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Today in business: 5 things you need to know
Homebuilders cheer up, a hedge fund sells the maker of the rifle used in Newtown, and more in our roundup of the business stories that are making news and driving opinion
A new home development in Miami, Fla.: Builders reported the best market for newly built homes since the end of the real-estate boom.
A new home development in Miami, Fla.: Builders reported the best market for newly built homes since the end of the real-estate boom.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

1. HOMEBUILDER CONFIDENCE SURGES
American homebuilders are more confident than they have been in six-and-a-half years, according to figures released Tuesday. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index inched up by two points to 47 in November as builders reported the best market for newly built homes since the end of the real-estate boom. That's up from 17 in October 2011, and suggests growing optimism that a housing rebound is near. Still, it remains below the 50-point mark that's considered a minimum to indicate a positive outlook. "While there is still much room for improvement," says NAHB chief economist David Crowe, "the consistent upward trend in builder confidence over the past year is indicative of the gradual recovery... that we expect to continue in 2013." [Associated Press]
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2. CERBERUS SELLS ASSAULT RIFLE MAKER AFTER MASSACRE
Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management has decided to sell Freedom Group, the company that makes the semi-automatic Bushmaster AR 15 rifle that was used in last week's shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The company made the announcement after coming under pressure from the California State Teachers' Retirement System, a major Cerberus investor, following the tragedy, in which a gunman murdered 20 first graders and six adults before killing himself. Some retailers also distanced themselves from the rifles: Dick's Sporting Goods removed all guns from its store closest to Newtown, and suspended sales of some semi-automatic rifles nationwide. Walmart took down online information about Bushmasters. [Reuters]
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3. NY TIMES SAYS WALMART DE MEXICO USED BRIBES TO THRIVE
An investigation by The New York Times concluded that Walmart de Mexico aggressively used bribes "to subvert democratic governance," including public votes on zoning laws, and safeguards against unsafe construction, as well as to get the upper hand on rivals. The newspaper, using internal Walmart documents, reported that it had found the company's Mexican arm made secret payments that coincided with its acquisition of critical permits. In one case, the company managed to get permits to build a Sam's Club in one of Mexico City's most densely populated areas without construction, environmental, or traffic permits, thanks to eight bribes totaling $341,000. Walmart says it's improving internal investigations and is "committed to having a strong and effective global anticorruption program everywhere we operate." [New York Times]
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4. SAMSUNG GIVES UP ON APPLE SUIT IN EUROPE
Samsung is dropping its effort to get a court to ban the sale of some of smartphone and tablet rival Apple's products in Europe. Samsung says it wants to "protect consumer choice" and compete "fairly in the marketplace, rather than in court." The Taiwanese company has been battling the iPhone and iPad maker in courts in both Europe and the U.S., where a judge on Monday rejected an Apple request for a ban on some Samsung smartphones, citing patent violations. [BBC]
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5. MCDONALD'S STOKES PROFITS, AND CRITICISM, BY OPENING ON HOLIDAYS
McDonald's has ignited a debate over balancing profits and the holiday spirit this week, when a spokesperson confirmed that the fast-food giant is asking its franchises to stay open on Christmas Day to boost sales. McDonald's announced on Monday that it had reversed a rare drop in sales in November, thanks largely to a decision to encourage its restaurants to stay open on Thanksgiving. The stores that kept their doors open on Thanksgiving accounted for 40 percent of the November sales growth, and the company expects a similar jolt on Christmas. That's fine for the company's investors, says Martha C. White at TIME, "But what about the people stuck manning the fryers and the drive-through windows?" [Ad Age]

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