Business briefs: Oil prices spark surge in U.S. trade deficit

The U.S. trade deficit surged to a larger-than-expected $40.18 billion in December, the biggest imbalance in 12 months. The wider deficit reflected a rebounding economy that is pushing up demand for oil and other imports. The Commerce Department said the December deficit was 10.4 percent higher than the November imbalance. It was much larger than the $36 billion deficit that economists had expected, with much of the increase coming from a big jump in oil imports. For December, exports of goods and services rose for an eighth consecutive month, climbing 3.3 percent to $142.7 billion. The increase was led by strong gains in sales of commercial aircraft, industrial machinery and U.S.-made autos and auto parts. Imports were up 4.8 percent in December to $182.88 billion, led by a 14.8 percent rise in oil imports, which rose to the highest level since October 2008.

Mortgage giants plan loan buyback

Government controlled mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said Wednesday they will buy back troubled loans contained in securities they have already sold to investors. The two companies are repurchasing mortgage loans for which borrowers have missed at least four months of payments. At the end of last year, Fannie Mae had about $127 billion of such loans, while Freddie Mac had about $70 billion. The two companies guarantee the mortgage securities they sell to investors. Buying the delinquent loans would cost less than guarantee payments.

January’s retail sales increase 3.6 percent

Americans backed off from their holiday spending pace in January, but retail sales rose for a third month in a row compared with a year earlier, largely because of higher gas prices, according to figures released Wednesday. Analysts expect the modest spending pace to improve in coming months, though it will be far from robust as high unemployment and tight credit show little sign of easing. Including goods from food to clothing to gasoline, excluding cars, U.S. retail sales rose 3.6 percent from January 2009, according to MasterCard Advisor’s SpendingPulse.

Google plans ultrafast networks for Web

Google plans to build experimental, ultrafast Internet networks in a handful of communities around the country. The search company said Wednesday that its fiber-optic broadband networks will deliver speeds of 1 gigabit per second to as many as 500,000 Americans. Google Inc. says those systems will be more than 100 times faster than the networks that most Americans have access to today. In a blog post, the company said the networks will let consumers download a high-definition, full-length feature film in less than five minutes and allow rural health clinics to send 3-D medical images over the Web. Google says it will seek input from communities that might be interested in getting one of the testbed networks.

From Herald news services