Price of gasoline in Maine drops by nearly a nickel

The average cost of a gallon of gas in Maine has dropped by nearly a nickel in the past week.

Price-monitoring website announced Monday that the average retail cost in now $3.39 per gallon, more than 12 cents less than a month ago.

That’s still 7 cents above the national average and almost 38 cents more than at the same time a year ago.

A company analyst warned that consumers should not get too excited because the current price is still a historic high for this time of year, and volatility is expected for the rest of the year.


Fitch keeps U.S. debt rating at AAA despite deadlock

Fitch said Monday that it will keep its rating for long-term U.S. debt at the top AAA level, despite a congressional panel’s failure to agree on long-term deficit cuts. But it is lowering its outlook to negative.

The rating agency said it has less confidence in the federal government’s ability to take the necessary steps to rein in the deficit.

A special congressional panel failed last week to reach agreement on $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts over the next decade. The impasse triggered automatic cuts of the same amount, which are scheduled to kick in beginning in 2013.

Moody’s Investors Services and Standard & Poor’s also left their ratings unchanged last week. But Moody’s and S&P warned that they could lower their ratings if Congress backed off the automatic cuts.

S&P downgraded long-term U.S. debt in August to the second-highest level, AA-plus, and switched its outlook to negative. It was the first time the credit rating agency had lowered the nation’s AAA rating since granting it in 1917.

Strong holiday retail sales help to send stocks soaring

A weekend of strong holiday shopping in the United States and radical proposals for stanching Europe’s debt crisis sent stocks soaring Monday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index broke a seven-day losing streak, and the Dow Jones industrial average saw its biggest gain in a month.

Retail stocks spiked after initial reports showed a record number of shoppers hit the mall or bought gifts online during the holiday weekend. Macy’s rose 4.7 percent and Best Buy rose 3.4 percent.

The Dow soared 291.23 points, or 2.6 percent, to 11,523.01. Alcoa Inc. jumped 5.7 percent, the most of the 30 stocks in the Dow. The Dow plunged 564 points last week on fear that Europe’s debt crisis was spreading to large countries such as Spain, Italy and even Germany.

The S&P 500 rose 33.88 points, or 2.9 percent, to 1,192.55. The gains came across industries and sectors; only six stocks in the index fell. The Nasdaq composite rose 85 points, or 3.5 percent, to 2,527.34.


Judge rejects settlement between SEC and Citigroup

A judge Monday rejected a $285 million settlement between Citigroup and the Securities and Exchange Commission over toxic mortgage securities, saying he couldn’t tell whether the deal was fair and criticizing regulators for shielding the public from details of the firm’s wrongdoing.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said he had spent hours trying to assess the settlement but concluded that he had not been given “any proven or admitted facts upon which to exercise even a modest degree of independent judgment.”

He called the settlement “neither fair, nor reasonable, nor adequate, nor in the public interest.”

In a statement, SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami said the deal was all four of those things and “reasonably reflects the scope of relief that would be obtained after a successful trial.”

The SEC had accused the bank of betting against a complex mortgage investment in 2007 – making $160 million in the process – while investors lost millions. The settlement would have imposed penalties on Citigroup but allowed it to deny allegations that it misled investors.

Citigroup said in a statement that it disagreed with Rakoff because the proposed deal was consistent with long-established legal standards.


New-home sales show hopeful sign for economy

Americans bought slightly more new homes in October, a hopeful sign for the troubled housing market. But the median sales price fell 0.4 percent from September to its lowest level of the year – $212,300 – and the overall sales pace is trailing last year’s.

The report suggests housing continues to drag on the U.S. economy and is a long way from recovering.

New-home sales rose 1.3 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 307,000, the Commerce Department said Monday. That’s less than half the 700,000 that economists say must be sold to sustain a healthy housing market.

Sales increased 22.2 percent in the Midwest and 14.9 percent in the West. But they were unchanged in the Northeast and fell 9.5 percent in the South.

September’s figures were also revised down significantly to show a weaker pace than first estimated.

The 323,000 new homes sold last year were the fewest since the government began keeping records in 1963.