Nordstrom profits dip 68 percent in quarter

Upscale retailer Nordstrom Inc. reported Monday that its fourth-quarter earnings fell 68 percent largely due to heavy discounting over the holiday shopping season and said its earnings for the year could miss Wall Street estimates.

The Seattle-based chain said Monday that it earned $68 million, or 31 cents per share, in the quarter that ended Jan. 31. That compares with $212 million, or 92 cents per share, a year earlier.

Sales in the quarter fell 8.7 percent to $2.3 billion from $2.5 billion. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters forecast earnings of 30 cents per share on revenue of $2.28 billion.

Reid bill will work to speed OKs for lines

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he will introduce legislation this week to speed approvals of transmission lines for sending renewable power across the United States.

“My legislation will require the president to designate renewable energy zones with significant clean energy-generating potential,” Reid, D-Nev., said at a conference in Washington Monday sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The effort is intended to help improve national security by making the nation less dependent on other countries for fuel, he said.


Microsoft concedes glitch in layoffs

A few weeks after launching the first wide-scale layoffs in its history, Microsoft Corp. admits it botched a key part of the plan.

First Microsoft realized that an administrative glitch caused it to pay more severance than intended to some laid-off employees. The company’s response: It asked the ex-workers for the money back.

But when one of Microsoft’s letters seeking repayment surfaced on the Web on Saturday, the situation turned embarrassing. On Monday, the company reversed course and said the laid-off workers could keep the extra payouts.

Lisa Brummel, Microsoft’s senior vice president for human resources, said the letters were mailed to 25 of the 1,400 people let go in January. Most of the checks were off by about $4,000 to $5,000, she said.


Unmasking holders of accounts to take time

A federal judge decided Monday it will take months to determine if and when the Internal Revenue Service will learn the identities of 52,000 wealthy Americans who have secret accounts at Swiss bank UBS AG.

U.S. District Judge Alan Gold set a July 13 hearing on the IRS lawsuit, unless an agreement is reached first. UBS claims that turning over the account names would violate Swiss privacy law and jeopardize the bank’s license to stay in business.


United Auto Workers, Ford reach agreement

The United Auto Workers and Ford Motor Co. said Monday they agreed to let the automaker change how it pays for a health care trust fund for retired workers, a deal that could serve as the model for cash-starved General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC.

Ford said the agreement allows it to make payments to the union-managed trust with up to 50 percent of company stock instead of cash. Having the UAW take equity frees up cash for operations.


JPMorgan Chase will cut quarterly dividend

JPMorgan Chase said Monday it will slash its quarterly dividend to 5 cents per share from 38 cents in a bid to preserve capital.

Chief Executive Jamie Dimon said the cut was a precautionary measure to ensure that the company has financial flexibility should economic conditions drastically worsen. The move will save the company about $5 billion per year.

Dimon said he is not predicting, but is ready for: A recession lasting two years, a U.S. unemployment rate above 10 percent, and a 40 percent peak-to-trough decline in home prices.


Strong dollar hurts Campbell Soup profits

The Campbell Soup Co. is selling more recession-friendly soups, pasta sauces and Goldfish crackers, but it’s finding that a strong dollar has hurt its profits overseas.

The Camden-based company said Monday that its second-quarter profit dropped 15 percent overall. Earnings were $233 million, or 64 cents per share, for the three months ended Feb. 1, down from $274 million, or 71 cents per share, a year earlier.

Sales fell 4.5 percent to $2.12 billion from $2.22 billion.

Soup sales in the United States rose 4 percent for the quarter, and sales for the whole U.S. soup division, which includes sauces and beverages, rose 3 percent.


Financier will advise car industry task force

A Wall Street financier will advise the government’s auto industry task force reviewing the restructuring of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC.

Steven Rattner will serve as counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and lead a team advising Geithner and White House economic adviser Larry Summers.

Rattner’s firm, Quadrangle Group, said Monday that he was leaving to take the new role.

Rattner had been a leading candidate to become the so-called “car czar.” But President Barack Obama decided instead to name a task force to deal with the future of GM and Chrysler.


Buffett to offer voice on recession lessons

Billionaire Warren Buffett will explain in his annual letter Saturday how the current economic turmoil affected his company over the past year, and the revered investor will likely point out a few lessons of the recession.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholder letters are one of the best-read business documents released each year, and many companies use quotes from Buffett’s writings in their own reports.

Spokeswoman Carrie Kizer said Monday that Buffett’s letter and Berkshire’s 2008 annual report will be posted online at on Saturday morning.

Rolls-Royce model sales rise 20 percent

Rolls-Royce will debut a smaller, leaner, less formal car next week at the Geneva Auto Show. The 200EX concept is a near-production version of the saloon that will begin production in 2010.

So, is this a smaller Rolls for leaner times? Is the car’s gross tonnage some kind of index of the global economy?

Not really. The fact is, sales of the Phantom, extended-wheelbase Phantom Coupe and Phantom Drophead Coupe have been brisk, despite the $400,000 to $560,000-plus price tag. Global sales of 1,212 in 2008 were up 20 percent from the year before.


Treasury prices rise as stocks fall back

Treasury prices rose Monday as stocks tumbled on bank worries, but the gains were dampened by the anticipation of government debt supply.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury note rose 0.31 points to 99.91. Its were unchanged at 2.77 percent.

The 30-year bond rose 1.28 to 99.84, and its yield fell to 3.52 percent from 3.56 percent.

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