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Sales at US retail stores barely edged up in April, the Commerce Department reported. It was the second straight month of slim gains, indicating some leveling off in the pace of consumer demand. Total retail sales increased 0.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted $239.33 billion after a revised 0.1 percent gain in March. The decline - partly reflecting slumps in new-car and department-store sales - was weaker than Wall Street economists' forecasts for a 0.3 percent pickup in April sales.

US wholesale prices jumped in April as the energy sector saw its biggest price rise since just before the Gulf War, the Labor Department reported. Its producer price index rose 0.5 percent last month after a 0.2 percent gain in March. Stripping out volatile food and energy costs, the core index rose 0.1 percent after a flat reading in March.

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With inflation showing "a consistent downward trend," Brazil's Central Bank dropped its main interest rate from 29.5 percent to 27 percent - the third cut in two weeks - and President Fernando Henrique Cardoso predicted it would be as low as 10 to 12 percent by year's end. After the devaluation of the nation's currency, the real, in January, interest rates shot up to 45 percent as a defense against inflation.

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