April 17, 2008 / 6:29 AM / 11 years ago

PRESS DIGEST - New York Times business news - April 17

April 17 (Reuters) - The following were the top stories in the New York Times business pages on Thursday. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.

* The collapse of Australia’s rice production is one of several factors contributing to a doubling of rice prices in the last three months.

* JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) became the latest bank to report a plunge in profits — and all of Wall Street cheered. The results, a mix of slack earnings and bad loans that would have shocked people a year ago, sent the bank’s stock soaring 6.7 percent. Another big bank, Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N), said falling home prices depressed its earnings. Its stock rose 4.3 percent.

* Faced with an economic slump, a growing number of national retailers are abandoning the tradition of reporting monthly store sales and forecasting profits.

* John Donahoe, the new chief of eBay Inc (EBAY.O) the Internet’s largest e-commerce site, wants the company to operate less like an unruly flea market and more like a strip mall.

* Two researchers warn that the entry of big companies like Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Google Inc (GOOG.O) into the field of electronic health records could alter the practice of clinical research and raise new challenges to privacy.

* A flurry of reports portrayed a U.S. economy limping its way through a broad-based downturn, with consumer demand softening and labor and housing markets still struggling.

* Inflation and economic growth have slowed slightly in China, the government announced, saying price controls had limited the cost of many essential items and exports to the United States had weakened.

* Microsoft Corp’s (MSFT.O) pursuit of Yahoo Inc YHOO.O, if successful, will leave it with more than one bill due. The shareholders, to be sure, will collect their payment, but Microsoft will most likely need to put together a package of financial incentives to prevent talented engineers and managers from hopping to other jobs in Silicon Valley.

* Kohlberg Kravis Roberts [KKR.UL] said it had hired Ken Mehlman, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, as its head of global public affairs, a new position.

* While it would seem to be difficult for most small companies to raise money, it may now be easier for small businesses to raise cash by offering equity than through loans.

* The parent company of American Airlines, the AMR Corp AMR.N, posted a $328 million first-quarter loss as surging fuel prices sent the industry into a downturn.

* Wilbur Ross Jr, the billionaire financier known for buying companies cheaply, has compiled a shopping list of small struggling banks that might prove to be good investments.

* America’s biggest pension funds lost ground in the first quarter, joining the ranks of homeowners, lenders and others hurt by the turmoil in the financial markets.

* International Business Machines Corp (IBM.N) reported strong quarterly profits that easily surpassed Wall Street’s estimates, as its reach across global markets and its healthy services and software businesses left it unscathed so far by the weakness of the United States economy.

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