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Republicans pull back on immigration, not on guns

WASHINGTON — As Congress and the White House prepare to refight two epic policy battles from the past — a new agenda to stem gun violence and another to address the nation’s heavily criticized immigration system — political, demographic and economic shifts are propelling immigration changes forward as forcefully as they are pulling lawmakers away on guns.

Bruised by successive presidential defeats in which Hispanic voters played a significant role, Republicans are eager to join in producing legislation that would make it easier for people to immigrate to the United States or stay here in some cases if they entered illegally. The cause has been helped by years of a sputtering economy, which has reduced the flow of illegal immigrants, and thus the red hot anger directed at them, as well as increased border security.

But while Republicans are drawing back from their outspoken stance on immigration, as well as opposition to gay marriage and other social issues, they have found gun rights a secure policy to defend, often with the help of Democrats from conservative states, and are almost certain to oppose any agenda beyond changes to background checks for gun owners.

The dynamic in Washington mirrors the sentiment back home for many lawmakers.

“We are getting closer to a balanced approach,” said Chad Connelly, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, about immigration. “We got spanked in November, and I think what Republicans are looking for is something that enforces border security while making it easier to come here.”

—Jennifer Steinhauer, The New York Times

Ford motor profit rises 54 percent

DETROIT — Last year, Ford Motor broke ranks with other auto companies when it announced major cuts in its troubled European operations, including the closing of three factories, to address a sharp downturn in sales on the continent and an oversupply of vehicles.

On Tuesday, Ford, the second-biggest American automaker, behind General Motors, startled the industry again by predicting that Europe, a critical market, would get worse before it begins improving later this year.

Ford said European auto sales, including commercial vehicles, could fall as low as 13 million this year, and its own annual losses in the region could reach $2 billion. Europe is Ford’s second-largest market, after North America.

“The industry did 14 million last year, and that was the worst in 20 years,” Bob Shanks, Ford’s chief financial officer, said in an interview. “But the industry is continuing to decline, and we think 13 million is the trough.”

—Bill Vlasic, The New York Times

Bloomberg outlines leaner budget with spending flat

NEW YORK — Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, proposing a New York City budget for the 12th and last time, called Tuesday for agencies across the city to cut costs as he seeks to keep spending flat despite the prospective loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in state education aid because of a labor dispute.

Bloomberg offered no major new initiatives but said the city would spend billions of dollars to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. All of that money, he said, would be supplied by the federal government.

The mayor proposed closing 20 firehouses, reducing thousands of city-financed child-care slots and cutting thousands of teacher positions — all suggestions he had made in past years but had dropped after resistance from the City Council.

Overall, Bloomberg proposed a $70.1 billion budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins July 1. That is $1.6 billion more than the one approved by the City Council for the current fiscal year. But because of emergency city spending connected to the hurricane, the actual figure in the current fiscal year will be $70.4 billion — meaning that Bloomberg is proposing a slightly leaner budget.

Much of the increase stems from costs that the city says it cannot control, like those of pensions, health care, Medicaid and debt service. But Bloomberg said that an improving national economy, the recovery on Wall Street and the city’s increasingly diversified economy would cushion the blow.

—David W. Chen and Marc Santora, The New York Times

Analysts see the good in Amazon’s poor results

A glorious future beats a glorious past.

Investors decimated Apple last week when it appeared the world’s mightiest profit machine might be slowing down just a tad. But they cheered Tuesday when Amazon said its fourth-quarter sales and earnings fell short of expectations. Oh, and expect a lousy first quarter, too.

Shares in Amazon immediately jumped nearly 10 percent in after-hours trading, about the same amount that Apple fell after releasing its news.

What caught the eye of investors was that operating margins as a percent of consolidated sales rose to 3.2 percent, from 2.7 percent a year ago.

“The carrot for Amazon investors is improvements to margin over time,” said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray. Apple, on the other hand, would need to build a cheaper iPhone to keep growing as fast as it has been, which would slice into its margins.

For more than a decade, Amazon has teetered between minimal profits and no profits. During all of 2012, it said Tuesday, it lost money. But Wall Street has always been more about promises than results, and Amazon is always on the verge of converting its overwhelming online presence into buckets of cash.

“As long as the dream is there, the stock is going to go up,” Munster said.

—David Streitfeld, The New York Times