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Business update: Retailers start to discount more

Stores steepened discounts more than planned in June to help drive recession-scarred customers into the malls to buy summer merchandise. But shoppers spent cautiously amid escalating job worries, resulting in modest gains for many merchants. The lackluster performance, being compared with a weak June 2009, is raising concerns about the back-to-school shopping season and the health of the economic recovery.

Stocks mostly up after jobless claims drop sharply: Stocks were mostly higher today after a drop in first-time unemployment claims eased some concerns about the economy. The Dow Jones industrial average rose about 40 points in midday trading after climbing 275 Wednesday. Broader indexes were narrowly mixed.

Berkshire downgraded to sell because of economy: An analyst is telling investors to sell shares of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway because the economy may weaken over the rest of the year and hurt demand for its businesses that rely on consumer spending. Stifel Nicolaus analyst Meyer Shields made the recommendation in a research note today. Berkshire owns clothing, furniture, jewelry and building materials operations. But its insurance businesses generated more than half the company’s $8.1 billion profit last year.

Chrysler will make buyers’ payments on new cars: Chrysler Group says it will make the first two months’ payments on most new vehicles bought this month in a bid to boost sales after a weak June. Chrysler will pay up to $500 per month for a total of $1,000 on most vehicles. Customers also get the option of taking $3,000 to $4,000 in cash or making a “regret-free” purchase, in which they could return any new vehicle within 60 days if they’re not satisfied.

Initial claims drop last week but remain high: New claims for unemployment benefits dropped sharply last week, a sign that layoffs could be slowing. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Americans are losing jobless aid because Congress has yet to pass an extension of benefits. First-time requests for jobless aid dropped by 21,000 to a seasonally adjusted 454,000, the Labor Department said today. The decline takes claims to their lowest level since early May, erasing the increases of the last two months.

WaMu bankruptcy judge postpones hearing: Washington Mutual’s bankruptcy case has hit another snag, as talks between attorneys for the bank holding company and creditors objecting to its reorganization plan forced the postponement of another hearing. At the request of a Washington Mutual attorney, the judge presiding over the Chapter 11 case in Delaware agreed to postpone a hearing that was to be held today until July 20.