Updated at 2:28 p.m., Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Business briefs: Best Buy profits jump 52 percent
Associated PressNEW YORK Goldman Sachs Group Inc. on Tuesday gave a cautious outlook for Wall Street in 2008 because of the ongoing credit crisis, even as the world's largest investment bank chalked up another record-breaking year.
During the fiscal fourth quarter, Goldman's $3.17 billion profit was fueled by higher investment banking fees, one-time asset sales, and surprisingly strong debt trading results. Though quarterly results easily surpassed Wall Street's projections, for some analysts they lacked the kind of power and finesse investors have come to expect.
There had been wide hope that Goldman's cadre of top bankers would be able to take advantage of the market dislocation by scooping up distressed securities and locking in profit. Instead, Goldman said it faced one of the worst Novembers on record, which has only somewhat loosened this month.
That caused already skittish investors, who are looking for any signs the market will bounce back, to sell shares of financial stocks. Goldman shed $7.12, or 3.4 percent, to close at $201.51. The stock dipped as low as $196.90 on the day.
NEW YORK Stocks rose Tuesday after investors found solace in the European Central Bank's $500 billion loan issuance, but the possibility of recession in 2008 made for a back-and-forth session.
The ECB's massive 16-day tender supported the idea that the world's central banks are working to revive demand in struggling areas of the credit market. The Bank of England also said it will offer additional reserves to lenders Tuesday, after the U.S. Federal Reserve on Monday auctioned off $20 billion in 28-day credit.
Few are calling the end of the credit crunch just yet, though, and the market's seesaw movements on Tuesday reflected its uncertainty. Alongside U.S. government data showing that new home construction dropped in November to its lowest rate in more than 16 years, the central banks' actions had a hard time galvanizing a market that remains anxious that the economy has further to fall.
Meanwhile, cautious comments from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Best Buy Co. dampened some of the market's enthusiasm over the companies' better-than-expected quarterly earnings.
WASHINGTON The Federal Reserve moved Tuesday to protect home buyers from dubious lending practices, its most sweeping response to a mortgage meltdown that has forced record numbers of people from their homes.
The Fed has been under attack for not doing more to stem the crisis as hundreds of thousands of people lost the roof over their head. The situation raised the odds the country will fall into recession, unhinged Wall Street, racked up multibillion losses for financial companies and resulted in political finger-pointing over who was to blame.
The proposed rules, endorsed by the Federal Reserve Board in a 5-0 vote, would crack down on a range of shady lending practices that has burned many of the nation's riskiest "subprime" borrowers those with spotty credit or low incomes who have been hardest hit by the housing and credit debacles. The rules also would curtail misleading ads for many types of mortgages and bolster financial disclosures to borrowers.
If ultimately adopted, the plan would apply to new loans made by thousands of lenders of all types, including banks and brokers. It would not cover loans already made.
WASHINGTON Housing construction fell in November with single-family activity dropping to the lowest level in more than 16 years. Analysts said the recession in housing showed no signs of a turnaround.
The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that construction of new homes and apartments dropped by 3.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.187 million units.
Construction of single-family homes fell by 5.5 percent to an annual rate of 829,000 units. It was the eighth consecutive drop in single-family starts, pushing activity in this area to the lowest level since April 1991. Apartment building rose last month by 4.4 percent to an annual rate of 332,000 units.
In an ominous sign for future activity, the government reported that applications for building permits fell for a sixth straight month, dropping by 1.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.15 million units, the slowest pace for building permits since June 1993.
WASHINGTON Congress by a wide margin approved the first increase in automobile fuel economy in 32 years Tuesday, and President Bush plans to quickly sign the legislation, accepting the mandates on the auto industry.
The energy bill, boosting mileage by 40 percent to 35 miles per gallon, passed the House 314-100 and now goes to the White House, following the Senate's approval last week.
In a statement, the White House said Bush will sign the legislation at the Energy Department on Wednesday.
In a dramatic shift to spur increased demand for nonfossil fuels, the bill also requires a six-fold increase in ethanol use to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022, a boon to farmers. And it requires new energy efficiency standards for an array of appliances, lighting and commercial and government buildings.
WASHINGTON The Federal Communications Commission, overturning a 32-year-old ban, voted Tuesday to allow broadcasters in the nation's 20 largest media markets to also own a newspaper.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was joined by his two Republican colleagues in favor of the proposal, while the commission's two Democrats voted against it.
Martin pushed the vote through despite intense pressure from House and Senate members on Capitol Hill to delay it. The chairman, however, has the support of the White House, which has pledged to turn back any congressional action that seeks to undo the agency vote.
At Tuesday's meeting, the chairman described the media ownership proceeding as "the most contentious and divisive issue" to come before him.
That proved true as the two Democrats in the commission blasted the proposal in unusually strong language for the normally sedate agency.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. Sprint Nextel Corp. reached out to a familiar face Tuesday in its search for a leader to overcome disappointing subscriber numbers and make the nation's third-largest wireless provider competitive again.
The Reston, Va.-based company named Dan Hesse, chairman and chief executive of wireline company Embarq Corp., as its new president and chief executive officer.
Hesse, an almost 30-year telecommunications veteran who at one time ran AT&T Wireless, operated Sprint's local telephone division for a year before it was spun off to form Embarq last year. Both Embarq and Sprint's operational headquarters are based in Overland Park, Kan.
He replaces Gary Forsee, who was ousted from Sprint Nextel in October following several quarters of falling subscriber numbers and other operational troubles.
The selection of Hesse, whose name was mentioned early as a possible CEO replacement, was greeted with approval from most industry observers Tuesday.
MINNEAPOLIS Best Buy Co., the nation's largest consumer electronics retailer, reported a 52-percent jump in third-quarter profits and it raised its guidance for the full year.
Best Buy's third-quarter profit was well ahead of analyst expectations. TV prices fell less than last year. Best Buy added stores, but kept a lid on corporate expenses. And a fluke in the calendar plopped an extra week of post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping into the third quarter.
But what the calendar gave in the third quarter, it will take away in the fourth. Without giving formal quarterly guidance, interim Chief Financial Officer Jim Muehlbauer acknowledged on a conference call that the results implied fourth quarter earnings of $1.70 per share to $1.80 per share. Analysts expected $1.82.
The Richfield, Minn.-based company said the rapid revenue growth of the third quarter would slow in the fourth because the extra holiday shopping week falls in the third quarter, and because this year's fourth quarter is one week shorter than last year's.