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Today in business: 5 things you need to know
Fitch warns of a U.S. credit downgrade, consumer spending strengthens, and more in our roundup of the business stories that are making news and driving opinion
 
December 26, 2012: Even after all the holiday shopping, consumers were still spending on post-Christmas deals.
December 26, 2012: Even after all the holiday shopping, consumers were still spending on post-Christmas deals. Andrew Burton/Getty Images

1. FITCH WARNS OF DEBT-CEILING DOWNGRADE
With tensions mounting in Washington over raising the debt ceiling, Fitch Ratings on Tuesday renewed its warning that it will consider downgrading the nation's AAA sovereign credit rating if Congress lets the federal government run short of the money it needs to pay its bills. Fitch said the borrowing limit is an "ineffective and potentially dangerous mechanism" for enforcing fiscal responsibility, although it conceded that the risk that the U.S. would actually default on its debts "remains extremely low." Fitch also warned that if Congress fails to come up with a solid plan to reduce the federal budget deficit the U.S. will probably face a downgrade later this year "even if another debt ceiling crisis is averted." [MarketWatch]
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2. CONSUMER SPENDING STRENGTHENS
The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that retail sales rose solidly in December, even though consumers were still facing the possibility that tax rates would jump in the New Year. Americans snapped up everything from clothing to furniture to cars, pushing sales up faster than economists had expected and marking a 4.7 percent increase over the same month in 2011. "That does suggest a resilient consumer in the face of the fiscal cliff debates," said market analyst Joe Manimbo of Western Union Business Solutions. "It offers a favorable sign for fourth-quarter growth." [Reuters]
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3. BUYOUT TALK BOOSTS DELL STOCK
Shares of Dell rose by three percent more on Tuesday following a 13 percent surge on Monday that was triggered by reports that the struggling personal computer maker was in talks over a potential leveraged buyout. Such a deal, which could be worth $20 billion, would let Dell's CEO and founder, Michael Dell, work on reviving the company's fortunes free from the demands of the public investors, who have driven down Dell shares by 43 percent in the last five years as its PC sales dwindled. Dell, who owns 16 percent of the company's stock, has said in the past that he was open to taking the company private as it moves away from the PC business and focuses on making more lucrative data-center gear. [New York Times]
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4. WORKERS DIP INTO RETIREMENT SAVINGS TO GET BY
New data show that an increasing number of Americans are tapping into their 401(k)s to pay mortgages, credit card debts, and other bills, potentially putting their retirement at risk just as lawmakers consider cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits. More than 1 in 4 American workers with retirement savings accounts are taking out loans or making early withdrawals, siphoning off nearly one-fourth of the $293 billion that workers and employers deposit into the accounts annually. [Washington Post]
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5. WALMART ANNOUNCES BUY-AMERICAN PUSH
Walmart Stores announced Tuesday that it would increase its purchases of U.S.-made goods by $50 billion over the coming decade. The company says it wants to pitch in to boost the economy by selling more products, from sporting goods to high-end appliances, that are made by American workers. Walmart, the nation's largest private employer, also said it would hire 100,000 newly discharged military veterans in the next five years. [Reuters]

 

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