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American consumers made 1998 the third-best year in history for sales of new cars and light trucks, an industry report showed. Led by foreign companies, the industry sold 15.6 million units in the US. Asian automakers posted a 4 percent gain in US sales. Europeans, with a wide array of new models, recorded a 29 percent increase. Sales of US makes rose by 1 percent. Much of the increased demand was due to rebates and other incentives.

New orders for US manufactured goods rose in November, the Commerce Department said. Factory orders increased 0.6 percent to $336.6 billion in November on a seasonally adjusted basis, after a revised 1.7 percent drop in October. It was the fifth rise in the past six months.

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To tap into new markets in Russia, US-based International Paper Co. said it's buying majority interest in a pulp and paper plant near St. Petersburg - its first investment in that country. The price was not reported. International Paper employs more than 80,000 people worldwide, but recently announced 9,000 layoffs at mills in New York, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Louisiana.

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