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IN BRIEF

General Growth hints bankruptcy may come

Shares in General Growth Properties sank to 48 cents on Tuesday, one day after the owner of several prominent Las Vegas malls suggested a date with bankruptcy may be in its future.

General Growth, which counts Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian, Shoppes at Palazzo, Fashion Show, Boulevard and Meadows malls among its portfolio of about 200 properties in 44 states, has about $4 billion in debt due by the end of 2009 and a market capitalization of just $131 million.

Managers of the Chicago-based company acknowledged the depth of their upside-down status on Monday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The markets responded Tuesday by pushing share values down 88 cents, or 64.31 percent. General Growth stock was worth $46.95 per share one year ago.

DALLAS

Southwest may add international flights

One of the knocks on Southwest Airlines — you’ll hear it from fans of other carriers — is that you can’t fly to London or Paris on one of its planes.

That won’t change right away, but Southwest is finally taking baby steps into international service.

This week, it announced a deal to sell travel to Mexico in 2010 with partner Volaris, a well-financed Mexican carrier that is just two years old. Southwest has already said it would team with WestJet to offer U.S.-Canada travel by late 2009.

Southwest executives are overseeing a technology makeover that will modernize its reservations system to handle more international travel. They are talking to other carriers about service to Hawaii and the Caribbean.

Las Vegas Hilton posts wider loss for quarter

The Las Vegas Hilton widened its a third-quarter loss from last year due to a sharp drop in casino revenues, according to a filing Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The property posted a net loss of $6.2 million for the quarter ended Sept. 30, an increase from the $4.2 million posted a year earlier.

The Las Vegas Hilton, however, increased its year-to-year net income by 61 percent the first nine months of 2008, posting $3.9 million profit compared to $2.4 million in net income last year.

Third-quarter revenue fell 8.6 percent to $63.5 million from $69.4 million last year.

Nine-month revenue slid by 0.7 percent to $219.5 million from $221 million.

Third-quarter casino revenues slid 22.4 percent to $21.8 million, but the hotel, and food and beverage posted slight revenue gains.

Starbucks boss shrinks from shop-opening goal

Starbucks Corp. Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz backed away from his goal of opening 40,000 stores after the world’s largest chain of coffee shops reported fourth-quarter profit that plunged 96 percent.

Starbucks on Tuesday said 2009 earnings per share may be as low as 71 cents or as high as 90 cents, depending on how steeply sales deteriorate. In July it forecast earnings per share of 90 cents to $1. Analysts had estimated 87 cents.

Sales at stores open at least 13 months, a key measure of retail performance, declined 8 percent in the U.S., more than Starbucks expected, as consumers paying higher gasoline and grocery prices cut back on premium coffee.

The results and Schultz’s retreat underscored the company’s need to focus less on growth and more on profits.

“This is not a time for lofty goals,” Schultz said Monday.

RALEIGH, N.C.

Nevada company draws investigation

North Carolina’s attorney general is investigating a Nevada company that offers to help collect child support payments in return for taking a third of the monthly payments.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Monday some parents thought Child Support Services of Wake County was a government agency. One mother signed a contract that would have cost her $10,000. The actual local government agency would have charged no more than $25.

Authorities in Florida and Georgia also are investigating. The company and its owner, Stuart C. Cole, have been ordered to shut down in Florida. He did not respond to the newspaper’s phone messages, e-mail and a letter seeking comment.

He spent five years in prison for mail fraud and money laundering involving construction firms along the East Coast.

HOUSTON

Crude oil prices decline ahead of energy report

Crude oil prices fell Tuesday, two days ahead of a report from the International Energy Agency, which some analysts suspect will cut its 2009 oil demand forecast for the third consecutive month.

Sharp swings in crude prices are coming almost daily on the New York trading floor.

Light, sweet crude for December delivery fell $3.08 to settle at $59.33 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest closing price since March 2007. Prices had dipped a dollar below that earlier in the day.

Oil prices fell despite signs that OPEC members are proceeding with production cuts agreed to last month.

***

U.S. bond markets were closed Tuesday for Veterans Day.

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