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Wednesday business briefs

Fannie, Freddie to buy back

delinquent mortgage loans

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 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 back would cost less than making those guarantee payments, both companies said.

Big fine likely in safety probe

of American Airlines

The Federal Aviation Administration is close to wrapping up a two-year investigation of safety violations at American Airlines that could result in one of the largest fines in the agency's history, according to government and industry officials familiar with the investigation. The FAA safety investigation involves improperly secured wiring in 290 MD-80s in American's fleet. The loose fastening resulted in damage to wiring in several dozen planes. As a result of the safety violations, the agency temporarily grounded hundreds of planes in April 2008, wreaking havoc in the travel schedules of thousands of passengers. Officials said the fine will probably be in the same ballpark as the $10.2-million fine the agency proposed againstSouthwest Airlines in March 2008.

Audiovox of Hauppauge

buys Florida company

Audiovox Corp., a Hauppauge-based supplier of consumer electronics systems, said Tuesday it has bought a Florida manufacturer of rear-seat entertainment systems. The company, Invision Industries Inc., of Celebration, Fla., makes DVD players and screens for vehicles, with models that mount on seat headrests, overhead and on consoles. Invision will continue to operate out of its facilities in Florida.EU nations mull Greece rescue;

Athenians protest austerity

Euro-zone countries held intensive talks Wednesday on a possible rescue for debt-laden Greece as civil servants in Athens staged the first big strike against government austerity plans. Financial markets gave Greece some respite with investors increasingly anticipating that other European governments, led by Germany and France, will help Athens head off any risk of a default that has shaken confidence in the euro. But Wednesday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown suggested Britain won't extend financial assistance to Greece, saying international support is in place to aid the southern European nation.

Retail sales rise third month

in a row, boosted by gas prices

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 gasoline prices, according to figures released yesterday. 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 disappearing. Including goods from food to clothing to gasoline - but excluding cars - U.S. retail sales rose 3.6 percent from January 2009, according to MasterCard Advisor's SpendingPulse, which estimates spending in all forms including cash.

Ikea closes stores in Paris

amid strike by workers

Swedish home furnishing giant Ikea has closed several stores in the Paris area amid strikes by workers demanding pay raises, company officials said yesterday. The walkouts began Saturday and led to the closure of five stores - though one reopened Wednesday, said Isabelle Cremoux, a spokeswoman for Ikea in France. Ikea has offered to meet today with labor unions in the dispute over pay, but only if six workers who have camped out in Ikea's Paris offices leave the premises, Cremoux said.

Merck's Vioxx suit settlement

calls for safety monitors

Merck & Co. must appoint two new independent committees and a chief medical officer to monitor the safety of its medicines and drugs in development, under a proposed settlement to end long-running shareholder suits brought over the company's former painkiller Vioxx. The one-time blockbuster drug was pulled from the market in 2004 because it doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Merck reached a $4.85-billion settlement to answer most of the lawsuits alleging patients were harmed or killed, and it continues to make payments as individual claims are settled.

Staff and wire reports

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