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With our investment news briefs, Money Morning provides investors with a quick overview of the most important investing news stories from all around the world.
Japan's Economy Grows; Home Builder Confidence Up; New York Manufacturing Rises; Credit Card Defaults Stabilize in July; MSNBC Buys "Hyperlocal" News Aggregator; Reader's Digest Files for Bankruptcy; Lowe's Profit Falls 19%
- Japan's economy is once again growing, with its gross domestic product (GDP) rising 3.7% in the second quarter. A rebound in exports to China and a large stimulus program helped Japan bounce back from contraction that, at an annualized rate of 11.7%, was more than double that of the United States' in the first quarter. Officials at Japanese companies think the nation's worst recession since World War II is nearly over, according to a survey released last weekend.
- The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo confidence index rose to 18 this month, a one-year high, Bloomberg News reported. Still, a reading below 50 means most respondents view conditions as poor. "Inventory is being cleared and that is starting to benefit the new-home market," Julia Coronado, a senior economist at BNP Paribas SA in New York told Bloomberg. "With a few months' lag, that will lead to a turnaround in construction activity."
- The Federal Reserve Bank of New York's general economic index rose to 12.1, higher than forecast and the first increase since April 2008. Any reading above zero indicates that manufacturing is growing. "Inventories were drawn down to such amazingly low levels that companies need to start bringing them back," said Tom Porcelli, a senior economist at RBC Capital Markets Corp. in a Bloomberg News interview. "We are coming out of the recession. It's probably over at this point."
- Credit card default rates showed signs of stabilization in July, Reuters reported, citing regulatory filings by multiple large U.S. banks. Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), the bank with the highest default and delinquency rates saw its charge-off rate shrink slightly to 13.81% in July from 13.86%. "It just seems to bear out what we heard in the second-quarter calls, that things seem to be getting marginally better — and I would stress marginally — on the consumer side," Nancy Bush, founder of NAB Research, said of Bank of America.
- Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) joint venture MSNBC.com has acquired "hyperlocal" news and information Web site EveryBlock. Terms were not disclosed, but in June Time Warner Inc.'s (NYSE: TWX) AOL acquired a similar Web site, Patch for $7 million, The Washington Post reported. EveryBlock offers news in 15 cities. "Joining with MSNBC.com gives us the resources to turn EveryBlock from a cool, useful service into something much bigger," said Adrian Holovaty, founder of EveryBlock. Holovaty and the company's staff of five will remain based in Chicago.
- Reader's Digest Association Inc., whose namesake magazine says it is the bestselling magazine in the world, as a part of a prearranged plan with lenders to cut debt by 75%. If the court approves the deal, Reader's Digest's debt would be reduced to $550 million from its current $2.2 billion. "Our deal has already been negotiated and hammered out with a majority of our creditors," said Chief Executive Officer Mary Berner in an interview with Reuters. The announcement "doesn't affect our employees, it doesn't affect the vast majority of vendors, it doesn't mean we'll do mass layoffs, it doesn't mean we're going to be selling off assets. It's business as usual."
- Continuing weak demand, bad weather and charges related to the halting of its expansion contributed to a 19% drop in Lowe's Cos.' (NYSE: LOW) second quarter earnings. The world's second-largest home improvement retailer after Home Depot Inc. (NYSE: HD) saw its profit fall to $759 million, or 51 cents a share for the quarter ended July 31. That compares to a net income of $938 million, or 63 cents a share in the same period last year. Sales fell 4.6% to $13.84 billion and same-store sales dropped 9.5%.