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Lexus, a Toyota brand, avoids taint from recalls

It has been a rough few months for Toyota because of its three big safety recalls. But the automaker’s luxury division, Lexus, appears to have avoided much of the fallout.

Even though a Lexus ES 350 was involved in a widely publicized accident before the recalls, Lexus sales are up about 5 percent so far in 2010 compared with last year. That is close to the average for other luxury brands.

By contrast, sales of models with the Toyota nameplate fell 15 percent.

The number of Lexus owners shopping for a new Lexus increased from December to February, while the number of Toyota owners planning to stay with the brand declined, according to Kelley Blue Book, which tracks vehicle sales and values. Lexus residual values have held steady as Toyota’s have fallen slightly.

Analysts said that sales of Lexus have held up partly because the brand is not included in the most serious recall for sticking accelerator pedals.

Not one of the eight models that Toyota temporarily stopped selling and building was a Lexus.

Only about 500,000 Lexus cars have been recalled, compared with 8 million Toyota-brand models.

Democrats struggle to finish health bill

WASHINGTON — House and Senate Democratic leaders struggled Thursday to stitch together pieces of a final health care bill as rank-and-file Democrats demanded more information about the contents of the bill and its cost.

Leaving a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, lawmakers said they had received few details about what would be in the legislation, on which they may be asked to vote in the next week or two.

“Everyone expressed frustration that we do not have comprehensive cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va.

In addition, lawmakers said, they were not given the text of the latest legislation drafted by House and Senate Democratic leaders and the White House to address widespread concerns about the bill passed by the Senate in December.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the House would soon approve the Senate bill and a separate package of changes, using a procedure known as budget reconciliation to avoid the threat of a filibuster against the second bill in the Senate.

Rep. Anthony D. Weiner, D-N.Y., said it was difficult for lawmakers to know how they would vote on a bill they had not seen.

House Democrats said Pelosi had assured them they would have at least one week to examine the text of the budget bill before voting on it.

Airline group lowers loss forecast for 2010

A leading airline trade group cut its forecast for industry losses this year in half on Thursday because of what it said was a stronger-than-expected economic recovery in emerging markets, especially in Asia and Latin America.

The trade group, the International Air Transport Association, had been predicting 2010 losses of $5.6 billion as recently as December amid concerns that unsold seats and empty cargo holds would keep a lid on revenue. The new forecast was for a loss of $2.8 billion.

“Passengers are returning to flying,” Giovanni Bisignani, the association’s secretary general, said at a news briefing. “While it is still too early to celebrate, this is a good signal for the economy.”

The association raised its forecast for 2010 passenger traffic growth to 5.6 percent from 4.5 percent, compared with a 2.9 percent decline in 2009. Cargo traffic, which fell 11 percent in 2009, is now expected to rise 12 percent this year, up from a December forecast of 7 percent growth.

But the global growth picture remains uneven, the association said.

North American and European markets were lagging, with gains in international passenger demand of just 2.1 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively, in January.

Hsbc now says data of 24,000 clients stolen

PARIS — HSBC said Thursday that the theft of Swiss client data at the heart of a recent tax dispute with France was much larger than it previously acknowledged.

The revelation was the latest in a fight over tax evasion that has strained relations between Switzerland and its neighbors.

The theft, carried out about three years ago by a former employee of HSBC’s private banking unit, involved about 24,000 accounts, the bank said. They included about 15,000 existing clients who had accounts with the bank in Switzerland before October 2006, as well as 9,000 closed accounts, HSBC said.

The private banking unit, which has about 100,000 clients, said last year that encrypted data pertaining to no more than 10 clients had been stolen.

“The bank does not believe that the stolen data has or will allow any third party to access any client account,” HSBC said, adding that no data was compromised for any of its branches outside Switzerland.

Nonetheless, the breach has created the possibility that governments will find ways to use the data to pursue tax cheats, just as officials in Germany have turned to a set of stolen computer files bought from an unknown person to encourage tax evaders there to come clean.