April 18, 2008 / 6:59 AM / in 12 years

PRESS DIGEST - Wall Street Journal - April 18

April 18 (Reuters) - The following were the top stories in The Wall Street Journal on Friday. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.

* First-quarter earnings show banks and consumers grappling with falling home prices and tightening credit. Other big businesses, especially those that sell to customers abroad, are proving resilient. One nagging worry on Wall Street — earnings in other sectors may suffer declines, albeit delayed.

* Natural-gas prices in the U.S. have risen 93 percent since August as power-hungry nations compete in a global market that scarcely existed five years ago. The trend has profound implications for the troubled U.S. economy.

* U.S. commanders in Iraq have begun releasing thousands of detainees and expect to free more than half of the 23,000 held by American forces, according to senior military commanders.

* Internet giant Google Inc (GOOG.O) topped Wall Street estimates for first-quarter revenue and profit, and it said that the weak economy hadn’t hurt its business, as some investors had feared.

* In another embarrassing maintenance blunder involving the aviation industry, General Electric Co (GE.N) disclosed it is working with carriers and U.S. regulators to resolve questions about improperly certified parts in dozens of its jet engines

* Union workers at a key General Motors Corp (GM.N) plant in Michigan walked off the job, in the latest sign the Big Three auto makers could have trouble reaping the benefits of concessions they won in labor contracts last fall.

* New York state’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, has launched a broad investigation into auction-rate securities, instruments used by municipalities, schools, closed-end mutual funds and others to raise money.

* Federal regulators are expected to announce a legal settlement with three former senior executives of Fannie Mae FNM.N over their alleged roles in an accounting scandal that erupted at the mortgage company in 2004, according to people familiar with the situation.

* Despite missing earnings expectations because of another multibillion-dollar write-down that led to the third straight unprofitable quarter, investors drove Merrill Lynch MER.N shares up 4.1 percent, setting a higher bar for John Thain’s next act as chief executive.

* Widespread hoarding by farmers and rice dealers is pushing sky-high rice prices even higher, prompting clampdowns by authorities who are worried about getting subsidized rice to the poor.

* The chief executive of Centro Properties Group, which owns nearly 700 shopping centers in the U.S., expressed optimism that the company’s lenders will extend its April 30 deadline for paying off $4.9 billion in short-term debt to Sept. 30.

* Societe Generale (SOGN.PA) announced the first high-profile casualty of its recent trading scandal, saying Daniel Bouton will step down as the bank’s chief executive officer next month.

* In an effort that would give the federal government a central role in stemming the foreclosure crisis, House Democrats proposed a bill that would create an insurance fund guaranteeing up to $300 billion in refinanced mortgages.

* Wipro Ltd (WIPR.BO) said net profit for the fiscal fourth quarter rose 2.8 percent as results were hurt by a slowdown in the U.S. economy.

* Business updates from three newspaper publishers offered yet another window into how a weakening economy is battering newspapers’ already-struggling business models.

* Boeing Co’s (BA.N) most ardent political supporters in Congress threatened to cut off funding for a $40 billion Air Force aerial-refueling-tanker contract following the loss to a Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N) team that will use an Airbus jet.

* Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), one of the nation’s largest student lenders, said it will stop making private student loans and will prepare to do more lending under a federally guaranteed program. The announcement came as the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would strengthen protections for the government loan program.

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