Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Dec 10, 2009 6:00 PM

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Europe exceeds US in bank bonus crackdown

NEW YORK (AP) _ The leaders of Britain and France are embracing a one-time tax on fat bonuses paid by bailed-out banks _ a restriction that goes far beyond what's being considered in the United States.

Still, anger over lavish Wall Street pay is forcing some U.S. banks to take pre-emptive action. Goldman Sachs, the elite investment bank that repaid its $10 billion in bailout funds earlier this year, said Thursday it won't give cash bonuses to 30 top executives. Instead, they'll be paid in stock that can't be cashed in for five years.

Given Goldman's influence on Wall Street, its action will put pressure on other top U.S. banks to adopt similar measures. But it's unlikely to dampen what's shaping up as a blowout bonus season thanks to swift recovery by big banks in the U.S. and Europe.

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Americans' net worth up for 2nd straight quarter

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Americans got wealthier for a second straight quarter in the fall, thanks to gains in stock investments and home values.

Net worth _ the value of assets such as homes, bank accounts and investments, minus debts like mortgages and credit cards _ rose 5 percent from the second quarter to $53.4 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

Yet even with that gain, Americans' net worth remains far below the revised peak of $64.5 trillion reached before the recession began. That underscores the vast loss of wealth over the past two years.

Net worth would need to rise an additional 21 percent just to return to its pre-recession peak.

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1 year later, fallout from Madoff's massive fraud

NEW YORK (AP) _ A year after Bernard Madoff's scheme collapsed _ with headlines of $50 billion in losses _ investigators and investors are still struggling to measure the full scope and impact of the largest securities fraud in history.

The scandal has already resulted in more aggressive enforcement and stiffer sentences for white-collar crime, and tougher regulations for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Investigators are looking at other possible suspects _ including Madoff's closest family _ in the massive fraud that sent the 71-year-old mastermind to prison for life, stripped his family of their earnings and wiped out the life savings of thousands of investors.

After an intense investigation, authorities still can't account for all the money investors claim they lost, although some went to pay off other investors and to support his lavish lifestyle.

The epic swindle so far has resulted in a 150-year sentence for Madoff and the arrests of four underlings. A court order stripped Madoff's wife, Ruth, of most of her wealth, forcing her to move out the couple's Manhattan penthouse. The family's mansions, yachts and clothes have been auctioned off to repay investors.

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Chinese car market overtakes that of United States

SHANGHAI (AP) _ China has overtaken the U.S. as the world's biggest market for automobiles, the first time any other country has bought more vehicles than the nation that produced Henry Ford, the Cadillac and the minivan.

Now that the Chinese buy more cars and trucks than Americans, the shift could produce ripples for the environment, gas prices and even the kinds of cars automakers design.

More than 12.7 million cars and trucks will be sold in China this year, up 44 percent from the previous year and surpassing the 10.3 million forecast in the U.S., according to J.D. Power and Associates.

China has long been expected to overtake the U.S. since its population of 1.3 billion is more than quadruple that of the United States. But the increase in sales happened much faster than anyone expected.

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Stocks rise as trade deficit narrows in October

NEW YORK (AP) _ A jump in exports lifted stocks Thursday, offsetting concerns about an increase in unemployment claims.

The market came away with modest gains for the day after the Commerce Department said rising exports helped narrow the nation's trade gap to $32.9 billion in October. Economists had been expecting an increase.

A weaker dollar is raising demand for U.S. goods by making them less expensive for overseas buyers. That trend helped to lift U.S. exports by 2.5 percent, the sixth straight monthly increase.

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Natural gas prices surge as crude fades

NEW YORK (AP) _ Natural gas prices surged 8 percent Thursday as the government reported supplies dropped for the first time in nine months, yet the price of crude fell for the seventh straight day.

A barrel of crude dipped below $70 for the first time in two months.

Crude and natural gas prices move for very different reasons, but when there is a sell-off in oil markets, a lot of that money can flow into natural gas contracts.

Trading volumes in natural gas this week have nearly doubled.

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Exports up for 6th straight month, boost recovery

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The economic recovery is likely to draw strength from exports such as farm products, autos, aircraft and industrial machinery _ all of which helped lower the nation's trade deficit in October.

Exports of U.S. goods rose for a sixth straight month. Further gains in exports should bolster manufacturers, who struggled during the recession.

The trade deficit fell to $32.9 billion in October, 7.6 percent below a revised September deficit of $35.7 billion, the Commerce Department said Thursday. The improvement reflected a 2.5 percent jump in exports. Imports rose a smaller 0.4 percent, a gain that was held back by a big drop in oil imports.

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Gov't mortgage plan provides little permanent help

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Obama administration's embattled mortgage relief plan has provided permanent help to only 4 percent of borrowers who have signed up, weak results that could threaten the housing market's recovery.

As of last month, just over 31,000 homeowners had received permanent loan modifications. That compares with about 760,000 who have signed up for the program since it launched in March.

Among big lenders, Bank of America Corp. had the worst performance in the Treasury Department report card released Thursday. GMAC Mortgage had the most modifications of any lender.

The Treasury Department said it will step up pressure on the industry to improve.

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AOL finally regains independence from Time Warner

NEW YORK (AP) _ AOL resumed life as an independent Internet company Thursday as it completed its spinoff from Time Warner Inc. and closed the book on one of the most disastrous business combinations in history.

AOL shares fell 15 cents to close at $23.52 Thursday. Time Warner stock closed up $1.23, or 4.2 percent, at $30.45.

Today's AOL is much different from the company once known as America Online, which got big in the 1990s by selling dial-up Internet access and then used $147 billion of its inflated stock to buy Time Warner. AOL, which is now worth about $2 billion, is trying to get most of its money from running advertisements on its portfolio of Web sites.

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Woods scandal a boon to Internet publications

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Like any good celebrity scandal, the Tiger Woods drama has triggered a spike in traffic to Web sites offering details of his Thanksgiving weekend car crash and his alleged extramarital affairs.

One of the most heavily trafficked sites has been Woods' own site, where he has posted his only public comments about his crash. The site got 488,000 unique visitors the week of his crash, up from fewer than 11,000 the week before, according to The Nielsen Co.

The Orlando Sentinel, which serves the area of Woods' home, scored about 1.2 million unique visitors the week of the crash, more than 2 1/2 times the number of visitors the week before, Nielsen said.

Meanwhile, visits to the entertainment site TMZ.com and sports news site Deadspin.com, which both had scoops on the Woods story, were up more than 50 percent.

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McDonald's to roll out breakfast dollar menu

CHICAGO (AP) _ McDonald's Corp. will begin selling a variety of breakfast items for $1 early next month, a spokeswoman for the world's largest hamburger chain said Thursday.

The move to add to its already popular dollar menu comes as McDonald's tries to fight a decline in U.S. sales, which have slipped following months of success when its cheap eats were a big draw for recession-strapped diners.

On tap to be added to the menu, which already includes eight items for lunch and dinner time, are the company's Sausage McMuffin, a sausage burrito, a sausage biscuit, a small coffee and a hash brown.

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By The Associated Press

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 66.78, or 0.7 percent, to 10,405.83, pushing it back into the winning column for the month.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 6.40, or 0.6 percent, to 1,102.35, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 7.13, or 0.3 percent, to 2,190.86.

Benchmark crude for January delivery gave up 13 cents to settle at $70.54 a barrel on the Nymex. Prices dropped as low as $69.81 a barrel earlier in the day.

Natural gas for January delivery jumped 40 cents to settle at $5.298 per 1,000 cubic feet on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other Nymex trading in January contracts, heating oil lost less than a penny to settle at $1.9029 a gallon while gasoline lost 2.22 cents to settle at $1.8351 a gallon.

In London, Brent crude for January delivery fell 53 cents to settle at $71.86 on the ICE Futures exchange.