IN BRIEF

NEW YORK

Snow saps ‘Super Saturday’ sales; retailers hope for rush

Super Saturday — the last Saturday before Christmas and usually ranked as the biggest or second-biggest sales day of the year — got walloped by a big East Coast snow storm that kept many shoppers at home.

Merchants in the Northeast are now left to hope for an even bigger-than-usual last-minute spending surge from shoppers who, several surveys show, are behind on their holiday purchases compared with previous years.

Several stores, including Target Corp. and Toys R Us, announced earlier this week they will extend their hours to accommodate shoppers in the final days before Christmas. But analysts say there are no signs stores have begun a wave of discounting to make up for the Saturday shortfall.

Research firm ShopperTrak reported Tuesday that Super Saturday sales dropped 12.6 percent from a year ago, while foot traffic fell 12.4 percent, as a winter storm lashed the East Coast. That’s on top of a 12.4 percent sales decline and a 17 percent drop in foot traffic on Super Saturday in 2008 compared with the prior year. The firm, based in Chicago, tracks total retail sales at more than 50,000 outlets.

ShopperTrak reported that Saturday’s sales totaled $6.9 billion, compared with $7.9 billion last year and $8.7 billion in 2007. For the full weekend, sales slipped 2.1 percent to $18.8 billion compared with a year ago.

WASHINGTON

FBI investigates hacker attack at Citigroup, newspaper reports

The FBI is investigating a hacker attack on Citigroup Inc. that led to the theft of tens of millions of dollars, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. The bank strenuously denied the report.

Citing anonymous government officials, the Journal reported that the hackers were connected to a Russian cybergang. Two other computer systems, at least one connected to a U.S. government agency, were also attacked.

In a statement, Citi said “any allegation that the FBI is working on a case at Citigroup involving a breach of Citi systems resulting in tens of millions of dollars of losses is false. There has been no breach and there have been no associated losses.”

Dow Jones & Co. spokesman Robert Christie said the Journal stands by the accuracy of its story.

Citibank has 15 retail branches in Nevada and a credit card processing center, which employ 1,900 workers.

RENO

Market-research company sees uptick in Reno home prices

A market-research company predicts a slight increase in home prices in the Reno-Sparks area next year after a string of sharp declines over the past two years.

First American CoreLogic projects an appreciation in values of about 1.5 percent through October 2010.

Last month, the company specializing in real estate was anticipating a slight decrease in values of .03 percent through September of next year.

The revised forecast is the first positive projection since the Reno-Sparks market saw values plummet nationally. Area home prices fell as much as 20.8 percent in October compared with the same month in 2008.

Ken Amundson, president of the Reno-Sparks Association of Realtors, says that despite the steep drop from last year, prices have remained stable since May.

PHILADELPHIA

Black unemployment outpaces rate for whites, nation

Black unemployment has climbed from 8.9 percent to 15.6 percent since the recession began in December 2007, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released Tuesday show.

In comparison, the nation’s overall rate has risen from 4.9 to 10 percent. The white rate climbed from 4.4 percent to 9.3 percent.

Although the gap between black and white unemployment has narrowed, there has been a 1.2 percent decline in the black labor force participation rate, more than any other group — which means that fewer blacks are even looking for work. That has held down the black unemployment rate because such “discouraged workers” are not included in unemployment statistics.

The Congressional Black Caucus recently sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking for $139 billion in unused bank bailout funds to be spent on a long list of training programs and job-creation efforts, including jobs directly created with federal dollars.

It would be unconstitutional to designate aid or jobs specifically for blacks, so the CBC is asking for at least 10 percent of various funds to be spent in areas where 20 percent of the population is below the poverty line.

WASHINGTON

Obama meets officials from small banks, promises help

President Barack Obama welcomed the leaders of a dozen small banks to the White House on Tuesday, saying they largely were not to blame for the financial crisis and promising to help cut federal red tape so they could increase lending to small businesses.

“I think it’s fair to say that most of these community banks were not engaged in some of the hugely risky activities that helped to precipitate the financial crisis,” Obama told reporters at the end of the meeting. “At the same time, they continue to try to do their best in their local and regional markets to make sure that businesses who are now being affected by the overall recession are able to pick themselves back up.”

Obama’s kind words came a little more than a week after he described the heads of large financial institutions as “fat-cat bankers” who caused the financial crisis. Obama met at the White House with several chief executives of large banks on Dec. 14 and urged them to lend more money to small businesses to help create jobs.

But most lending to small businesses is done by the thousands of small banks nationwide, which have cut back on making loans as they struggle with bad commercial real estate mortgages and other fallout from the financial crisis and recession.

The bankers said they were not lending more partly because of tougher constraints by federal banking regulators, which have been pressing all banks to hold onto more capital to cover potential losses. Obama, noting that the regulators are independent and don’t report directly to the White House, said his administration was looking at ways to “cut some of the red tape.”

Charge for cleanup expenses leads to American Pacific loss

American Pacific Corp. of Las Vegas on Tuesday reported a fourth-quarter loss after taking an $8.2 million after-tax charge for environmental cleanup expenses.

The company said it will install more equipment to hasten removal of ammonium perchlorate from Henderson groundwater because the water cleanup is going slower than expected.

American Pacific lost $4.6 million, or 61 cents per share, in the fourth quarter ended Sept. 30, reversing earnings of $4.3 million, or 57 cents per share, a year earlier.

Revenues fell 10.7 percent to $63.6 million from $71.2 million. Operating expenses increased $1 million to $12 million.

American Pacific shares rose 81 cents, or 10.42 percent, Tuesday to close at $8.58 on the Nasdaq National Market.

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