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BusinessHighlights 02-21 biz

Stocks finish mixed

NEW YORK — Stocks finished mixed Wednesday after consumer prices showed a larger-than-expected increase in January and minutes from the Federal Reserve’s last meeting showed the central bank considered but decided against taking a more dovish tone on the threat of inflation.

The Nasdaq composite index closed at a six-year high, while the Dow Jones industrials fell.

Inflation again commanded Wall Street’s attention, with the latest readings leaving some investors unnerved. Only last week Wall Street rallied after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress that inflation appeared to be moderating as the economy was showing sustainable growth. The Fed minutes showed policy-makers saw economic threats spurred by the weak housing market were easing but not sufficiently to sound the all-clear on inflation.

The Labor Department’s report that the consumer price index rose 0.2 percent in January came as a surprise to Wall Street, which had expected an 0.1 percent increase. Declines in energy prices didn’t fully offset a rise in costs of medical care, food and airline tickets. The core figure, which excludes often-volatile food and energy prices, rose a greater-than-expected 0.3 percent.

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Hacker damage analyzed

BOSTON — A computer security breach by a hacker who stole TJX Cos. customer data was broader than initially feared, and started 10 months earlier than first thought, the company said Wednesday.

But the parent of discount retail chains including T.J. Maxx and Marshalls also reported 5 percent sales growth during its fiscal fourth quarter, which ended just 10 days after the breach was disclosed Jan. 17.

Company executives said they saw no evidence of any exodus of customers from TJX’s more than 2,400 stores after the data theft. Industry analysts agreed.

TJX initially believed the intrusion began in May 2006 and ran into last month. On Wednesday, the company said its ongoing investigation revealed the breach started nearly a year earlier, in July 2005.

Also, TJX said Wednesday that credit and debit card data had been accessed involving transactions at U.S. and Puerto Rican stores from January 2003 through June 2004, and credit card-only transactions at Canadian stores during that period. The company had initially been less certain, saying last month that information "may have been accessed."

TJX also found more cases in which the hacker accessed drivers’ license numbers together with names and addresses. TJX said it would notify affected customers.

JetBlue assesses winter damage

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NEW YORK — JetBlue Airways Corp. said Wednesday it expects a wider first-quarter loss and lower full-year profit, as it absorbs the effect of more than 1,000 cancellations caused by last week’s winter blast in the Northeast.

But shares of the low-cost carrier, which has battled withering criticism since operations melted down at its New York hub, still rose after Merrill Lynch said the stock had been oversold and recommended buying it.

JetBlue said it’s now looking for first-quarter pretax margins of between negative 8 percent and negative 10 percent. It previously predicted pretax margins of negative 2 percent to negative 4 percent.

The revision equates to about a $37 million reduction in first-quarter results, Prudential Equity analyst Bob McAdoo wrote in a research report. A day earlier, JetBlue said the winter woes mean it will have to hand out as much as $30 million in refunds, credits, worker overtime and other expenses.

GM, AT&T sharing data

DETROIT — General Motors Corp. and AT&T Inc. have a network in place that allows engineers and plant officials worldwide to simultaneously view the same data and discuss it.

On Wednesday, GM gave AT&T even more business, awarding it a five-year, $1 billion global networking contract that will prepare the world’s largest automaker for whatever electronic breakthroughs lie ahead.

GM employees eventually will have the same telecommunications tools no matter where they are in the world, including common voice mail and conferencing abilities. Because of the network, the quality will be the same in other countries as it is at GM’s Detroit headquarters, the companies said.

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The contract is just a small portion of AT&T’s revenue, which amounted to $63.1 billion last year.

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