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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 5, 2010

BUSINESS BRIEFS
Retail industry finishes fiscal year on strong note


Associated Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Bob Monty, right, and his brother, Ray, shop for computers at a Best Buy store in Williston, Vt. Retailers received a pleasant surprise in January as shoppers spent more.

TOBY TALBOT | Associated Press

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NEW YORK Wealthier shoppers went on a buying binge in January and even middle-income folks spent a little more, retailers said yesterday. Some chains reported their brightest monthly results in years.

The prospects for many stores' fourth-quarter profit also brightened further. Macy's, Gap Inc., Children's Place Retail Stores Inc. and others raised their outlooks yesterday because their total sales rose and they didn't have to discount as heavily to sell what they ordered for the holiday season.

Compared with a sharp drop last year in January sales at stores open at least a year, the strong performances offered a nice finish to the industry's fiscal year, which typically ends in January.

"It ties a nice bow around the fourth quarter," said Bryan Eshelman, managing director in the retail practice of AlixPartners, a global business advisory firm.

EMPLOYERS SQUEEZE MORE OUT OF STAFFS

WASHINGTON Employers are managing to boost production without creating new jobs. The question is when they'll feel the need to ramp up hiring.

Squeezing more output from their existing staffs allowed companies to boost productivity in the past quarter. And last week, the number of people filing new claims for jobless aid rose.

Many employers lack confidence that the recovery is sustainable, especially as government stimulus measures fade, economists said. Companies still feel bruised from the recession.

BOFA FACES CIVIL CHARGES IN N.Y.

NEW YORK The New York attorney general's office said yesterday it filed civil charges against Bank of America and its former CEO Ken Lewis, saying the bank misled investors about Merrill Lynch before it acquired the Wall Street bank in early 2009.

Civil charges were also being filed against Joe Price, who was chief financial officer at the time of the deal and is now head of BofA's consumer banking division.

Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission has reached a settlement to resolve federal charges it brought against the bank over similar issues.

COMCAST, NBC GRILLED OVER PLAN

WASHINGTON Congressional Democrats challenged executives from Comcast Corp. and NBC Universal yesterday to show that the cable TV operator's plan to take control of the entertainment company won't hurt consumers and rivals.

In back-to-back hearings, members of House and Senate subcommittees express- ed concern that the transaction could lead to such competitive harms as higher cable television rates and fewer video programming choices.

Comcast is seeking federal approval to acquire 51 percent of NBC Universal from General Electric.