Pending home sales rise modestly in September

WASHINGTON, Thu Oct 25, 2012 — Contracts to buy previously owned homes rose far less than expected in September, an industry group said on Thursday, but the data continued to point to an improving tone in the housing market.

The National Association of Realtors said its Pending Home Sales Index, based on contracts signed in September, gained 0.3 percent to 99.5.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected signed contracts, which become sales after a month or two, to rise 2.1 percent after declining 2.6 percent in August.

“This means only minor movement is likely in near-term existing home sales, but with positive underlying market fundamentals they should continue on an uptrend in 2013,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.

The housing market is steadily healing after collapsing in 2006, supported by modest job gains, increased job security and record low mortgage rates. Pending home sales were up 14.5 percent in the 12 months to September.

Contracts were up in three of the country’s four regions. They fell 5.8 percent in the Midwest to the lowest rate since January.

Boeing third quarter profit beats expectations; defense strong

CHICAGO, Wed Oct 24, 2012 – Boeing Co. posted stronger-than-expected results for the third quarter on Wednesday and raised its forecast for the full year, as its defense business improved and commercial aircraft deliveries surged.

The company said it earned $1.0 billion, or $1.35 a share, compared with $1.1 billion, $1.46 a share, a year ago. Revenue rose to $20.0 billion from $17.7 billion.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S had expected Boeing to post earnings per share of $1.13 for the quarter that ended Sept. 30.

“They were obviously strong in defense, which is certainly good to see,” said Ken Herbert, an analyst at Imperial Capital LLC.

Defense revenue fell 4 percent $7.8 billion, compared with a year ago, but margins widened to 10.5 percent from 10 percent.

Those shifts reflected contraction of defense spending – a growing trend as the United States and Europe cut budgets – but also showed Boeing’s ability to be “very aggressive” in cutting costs, Herbert said. “They’re ahead of the curve compared with their peers.”

Blackstone third-quarter profit up on strong fund performance

NEW YORK, Thu Oct 18, 2012 – Blackstone Group LP, the largest publicly listed alternative asset manager, said on Thursday third-quarter were its third best since going public in 2007 as its funds appreciated in value and performance fees soared.

Blackstone reported that third-quarter economic net income, a measure of its profitability using the mark-to-market valuation of its portfolio, rose to 55 cents per share from a loss of 34 cents per share a year earlier.

Blackstone, which has investments in The Weather Channel, Pinnacle Foods and SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, said distributable earnings, reflecting actual cash available to pay dividends, rose to $189.6 million from $125.7 million a year ago.

Assets under management totaled $205 billion at the end of September, up 30 percent from a year earlier.

Blackstone declared a quarterly distribution of 10 cents per common unit.

Union Pacific profit up 15 percent on chemical, auto shipments

OMAHA, Neb., Thu Oct 18, 2012 – Aircraft Union Pacific Corp. posted a 15 percent rise in profit as an increase in the largest publicly traded U.S. railroad’s shipments of freight, including autos, offset weak coal shipments.

The company said on Thursday third-quarter profit was $1.04 billion, or $2.19 per share, compared with $904 million, or $1.85 per share, a year earlier. Earnings were a penny per share higher than analysts’ average forecast of $2.18 a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Revenue rose 4.7 percent to $5.34 billion, from $5.1 billion, a year earlier. Wall Street had anticipated $5.38 billion.

The company reported a 12 percent drop in coal volumes, reflecting a long slump in shipments that has affected U.S. railroads since the mild winter of 2011-2012. Strong shipments of chemicals and autos helped offset that decline. Smaller railroad CSX Corp. on Tuesday reported a 2 percent decline in third-quarter profit as coal shipments fell 16 percent.

Coal volume has been off since the mild winter of 2011-12 and CSX officials said they expect that weakness to continue into next year, by which time utilities will have burned off their inventories. Union Pacific shares are up about 38 percent over the past year, sharply outpacing the 13 percent rise of the Dow Jones transportation average.

Schwab profit up 12 percent; to buy asset manager

NEW YORK, Mon Oct 15, 2012 – Charles Schwab Corp. said higher asset management revenues helped boost third-quarter profit 12 percent, and the U.S. brokerage announced plans to buy smaller asset manager ThomasPartners Inc.

Brokerages like Schwab have been under pressure due to soft equity trading as uncertainty over Europe’s debt problems, the state of the U.S. economy, and the upcoming U.S. election keep many retail investors on the sidelines. Years of ultra-low interest rates have also been a drag on profits.

San Francisco-based Schwab on Monday said it earned $247 million, or 19 cents a share, in the third quarter, up from $220 million, or 18 cents a share, a year earlier.

The latest results included a nonrecurring tax benefit of about $20 million. Excluding that benefit, earnings were about 17 cents a share, in line with analysts’ average estimate, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue rose 1 percent to $1.2 billion.

Shares of Schwab were up 5 cents at $13.00 in midday trading in New York.

Schwab said it had struck a deal to buy money manager ThomasPartners, which focuses on dividend income, as it anticipates growing demand for income-oriented investment strategies. The deal includes an $85 million cash payment and possible future payments based on growth in assets under management.

“We think this acquisition is further evidence of Schwab’s push to increase fee-based advisory products in an effort to increasingly ‘annuitize’ its revenue stream in a low-rate backdrop,” said Keith Murray, an analyst at Nomura Equity Research.

ThomasPartners managed $2.3 billion in assets as of September 30, in largely growth-oriented investment portfolios designed to generate dividend income streams. The firm already uses Schwab as a custodian for its assets.

Corporate investment in U.S. start-ups rises 16 percent in second quarter: report

SAN FRANCISCO, Thu Sep 20, 2012 – Corporate-backed venture groups invested $2.1 billion in the quarter ended June 30, up 16 percent from the same period in 2011, underscoring the continued allure start-ups hold for their more established competitors.

The corporate-backed funds invested in some 118 companies in the United States, according to a report released on Thursday by consultancy CB Insights, with internet companies winning almost one-third of the cash.

Healthcare and the automotive/transportation sectors each took 20 percent.

Most deals involved co-investors from traditional venture capital firms such as First Round Capital, Index Ventures, and Sequoia Capital.

Big companies like to invest in start-ups to keep an eye on potential new technologies and players in their fields. Financial gains are typically are less important than the strategic insights the bigger companies gain.

Chrysler U.S. August sales up 14 percent

DETROIT, Tue Sep 4, 2012 – Chrysler Group LLC reported its 29th consecutive month of year-on-year sales gains with a 14-percent rise in August.

Chrysler sales were 148,472 vehicles, which the company said showed its best performance for August since 2007.

U.S. auto industry sales should be 14.6 million new vehicles on a seasonally adjusted annualized rate, including medium and heavy-duty trucks, Chrysler said.

Taking out the medium and heavy trucks, that would be about 14.3 million light cars and trucks, compared with 14.1 million projected in July.

Analysts use the light vehicles sales figure as a key measure of the industry’s health.

Economists polled by Thomson Reuters last week expected an August annualized sales rate of 14.2 million light vehicles.

Chrysler is managed by and majority owned by Fiat SpA.

Private sector adds 163,000 jobs in July: ADP

NEW YORK, Wed Aug 1, 2012 – The pace of job creation by private employers slowed modestly in July to 163,000 new jobs, though the gain still topped economists’ expectations, a report by a payrolls processor showed on Wednesday.
The figure from the ADP National Employment Report came in well above forecasts for 120,000 jobs, but was down from June’s 172,000 jobs. June was originally reported as 176,000.
The report is jointly developed with Macroeconomic Advisers LLC.
Stock index futures held gains immediately after the data, while Treasuries extended losses and the euro fell against the dollar.
“This is another resilient outcome. It does show that things are chugging along and this is pretty respectable,” said Sean Incremona, economist at 4Cast Ltd in New York.
The ADP figures come ahead of the government’s much more comprehensive labor market report on Friday, which includes both public and private sector employment.
That report is expected to show nonfarm payrolls rose by a modest 100,000 last month, while the unemployment rate is seen staying the same at 8.2 percent.
“The diversion between nonfarm payrolls is quite worrying and this could do something to lift expectations if it’s not distorted by things like initial claims, which were volatile throughout the month,” Incremona said.
Economists often refer to the ADP report to fine-tune their expectations for the payrolls numbers, though it is not always accurate in predicting the outcome.

Best Buy shares up; former chairman said to be recruiting executives

RICHFIELD, Minn., Mon Jul 30, 2012 – Shares of Best Buy Co. Inc. rose 2.5 percent on Monday after a published report that founder and former Chairman Richard Schulze has been recruiting executives to lead the electronics retailer if he succeeds in a bid to take the company private. Bloomberg Businessweek reported on Monday that the executives Schulze is trying to recruit include a former Best Buy CEO, Brad Anderson.
Schulze has been working with banks, including Credit Suisse, to explore a potential private takeover of the world’s largest consumer electronics retailer, sources have told Reuters.
Schulze resigned from the company’s board in June and said he was exploring options for his ownership stake. He lost the chairmanship after a probe by a board committee found he had failed to tell the board about allegations of personal misconduct by then-CEO Brian Dunn.
A representative for Schulze declined to comment on the Bloomberg Businessweek story. A representative for Best Buy could not be reached for comment.
Best Buy shares were up 45 cents at $18.21 in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
Best Buy has lost business due to the tendency of consumers to use its stores as a “showroom” to try out electronic products that they then purchase for less money elsewhere, often from online retailers such as Amazon.com.
The company has been closing stores, cutting jobs and trying out a new store format to try to improve its business.

Chrysler April sales rise 20 percent; best April in four years

DETROIT, Tue May 1, 2012 – Chrysler Group LLC’s U.S. new-vehicle sales rose 20 percent last month, marking the best April performance in four years, as the industry headed for another strong performance.

Chrysler, controlled by Fiat SpA of Italy, said Tuesday that sales hit 141,165 vehicles, compared with 117,225 in the same month last year.

The U.S. automaker said it expects the April annual selling rate for the industry to finish at 14.6 million vehicles. That would be stronger than the 14.4 million 41 analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had forecast and would also top the March rate of 14.4 million.

Auto sales are watched as one of the earliest snapshots of American consumer demand. In recent months, the sales figures have proven a bright spot in an economy that expanded at a 2.2 percent annual rate in the first quarter.

But there are mounting signs that the broader U.S. economy is losing steam. Analysts debate whether high fuel prices and warm weather boosted sales in the first quarter, potentially leading to a pullback in sales later in the year.