humana jumped by as much as 9 percent even though the company warned it faced uncertain months ahead. United Healthcare and other insurers also surged, helping to push the S&P 500 big-stock index up by 0.7 percents to within three points of its intraday record of 1,576.09 set on Oct. 11, 2007. [MarketWatch]
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4. EUROZONE UNEMPLOYMENT REMAINS AT RECORD HIGH
Unemployment in the eurozone rose to a record 12 percent in the first two months of 2013, the European Union's statistical agency, Eurostat, reported on Tuesday. That means that 1.8 more people are unemployed in the 17 nations using the common currency than at the same time last year. The loss of jobs has been part of the social cost of three years of government spending cuts and other austerity measures, and the latest data will raise pressure on the European Central Bank to keep interest rates at their current record low, or cut them further, at a Thursday meeting. [New York Times]
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5. FANNIE MAE REPORTS PROFITS THANKS TO HOUSING RECOVERY
Government-controlled mortgage giant Fannie Mae reported Tuesday that it earned $17.2 billion last year, its biggest annual profit ever. The windfall stemmed from the slow recovery of the housing industry after the bursting of the real estate bubble six years ago. With delinquencies falling and home prices rising, Fannie Mae says it expects to continue making a profit — and paying dividends to the U.S. Treasury — "for the foreseeable future." The company didn't ask for any federal help last year. The year before it lost $16.9 billion and requested $25.9 billion in federal aid. [Associated Press]

 
Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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