U.S. trade deficit is smallest in 10 months

The U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly shrank in November as growing global demand and a weaker dollar help boost overseas sales of everything from aircraft to cotton. The gap shrank 0.3 percent to $38.3 billion, the smallest in 10 months, as exports climbed to the highest level in more than two years, according to data from the Commerce Department. A 10 percent drop in the dollar since March 2009 is making U.S. goods more competitive abroad, lifting demand at companies like General Electric Co. and Boeing Co. The gain in exports exceeded a rise in imports that mainly reflected a price-driven surge in purchases of crude oil.

Marathon Oil splitting into two companies

Marathon Oil Corp., the fourth-biggest U.S. integrated oil company, will spin off its fuelmaking business, creating a refiner that may be worth $9 billion. Marathon shareholders will get one share of the new entity, Marathon Petroleum Corp., for every two shares they own as of a still undetermined date, according to a company statement. Marathon Petroleum will be the fifth-largest U.S. refiner, capable of processing 1.14 million barrels of crude a day, the company said. The company considered the split in 2008, but delayed it due to turmoil in the financial markets and lower commodity prices. The refining company, the largest in the Midwest, will be based in Findlay, Ohio.

Starbucks cuts a deal with India's Tata Coffee

Starbucks, the Seattle-based coffee chain, said Thursday that it would work with Tata Coffee, an Indian company, to buy coffee beans from India and would explore the possibility of opening outlets in the south Asian country. India tightly regulates foreign-owned retail chains. Companies that sell only one brand of goods can own 51 percent of their Indian operations while those that sell more than one brand cannot have any foreign ownership. Policymakers recently hinted they might relax the policies. Tata Coffee owns and operates coffee plantations and is part of India's largest business conglomerate, the Tata Group.

Moody's, S&P warns U.S. of debt burden

Two major credit ratings agencies warned Thursday that the United States might tarnish its triple-A credit rating if its national debt kept growing. It was not the first time the agencies, Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service, warned that the nation's gilt-edged rating might fall into jeopardy. The bond market shrugged at Thursday's news. In a quarterly report on the nation's credit risk, Moody's said there was an increasing probability of revising its outlook on its Aaa rating for the United States to negative from stable within the next two years if no action were taken. That stops well short of actually reducing the rating. But even a small revision, if it comes, would probably rattle the financial markets and might even hamper America's ability to borrow the money it needs to finance its deficit. Moody's has been rating U.S. government debt since 1917, and has always rated it Aaa. Separately, S&P analysts, speaking at a conference for financial reporters in Paris, said that America's fiscal condition had worsened in recent months. In one of its own recent reports, S&P emphasized the "growing economic, fiscal, and protectionism risks" of the United States but said it was maintaining its strong AAA rating on the country.

Delta narrow-body jet order could be record

Delta Air Lines Inc. plans to order 100 to 200 narrow-body jets and seek options for 200 more, a deal that might become the biggest in commercial aviation history, as it replaces some of its oldest planes. A request for proposals went to "several" planemakers last month, and deliveries may begin as soon as 2013, Atlanta-based Delta told employees Thursday.