Dec 26 (Reuters) - The following were the top stories in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.
* The credit crunch triggered by the downturn in the housing market is creating problems in commercial real estate, driving down prices of office buildings, shopping malls and apartment complexes, and leaving some owners scrambling for cash.
* Spurred by heavy discounting, U.S. shoppers spent furiously in the days just before Christmas. But holiday retail sales appeared to still fall short of industry expectations, setting the stage for bigger markdowns in the increasingly important post-Christmas period.
* The $6.2 billion sale of stock by Merrill Lynch & Co Inc MER.N at a 12 percent discount to last week’s market price shows both the severity of write-downs still facing the Wall Street brokerage and the determination of its new Chief Executive John Thain to act quickly to settle its finances.
* The Pentagon and U.S. State Department, long divided over the conduct of the Iraq war and reconstruction there, have a new point of contention: Iran, and how much credit it deserves for recent security improvements in Iraq.
* Wyeth WYE.N faces an uphill struggle to protect patent exclusivity for its blockbuster drug Protonix after Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd TEVA.O TEVA.TO launched a generic version of the heartburn pill in the U.S. market.
* An institutional cash fund from BlackRock Inc (BLK.N) has been downgraded to “junk” status by Moody’s Investors Service after the fund suspended certain daily fund redemptions — one of the latest signs of an investment fund getting hit because of tight conditions in short-term debt markets.
* When the U.S. space agency picked Boeing Co (BA.N) recently to build as much as $1.2 billion of satellites, analysts and company officials predicted it would improve Boeing’s chances of winning larger, higher-profile military-satellite contracts in coming months. But the survival of the Pentagon’s largest satellite-communications program now appears increasingly in doubt.
* Pope Benedict XVI issued a Christmas Day appeal Tuesday to political leaders around the globe to find the “wisdom and courage” to end bloody conflicts in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Congo.
* MAXjet Airways Inc MAXJ.L, a two-year-old, all-business class airline serving trans-Atlantic routes, ceased operations Monday and filed for bankruptcy-court protection in the face of high fuel prices, fierce competition and a failure to raise new capital.
* Investors who bought exchange-traded funds hoping to avoid the tax bills that sometimes plague mutual-fund investors could be in for disappointment for 2007.
* A top U.S. commander warned Tuesday that Sunnis who fight al Qaeda in Iraq must be rewarded and recognized as legitimate members of Iraqi society — or else the hard-fought security gains of the past six months could be lost.