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The US trade deficit shot up to $15.5 billion in November as exports of aircraft, computer equipment, and farm products fell sharply while imports climbed to an all-time high. The deficit was up 14 percent from a revised October figure of $13.6 billion, the Commerce Department reported. With one month still to be counted, the deficit in goods and services is already at an all-time high of $153.9 billion. The old mark was $153.4 billion, set in 1987.

UAL Corp's United Airlines, the US's largest carrier, said it was in discussions to acquire America West Airlines, the ninth-largest. America West Holdings Corp., the parent of America West, issued a separate statement, saying it had been contacted by a number of other airlines about a possible deal. But America West did not identify the airlines and said it would have no additional comment.

A key austerity measure was passed by Brazil's lower house of Congress, boosting government efforts to right the nation's ailing economy. The approval of increased pension contributions by current and retired civil servants moves President Fernando Henrique Cardoso closer to meeting his obligations to the International Monetary Fund and donor nations, which extended his government $41.5 billion in credit last fall. Investors were watching the vote as a test of his ability to address an alarming budget deficit, a major contributor to Brazil's financial turmoil.

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