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Today in business: 5 things you need to know
Single-family home-starts rise, Office Depot and OfficeMax confirm merger, and more in our roundup of the business stories that are making news and driving opinion
Some good housing news: Construction on single-family homes is up.
Some good housing news: Construction on single-family homes is up. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

1. MIXED HOUSING DATA SUGGEST RECOVERY ON TRACK
Residential construction fell by 8.5 percent in January, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. Industry analysts aren't too worried, though, as the decline was fueled by a sharp drop in apartment building, which is notoriously volatile. Starts on single-family houses increased to their highest level since July 2008, and permits on future construction also hit a 4-and-a-half-year high. "We ended 2012 on a solid note and we do have some momentum heading into this year," said Gus Faucher, a senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group Inc. in Pittsburgh. [Reuters, Bloomberg]
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2. OFFICE DEPOT, OFFICEMAX CONFIRM MERGER
Office Depot confirmed Wednesday that it is buying smaller rival OfficeMax. The $1.2 billion all-stock merger will create a company with $18 billion in sales, still smaller than Staples, the biggest U.S. seller of office supplies. OfficeMax shares rose 2.2 per cent to $13.29 in early trading immediately following the announcement, while Office Depot shares dropped 7.4 per cent to $4.65. Shares of Staples, which tried to buy Office Depot in 1997 but was blocked by regulators, fell by 2 percent. [Financial Times, Forbes]
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3. GREEK UNIONS STRIKE AGAINST WAGE CUTS
Greek workers brought the financially struggling nation to a standstill on Wednesday with a nationwide strike against wage cuts and high taxes. Schools closed, ports were idled, and hospitals operated with only emergency personnel. The labor unions behind the strike represent 2.5 million workers, and they have repeatedly lashed out against austerity measures imposed by the government to comply with the terms of an international bailout, which union leaders say only deepen the country's recession. "A social explosion is very near," said Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary general of the ADEDY public sector union. [Reuters]
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4. APPLE OFFERS MALWARE REMOVAL ATTACK AFTER HACKING SCARE
Apple is releasing a malware removal tool after hackers infected the Mac computers of several company workers. The Apple employees had visited a website for software developers that had been infected with malicious software designed to attack Macs through a vulnerability in the Java plug-in for browsers, Apple said. The cyber-security breach came just days after Facebook revealed that it had faced a similar attack, apparently intended to steal corporate information. [Telegraph]
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5. SUDDEN RISE IN PUMP PRICES HITS HARD
Gas prices took their steepest drop since 2008 in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, but the relief at the pump is over. Gas prices have climbed for 32 straight days. Since last month, regular gas has risen by 13 percent to a national average of $3.75 per gallon, as refinery closures crimped supply and the highest oil prices in nearly a year pushed up production costs. At this rate, says John Kilduff of Again Capital in New York, $5 a gallon gas "is a real possibility." [CNBC]

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