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Briefs

US retail sales rise 0.3 percent

U.S. retail sales bounced back in February after suffering a steep decline during a bitterly cold January.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that seasonally adjusted retail sales rose 0.3 percent in February. Spending had fallen 0.6 percent in January, revised down from the 0.4 percent decline initially reported. Retail spending also fell 0.3 percent in December.

The increase suggests that consumer spending has started to recover after being tempered by snowstorms and freezing temperatures that blanketed much of the country. Shoppers spent more on autos, clothing and furniture.

Inventories rise, but sales plunge

U.S. businesses continued to restock their shelves and warehouses in January, but sales plunged during the snowstorm-plagued month.

Inventories rose 0.4 percent after a 0.5 percent increase in December, the Commerce Department said Thursday. But sales dropped 0.9 percent in January after a 0.1 percent decrease the previous month, putting sales back near September 2013 levels.

The report suggests that winter weather kept shoppers at home. But businesses anticipate a rebound because they expanded their inventories to meet expected demand in the months ahead.

BP regains ability to work for government

The oil company behind the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history can once again perform work for the federal government.

Under an agreement announced Thursday, more than two dozen BP entities and its Houston-based oil production and exploration arm can secure new government contracts. The company had been suspended from performing any new government work since November 2012. That’s when BP agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges involving the death of 11 workers and lying to Congress about how much oil was spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

For five years, BP will have to abide by a series of ethics, safety and other requirements. An independent auditor will also verify its compliance with the deal.

GE planning IPO for lending unit

General Electric is moving ahead with plans to spin off its North American consumer lending unit, and it aims to complete an initial public offering for the business later this year.

The company, to be called Synchrony Financial, estimates proceeds of up to $100 million from the offering, a figure it devised primarily to calculate a filing fee, according to a document filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The document did not indicate how many shares will be offered or at what price.

Jobless claims dip to 3-month low

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 315,000, its lowest level in three months. It was the second straight decline, and it added to evidence that the job market is picking up after a winter slump.

The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average of applications, a less volatile figure, fell 6,250 to 330,500, the lowest point since early December.

Applications are a rough proxy for layoffs.

The declines indicate that most companies are confident enough about consumer demand to avoid layoffs.

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