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BUSINESS BRIEFLY

Neeson is golden in 'Grey' ticket sales

NEW YORK (AP) -- Beware the Liam in Winter.

Liam Neeson's "The Grey" topped the weekend box office with $20 million, according to studio estimates Sunday, continuing the actor's success as an action star in the winter months.

The Alaskan survivalist thriller opened above expectations with a performance on par with previous Neeson thrillers "Taken" and "Unknown."

Last week's box-office leader, "Underworld: Awakenings," Sony's Screen Gem's latest installment in its vampire series, came in second with $12.5 million, bringing its cumulative total to $45.1 million.

Oscar favorites "The Descendants," "Hugo" and "The Artist" sought to capitalize on their recent Academy Award nominations. Each expanded to more theaters and saw an uptick in business.

Fox Searchlight's "The Descendants," which is nominated for five Oscars -- including best picture -- added 1,441 screens in its 11th week of release. It took in $6.6 million and has made $58.8 million, making it one of Fox Searchlight's most successful releases.

Paramount's "Hugo," which led Oscar nominations with 11 -- including best picture -- saw a 143 percent jump in business over its last weekend. In its 10th week of release, it earned $2.3 million, bringing its total to $58.7 million.

The Weinstein Co.'s "The Artist," with 10 Oscar nominations -- including best picture -- expanded a modest 235 screens to bring it to a total of 897 screens in its 10th week of release. It earned $3.3 million, with a total of $16.7 million.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com:

1. "The Grey," $20 million.

2. "Underworld: Awakening," $12.5 million.

3. "One for the Money," $11.8 million.

4. "Red Tails," $10.4 million.

5. "Man on a Ledge," $8.3 million.

6. "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," $7.1 million.

7. "The Descendants," $6.6 million.

8. "Contraband," $6.5 million.

9. "Beauty and the Beast," $5.3 million.

10. "Haywire," $4 million.

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Exxon drops refining

TOKYO (AP) -- Exxon Mobil Corp. is selling its Japanese refining and marketing business to partner TonenGeneral Sekiyu K.K. in a deal valued at $3.9 billion.

TonenGeneral Sekiyu will buy 99 percent of the shares of Exxon Mobil Yugen Kaisha, which refines and sells fuel and lubricants, the Japanese refiner said. Exxon Mobil's stake in TonenGeneral will drop from 50 percent to 22 percent.

Exxon Mobil said the deal, announced Sunday, will result in a refining and marketing business "better positioned to meet Japan's energy needs."

Large oil and gas companies have been shedding refining operations in recent years, especially in developed markets where demand for gasoline and diesel has been weak.

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Business this week

These are the major business and economic events scheduled this week:

*Today: The Commerce Department releases personal income and spending for December.

*Tuesday: The Labor Department releases the fourth-quarter employment-cost index; Standard & Poor's releases S&P/Case-Shiller index of home prices for November; the Conference Board releases the Consumer Confidence Index for January; the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with the director, Richard Cordray.

*Wednesday: The Institute for Supply Management releases its manufacturing index for January; the Commerce Department releases construction spending for December.

*Thursday: The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims; Freddie Mac, the mortgage company, releases weekly mortgage rates; the Labor Department releases fourth-quarter productivity data; Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before the House Budget Committee about the state of the economy.

*Friday: The Labor Department releases employment data for January; the Institute for Supply Management releases its service sector index for January; the Commerce Department releases factory orders for December.