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Business update: Economic confidence up slightly

Tue., Aug. 31, 2010, 11:40 a.m.

Americans’ confidence in the economy improved slightly in August from July, but they’re still roughly as gloomy as a year ago. The downbeat sentiment underscores the challenges ahead for the increasingly shaky recovery and for retailers, which are grappling with a weak start to back-to-school shopping. Worries are even growing about the critical holiday shopping season. The Conference Board, a private research group, said today that its Consumer Confidence Index rose to 53.5 from a revised 51.0 in July.

Fed officials discussed further stimulus steps: Federal Reserve officials signaled at their August meeting that they would consider going beyond a modest program to purchase government debt if necessary to boost the economy. Minutes of the Fed’s discussions at their Aug. 10 meeting show the central bank recognized that the economy could need further stimulus beyond the debt purchases. Those are intended to lower interest rates on a range of consumer loans.

Home prices rise in 17 cities in June: Home prices rose in June for a third straight month as now-expired tax credits inspired a burst of home-buying. But prices are expected to fall through the rest of the year now that demand has faded. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index released today posted a 1 percent increase in June from May and was up 4.2 percent from a year ago.

Microsoft hiking Xbox Live subscription prices: Microsoft is raising subscription prices for its popular Xbox Live Gold online gaming service in the U.S. and three other countries. Beginning Nov. 1, an annual Gold membership will cost $60, up from $50. A three-month subscription will cost $25, up from $20. And a one-month subscription will be $10, up from $8. Xbox owners mainly use the service to play multiplayer games such as “Call of Duty” online.

Prices are also going up for some membership tiers in Mexico, Canada and the U.K.

Stocks rise on surprise jump in consumer strength: A surprise jump in consumer confidence today gave stocks a modest lift, but the gains were kept in check as investors remain cautious about the economy. The upbeat report on consumer confidence in August gave traders a reprieve from a string of disappointing news on the economy, which has sent stocks slumping sharply since Aug. 9. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 35 points in afternoon trading but is still down 4 percent for the month.


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