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Today in business: 5 things you need to know
Employers hired despite the fiscal cliff, discounts upped holiday sales, and more in our roundup of the business stories that are making news and driving opinion
 
Thrifty shoppers flooded Manhattan stores for post-Christmas deals on Dec. 26.
Thrifty shoppers flooded Manhattan stores for post-Christmas deals on Dec. 26. Andrew Burton/Getty Images

1. COMPANIES HIRED DESPITE FISCAL CLIFF WORRIES
Private employers stepped up the pace of hiring in the last month of 2012, thanks to gains in several industries, including construction and transportation, according to a report released Thursday by Automatic Data Processing. If ADP's numbers match Labor Department figures due to be released on Friday, it will indicate that the economy picked up momentum as the year ended as companies shrugged off fears that the looming fiscal cliff, which Congress averted in a last-minute New Year's Day deal, would trigger a new recession. Still, more people than expected filed claims for unemployment insurance payments in the holiday week as the fiscal cliff deadline approached. [Reuters]
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2. HOLIDAY SALES ROSE, THANKS TO PROFIT-BUSTING DISCOUNTS
Thrifty, recession-tested shoppers came out in force over the holidays, helping major chain stores post a better-than-expected 4.5 percent sales increase in December compared to the previous year. Still, analysts said, many stores had to sacrifice profits by offering deep discounts to lure people through their doors. As a result, J.C. Penney, Target, Kohl's, and other chains lowered their forecasts for fourth-quarter profits on Thursday, saying that the unexpectedly large discounts they had to offer might cut into their 2012 earnings. [Los Angeles Times]
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3. AL JAZEERA BUYS AL GORE'S CURRENT TV
Al Jazeera, the pan-Arab cable-news giant based in Qatar, announced Wednesday that it was buying Current TV, the struggling cable channel founded by former vice president Al Gore. The deal is estimated to be worth around $500 million, meaning Gore, who had a 20 percent stake in the low-rated Current TV, will get a $100 million payout. For its money, Al Jazeera will get access to 40-million-plus homes, giving it an edge over other foreign media outlets fighting for a piece of the U.S. market (the BBC World News channel is available in 25 million homes). The deal is considered Al Jazeera's most aggressive push yet to shake off an early reputation as an outlet for Middle Eastern propaganda and convince skeptics that it's a legitimate news organization. [New York Times]
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4. SPAM MAKER BUYS SKIPPY
In the union of two iconic American foods, Hormel, the maker of Spam lunch meat, has agreed to buy the Skippy peanut butter brand from Unilever for $700 million, the companies announced on Thursday. Hormel said that $100 million of Skippy's annual sales of $370 million come from outside the U.S., which will help give it a more balanced portfolio of products. Skippy, introduced in 1932, is the leading brand of peanut butter in China, an important and growing market, and No. 2 overall behind J.M. Smucker brand Jif. [CNN]
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5. STARBUCKS GOES TO VIETNAM
Starbucks is opening its first Vietnam coffeehouse in early February as part of an expansion in Asia, the Seattle-based chain announced on Thursday. Vietnam is the world's second-largest coffee producer, behind Brazil. Its growers already provide beans to Starbucks, and Vietnam already boasts at least two homegrown coffee-shop chains that will compete with Starbucks. The company says its outlet in Ho Chi Minh City and other stores it hopes to open in Vietnam will celebrate the country's "coffee culture and heritage." [Associated Press]

 

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