More U.S. travelers expected to go abroad

More U.S. travelers will head to other countries during their summer travel season, defying higher airfares and a drop in the value of the dollar, a study showed.

About 25.1 million Americans will go abroad in June, July and August, a 2.6 percent increase from the same period in 2007, AAA said. The Heathrow, Fla.-based motoring group released its first U.S. summer international travel forecast today in Washington.

“Americans will rearrange their budgets and postpone some trips, but they are still interested in traveling abroad,” Betsy Sell, AAA managing director of travel, said in a statement.

The weak dollar will make Americans spend 5.7 percent more overseas during the three-months, AAA said in the report, which the group commissioned Global Insight Inc. to write. Fliers may also pay more for plane tickets as carriers boost fares and add surcharges to recoup surging fuel costs.

Total international expenditures by U.S. travelers during the season will reach $30.7 billion, with Canada and Mexico getting the largest amounts, the study showed. After those countries, Italy, the U.K., France, Germany and Hong Kong are next in line for traveler spending, AAA said.


Buffett criticizes ratings for bond insurers

Billionaire Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has begun competing with MBIA Inc. and Ambac Financial Group Inc. to insure municipal bonds, said some rivals don’t deserve their AAA credit ratings.

Credit-rating firms shouldn’t be giving top grades to bond insurers that borrow money at 14 percent or whose stock has dropped 95 percent, Buffett said at a press conference Sunday in Omaha after Berkshire’s annual meeting.

Berkshire, whose credit is also rated AAA, owns almost 20 percent of Moody’s Corp., one of the biggest U.S. credit rating firms.

That’s attracted scrutiny from Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who said in an interview last week he’s probing possible conflicts of interest between Berkshire’s 4-month-old bond insurer and the stake in Moody’s.

Buffett said Saturday he’s never tried to influence the firm. Buffett created the bond insurer in December after state regulators sought to help governments get coverage when losses jeopardized the AAA ratings of bond insurers MBIA and Ambac.

States and municipalities buy bond insurance to raise the rating on their debt, lowering the interest rate and saving taxpayers money.

Ambac has dropped 94 percent in the past 12 months of New York Stock Exchange trading, and MBIA has tumbled 84 percent.

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