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BUSINESS BRIEFLY

Existing home sales continue to slide

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people who bought previously occupied homes fell in July for the third time in four months. This year is on pace to be the worst in 14 years for home sales, as more Americans worry that the economy could slip back into another recession.

Home sales fell 3.5 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.67 million homes, the National Association of Realtors said Thursday. That's far below the 6 million that economists say must be sold to sustain a healthy housing market.

Home sales figures from the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors are not yet available.

Many people are reluctant to purchase a home two years after the recession officially ended. Sales are lagging behind last year's 4.91 million sold -- the weakest in 13 years.

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Oil prices fall hard

NEW YORK (AP) -- Oil fell sharply Thursday along with a broad sell-off in stocks triggered by worries about the global economy.

In the U.S., two reports raised concerns about demand for gasoline, which is made from oil. First, more people than expected applied for unemployment benefits last week. And prices for gas, food and clothing rose last month.

Gasoline, on average, cost $3.59 a gallon Thursday. That's down 10 percent from a 2011 high of $3.98 on May 5. Gasoline should fall as low as $3.25 between mid-September and mid-October if oil stays at current levels, says Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service.

In the Buffalo Niagara region, a gallon of regular averaged $3.80 on Thursday, down 4 cents from a week ago.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for September delivery fell $5.20, or 5.9 percent, to finish at $82.38 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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Sears takes quarterly hit

NEW YORK (AP) -- The operator of Sears and Kmart stores said Thursday that its second-quarter loss grew as it marked prices down to make room for fall merchandise.

The weaker-than-expected results sent Sears Holdings Corp. shares down more than 6 percent by midday as the market overall sank on investor fear about the global economy.

The quarterly loss is the second in a row for long-struggling Sears, which is led by billionaire chairman Edward Lampert, and the fourth the company has reported in its last five quarters.

Sears cut 250 jobs and closed 29 stores during the second quarter to help cut costs, though analysts say the company's perennial weakness stems from cutting costs at the expense of investing in its stores.

Sears' net loss was $144 million, or $1.37 per share, compared with a loss of $39 million, or 35 cents per share, a year earlier.

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Slow growth projected

NEW YORK (AP) -- A private research group forecast that the economy will grow slowly in the second half of the year because of the support it's gotten from the Federal Reserve.

The Conference Board said its index of leading economic indicators rose 0.5 percent in July. The index had risen 0.3 percent in June.

This summer's readings suggest that the economy won't pick up enough this year for the jobless rate to drop much. The small moves higher however indicate that the country likely won't fall back into recession, as some economists fear.

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Firm awarded $225,000

NIAGARA FALLS -- The Empire State Development Corp. awarded Ashland Advanced Materials LLC $225,000 in funding from the Economic Development Fund.

The money will aid the carbon and graphite manufacturer as it expands its operations and establishes a graphic manufacturing facility in the long-abandoned SGL Carbon site at 6100 Niagara Falls Blvd. in Niagara Falls. The project has a total price tag of $8,837,749.

The company plans to renovate the 100,000-square-foot carbon manufacturing plant, purchasing new machinery and equipment, furnaces and power systems. The grant money will specifically go toward purchasing and installing the equipment.

The company, established in 2008, has created 28 jobs so far and pledges to create 75 more by January 2013.

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