Investment News Briefs

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.

Nikkei Hits Three-Month High; Obama to Small Banks: Step Up the Lending; Tax Credit Fuels 7.4% Gain in November Home Sales; OPEC Leaves Oil Output Unchanged; WSJ: Apple Approaches CBS, Disney About Internet Television Service; Report: Computer Hackers Stole Millions of Dollars from Citi; Federal Court Upholds Ruling on Patent Infringement by Microsoft; Buffett Adds Comcast COO to Berkshire Board

  • A weaker yen and strong technology stocks helped Japan's Nikkei 225 finish 1.9% higher at 10,378.03 yesterday (Tuesday), the highest level in three months. Most shares of tech companies gained after Barclays Capital (NYSE ADR: BCS) upgraded its rating on Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) from overweight to market weight on Monday. "The U.S. dollar strength is undoubtedly helping out the Nikkei," Cameron Peacock, an analyst at IG Markets told "With Japan being such an export-focused economy, the weaker yen is a real positive for Japanese companies' earnings."
  • The White House will seek to remove bureaucratic barriers that prevent community banks from lending so they can help businesses seize "enormous opportunities" for growth, U.S. President Barack Obama told the heads of a dozen small lenders yesterday (Tuesday). The president encouraged the bankers to keep the nascent recovery of the U.S. economy going by increasing their lending to small businesses and supporting the financial reform measures being proposed on Capitol Hill.
  • The ongoing first-time buyer tax credit helped existing home sales in the United States gain 7.4% to an annual rate of 6.54 million units in November, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) said yesterday (Tuesday). First-time buyers accounted for more than half of the sales, an increase from October's upwardly revised 50%. "We expect a temporary sales drop while buying activity ramps up for another surge in the spring when buyers take advantage of the expanded tax credit, which hopefully will take us into a self-sustaining market in the second half of 2010," said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. "In all, 4.4 million households are expected to claim the tax credit before it expires and balance should be restored to the housing sector with inventories continuing to decline."
  • Light, sweet crude oil for February delivery fell 0.3% to $73.51 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchnage (NYMEX) after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) agreed at a meeting yesterday (Tuesday) to keep its output steady. The production compliance of 4.2 million barrels a day sank from 80% earlier this year to 60% recently, and some market analysts think OPEC may have to tighten supply if it wants to keep prices higher than $70 per barrel next year. "Without specific commitments from Nigeria and Angola there remains a question mark over future compliance," Lawrence Eagles of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) told Dow Jones Newswires. Money Morning's outlook for 2010 expects a weak dollar and growing demand for energy to push the "black gold" over $100 per barrel.
  • In what could be a significant challenge to the dominance of cable and satellite companies, CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS) and The Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) are considering a plan of Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) to offer television subscriptions over the Internet, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. The Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple is pushing to complete licensing deals and hopes to introduce the service next year, the people said. Spokespeople from all three companies declined comment, but a spokesman for DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) said "it's difficult to gauge how competitive they will be without seeing packaging, presentation and execution."
  • The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating a computer-security breach that resulted in the theft of tens of millions of dollars from Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C), government officials told The Wall Street Journal. The attack, which appears to be linked to a Russian cyber gang, was aimed at Citi's retail subsidiary Citibank, which includes more than 1,000 branches throughout the United States. The lender flatly denied the report: "We had no breach of the system and there were no losses, no customer losses, no bank losses," Joe Petro, managing director of Citi's security and investigative services told The Journal, adding, "Any allegation that the FBI is working a case at Citigroup involving tens of millions of losses is just not true."
  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasadaq: MSFT) said it will adjust its Word application to remove a feature deemed to be a breach of a Canadian patent, enabling the software giant to continue to sell one of its most popular programs. A U.S. federal court upheld a $290 million verdict against Microsoft for infringing a patent held by i4i Inc., a small Canadian software company. Versions of Word with the offending code will be prohibited from being sold in Canada starting on January 11, Microsoft said.
  • Warren Buffett chose Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA) Chief Operating Officer Stephen Burke to serve on Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s (NYSE: BRK.A, BRK.B) board of directors, Berkshire said today. Burke's father, Daniel, helped build and run one of Buffett's most successful investments in the 1990s: Capital Cities/ABC.