The papers report that the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil fraud charges against eight former AOL and Time Warner executives, including a chief financial officer, who it says were instrumental in illegitimately inflating advertising revenues by more than $1 billion beginning with the run-up to its merger with Time Warner. Four of the former execs settled, agreeing to pay a combined $8.1 million.
At the heart of the SEC’s inquiry was an alleged scheme in which AOL made so-called round-trip transactions to inflate revenue, by giving vendors money to buy online advertising they didn’t want or need. In 2005, the SEC sued Time Warner over related allegations. It also charged that AOL aided and abetted securities frauds at other companies… Time Warner settled the charges, paying a $300 million fine, and restated its earnings three times to correct its reported revenue.
SupCo spares the bond market
The Journal leads its Business & Finance news summary with the Supreme Court upholding the rights of states to offer tax breaks on municipal bonds, something the WaPo on D1 says “averts what might have been a calamitous upheaval in the bond market.” And that’s saying something: it’s a $2.6 trillion market. The move reverses a Kentucky Court of Appeals ruling, which the state’s supreme court let stand, that said such breaks violate the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution.
The Times on C3 says the ruling “was far from assured” and the WSJ writes that a different decision would have made it more expensive for state’s to borrow money. Bloomberg says the court didn’t “explicitly resolve” whether the tax breaks are constitutional.
Hello, my name is America, and I’m an addict
The Financial Times leads its front page with a report that for the first time in thirty-one years, American use of foreign oil “significantly” declined—at least as a percentage of its overall oil consumption. The paper says “high prices, more efficient cars, and the use of ethanol” are responsible for the shift, which the Department of Energy projects will continue until 2015, when it will begin to rise again.
But the story wasn’t exactly bulletproofed before it was published. It says foreign oil use will fall from 60 percent to 50 percent in seven years, but then goes on to say that the percentage was 58.2 percent last year, which would have been the apparent peak. And there appears to be a grand total of one source—the government—for the story.
Meanwhile, oil prices, you guessed it, hit another record yesterday, coming to rest at more than $127 a barrel.
Does the FAA bully whistleblowers?
The Journal continues its airline-maintenance scandal reporting, writing on A3 that investigators are looking into more than nine cases of alleged intimidation or punishment of whistleblowers by the Federal Aviation Administration—something the paper says shows the problems there could be more widespread than expected, especially since they were in several different regional offices. That seems to suggest a coordinated policy, or at least significant pressure, from the top.
Surprise! Stimulus checks aren’t boosting anything
In economic news, the index of leading indicators edged up 0.1 percent last month in a reading that doesn’t suggest a recession is under way.
The Journal writes that retailers aren’t expecting much of a boost from the $110 billion in stimulus checks now being mailed out and direct-deposited.
Surveys suggest creditors, savings accounts and gas stations will benefit much more from rebates than retailers, or the broader economy, will.
“What consumers are making, what worth they have in their home and what they’re able to spend—those are all still trending to the worse,” says Stifel Nicolaus retail analyst David Schick. “There’s no reason consumer spending should pick up.”
The government raised its forecast for 2008 food inflation by half a point, pushing it to 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent. That’s just a month after it raised its estimate last.
Lowe’s earnings dropped as same-store sales plunged more than 8 percent from a year ago, as they housing bust damped home-improvement purchases.