Archive for December, 2009

Key facts on holiday shopping 2009 (AP)

Thursday, December 24th, 2009 | Finance News

Key facts about this holiday shopping season:

• SPENDING: Holiday shoppers have brought retailers a mildly positive season.

Spending through Dec. 19 is tracking a little below the 1.6 percent growth forecast by ShopperTrak, a research firm that monitors sales and traffic at more than 50,000 outlets. Sales had been in line with modest expectations but were derailed by the winter storm that slammed the East Coast this past weekend.

Stores on making up the sales loss in the final surge in the days before Christmas.

• DISCOUNTS: Retailers offered lots of aggressive promotions heading into the season.

However, they didn't order nearly as much merchandise as last year, so they didn't have cut prices drastically beyond what they had planned. Many shoppers with memories of last year were left waiting for 80 percent or 90 percent discounts that never came.

• RETAILER PROFITS: Those low inventories should protect retailers' bottom lines, a big turnaround from a last year's bleak holidays that led prominent sellers like Circuit City Stores Inc. into bankruptcy.


U.S. banks fight plan to share information abroad (Reuters)

Thursday, December 24th, 2009 | Finance News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) –
A U.S. financial crime agency's plan to let foreign police seek information from American banks is drawing opposition from groups representing U.S. financial institutions.

The proposed rule by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a division of the Treasury Department, would also permit U.S. state and local law enforcement authorities to make similar information-sharing requests of banks.

Regulations adopted after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 allow only federal law enforcement agencies, through FinCEN, to request such information.

FinCEN can require U.S. financial institutions to search their records to determine whether they have done business with individuals suspected, based on credible evidence, of terrorism or money laundering.

Written comments on the proposed expansion of the rule were due December 16, and more than half a dozen organizations, including the American Bankers Association (ABA) and the Credit Union National Association, said the plan is intrusive.

In a 13-page letter, ABA Vice President Robert Rowe called the proposal "premature and unfounded" and said it represented a "dangerous broadening" of the information-sharing process.

"There is absolutely no indication that the extraordinary power available under the 314(a) data-match program was ever intended by Congress to be put at the service of foreign countries," he wrote, referring to FinCEN regulations that are part of the U.S. Patriot Act of 2001.

The Credit Union National Association, a trade organization that represents thousands of state and federal credit unions, said it was worried about the burden the rule would impose on its members.

FinCEN has estimated that information requests under the rule would require no more than 72 additional hours per year per institution to process. The association said many of its small members cannot afford to automate their processes.

"As a result, search requests would take significantly longer in a manual environment," it said.

FinCEN would review the banks' comments before deciding how to proceed, spokesman William Grassano said. "As with all comment letters FinCEN receives on proposals, we carefully review and consider the points made and perspective brought to the discussion," he said.

FinCEN in November proposed adopting screening procedures to assure that foreign law enforcement agencies use the information-sharing program only in "significant situations" and only if unable to find needed information through traditional investigative means.

"This program for sharing information with the financial industry is a proven tool, and these changes will help further protect the integrity of our national financial system," FinCEN Director James Freis said in a statement last month.

Although comment periods on proposed rules often last as long as 180 days, FinCEN limited the period in this case to 30 days. The agency said the timing of the proposal was prompted by international treaty obligations.

(Reporting by Dan Margolies. Editing by Robert MacMillan)


Data lifts stocks to 2009 highs on Christmas Eve (Reuters)

Thursday, December 24th, 2009 | Finance News

NEW YORK (Reuters) –
U.S. stocks rallied in a brief pre-holiday session on Thursday, closing at 2009 highs, after data showing a drop in initial jobless claims and growth in durable goods orders suggested an economic recovery was picking up steam.

Stocks racked up a fifth day of gains on light volume before the Christmas holiday. After finishing early for Christmas Eve on Thursday, markets will be closed on Friday.

Data showed initial jobless claims fell more than forecast last week to the lowest tally since September 2008, while a separate report showed durable goods orders, excluding transportation, surged 2.0 percent, beating expectations.

The reports were "more wind at the market's back," said

Michael James, senior trader at regional investment bank Wedbush Morgan in Los Angeles.

Stocks that have performed well this year received an extra lift from year-end window dressing as portfolio managers sold laggards to buy shares that have rallied recently. Apple Inc (AAPL.O), which has gained 144.9 percent this year, closed at a record high -- up 3.4 percent at $209.04. Earlier in the abbreviated session, which ended at 1 p.m., Apple also hit a fresh intraday high of $209.35.

"There's far more people who have gains on a lot of names this year, who are less likely to want to sell," James said.

The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) gained 53.66 points, or 0.51 percent, to end at 10,520.10. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (.SPX) gained 5.89 points, or 0.53 percent, to finish at 1,126.48. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC) rose 16.05 points, or 0.71 percent, to close at 2,285.69.


For the week, the Dow gained 1.9 percent, the S&P 500 rose 2.2 percent, and the Nasdaq jumped 3.4 percent, capping its longest winning streak since October.

With the Dow setting a 14-month closing high on Thursday,

the blue-chip average is up 19.9 percent for 2009.

The S&P 500, which also finished Thursday's abbreviated session at a 14-month high, is up 24.7 percent for the year.

The Nasdaq -- ending at a 15-month closing high on Thursday -- is up an eye-catching 45 percent for 2009.

In Thursday's session, Apple's stock also got a boost as excitement intensified over the expected release of its tablet computer.

Healthcare was the lone S&P 500 sector to end slightly lower after the U.S. Senate approved an overhaul measure Thursday morning.

Health insurer Cigna Corp (CI.N) slipped 0.4 percent to $36.33, and the Morgan Stanley Healthcare Payor Index (.HMO) declined 0.3 percent.

Health insurers and related stocks have rallied recently as legislation appeared less ominous for the sector than originally feared. But the Senate health bill must be reconciled with the measure approved recently by the U.S. House of Representatives, adding to uncertainty.

The U.S. dollar (.DXY) dipped 0.08 percent against a basket of major currencies, which helped push commodity prices higher. That, in turn, lifted shares of natural resource companies. Shares of steelmaker Nucor Corp (NUE.N) gained 2.2 percent to $47.10.

Volume was light on the New York Stock Exchange, with only 319.3 million shares changing hands, sharply below last year's estimated daily average of 1.49 billion. On the Nasdaq, about 613.8 million shares traded, also well below last year's daily average of 2.28 billion.

Advancing stocks outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a ratio of 3 to 1, while on the Nasdaq, eight stocks rose for nearly every five that fell.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Jan Paschal)