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BUSINESS BRIEFLY

For 21st straight day, price of gasoline rises

NEW YORK (AP) -- The price of gasoline rose for the 21st straight day Tuesday. Drivers are now paying an average of $3.72 a gallon nationwide, about 24 cents more than before the streak began.

The winter surge is being driven primarily by the rising price of oil, which has been above $100 a barrel since Feb. 10 as tensions mount between the West and Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

Nationwide, gasoline prices are 10 percent higher than a year ago -- and at their highest level ever for the end of February.

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Consumer confidence jumps

NEW YORK (AP) -- A private research group says that consumer confidence in February rose dramatically from last month to the highest level since a year ago, when the U.S. economy's outlook started to look brighter before souring again.

The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index now stands at 70.8, up from a revised 61.5 in January, helped by consumers' improving assessment of the job market. Analysts had expected a reading of 63. The February reading marks the highest level since February 2011, when it was 72.0.

The index, which is closely watched because consumer confidence makes up the majority of U.S. economic activity, is still far below the 90 that indicates a healthy economy. But it's closer to levels that indicate a steady economy than not. The index has risen slowly since hitting an all-time low of 25.3 in February of 2009. And in the past 12 months, it's gone from the high 60s to the low 40s amid continued worries about the health of the U.S. economy.

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Home price index tumbles

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Home prices fell in December for a fourth straight month in most major U.S. cities, as modest sales gains in the depressed housing market have yet to lift prices.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home-price index shows prices dropped in December from November in 18 of the 20 cities tracked. The steepest declines were in Atlanta, Chicago and Detroit. Miami and Phoenix were the only cities to show an increase.

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Bank profits at 5-year high

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. banks are coming off their most profitable year since 2006, a sign that many have put the financial crisis behind them.

The surge in bank earnings came largely because banks suffered fewer losses -- not because they took in more money. The slow recovery, record-low interest rates and weak demand for loans left bank revenue mostly flat for the year.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said Tuesday that bank earnings rose in the October-December quarter to $26.3 billion. And for the entire year, earnings rose to $119.5 billion. That's 40 percent higher than the previous year and the most since 2006.

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Durable goods orders drop

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Businesses slashed spending on machinery and equipment in January after a tax break expired, pushing orders for long-lasting manufacturing goods down by the largest amount in three years.

Orders for durable goods fell 4 percent last month, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.

A big reason for the decline was demand for so-called core capital goods, which are viewed as a good measure of business investment plans, tumbled 4.5 percent. That's the biggest drop in a year.

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Bodog gambling site seized

BALTIMORE (AP) -- The sports gambling site Bodog was shut down, and four Canadians were indicted, including founder Calvin Ayre, for illegal gambling that generated more than $100 million in winnings, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.

The website's domain name was seized Monday, and the indictments, which were returned Feb. 22, were unveiled Tuesday in Baltimore, prosecutors said.

The indictments follow federal prosecutions last year of three of the biggest websites involved in online poker. More than 75 company bank accounts in 14 countries have been frozen, and authorities are seeking $3 billion in fines and restitution in that investigation.