- - Tuesday, May 17, 2011

BANKS

Probes into mortgage lending by 3 banks grow

NEW YORK — The New York attorney general’s office has requested information from three major U.S. banks about their mortgage operations, according to a source familiar with the matter.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has asked Bank of America Corp., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley for information on their mortgage securitization practices, the source said.

Mr. Schneiderman has also requested meetings with the banks over the next couple of weeks.

Spokesmen for Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley declined to comment. Bank of America did not return a call seeking comment.

COMMERCE

Rising pump prices add to Wal-Mart uncertainty

NEW YORK — Rising gas prices are adding another obstacle to Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s campaign to reverse a two-year U.S. sales slump.

Strong overseas revenue, growth at Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart’s specialty — cost-cutting — pushed the world’s largest retailer’s net income up 3 percent in the first quarter, beating Wall Street expectations.

But business at home is still soft. Wal-Mart says it is seeing some improvements but needs more time to determine whether hammering its low-price message and restocking items it had scrapped can turn around sales.

Wal-Mart offered a cautious second-quarter earnings outlook because of a new headache. It’s worried its low-income customers will spend less at its stores as gasoline hovers around $4 a gallon. Wal-Mart’s fears have deep repercussions, because it’s a bellwether of consumer spending and accounts for nearly 10 percent of all non-automotive retail dollars spent in the U.S.

STOCKS

LinkedIn boosts IPO price range

NEW YORK — LinkedIn Corp., a website where professionals connect with one another, said its initial public offering will likely raise 30 percent more than previously expected, a sign that investors are eager to bet on social networking companies.

LinkedIn now plans to sell shares at $42 to $45 each, up from a previous range of $32 to $35. At the middle of that range, the 9-year-old company would be valued at $4.11 billion, or about $40.30 per registered user.

The stock market reception to LinkedIn will be an important gauge of investor appetite for social networking, including the “Big Four” of the social media space — Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and Zynga — which are widely expected to go public in coming years.

LinkedIn’s growth has been rapid: It doubled its revenue last year to $243.1 million and posted net income for common shareholders of $3.4 million.

LinkedIn is priced at almost 17 times 2010 revenue, while Google Inc., by comparison, is trading at about six times sales.

DATA BREACH

Sony CEO defends response time to hacking

NEW YORK — Sony Corp.’s CEO was unapologetic about the company’s delay in informing the more than 100 million customers of its PlayStation Network whose account information was stolen by hackers last month.

In a stark departure from the remorseful tone struck just two weeks ago, when senior executives including heir apparent Kazuo Hirai bowed in apology in Tokyo, Sony Chief Executive Howard Stringer fired back at critics of the company’s actions that led up to the attack and its response time to the crisis.

“This was an unprecedented situation,” Mr. Stringer told reporters on Tuesday, speaking publicly for the first time since the April breach. “Most of these breaches go unreported by companies. Forty-three percent [of companies] notify victims within a month. We reported in a week. You’re telling me my week wasn’t fast enough?”

The attack, considered the biggest in Internet history, prompted the Japanese electronics giant to shut down its PlayStation Network and other services for close to a month.

Critics slammed the company for waiting up to a week before telling its customers of the attack and the possible theft of credit card information, prompting lawmakers and state attorneys general to launch investigations.

Sony said it expected to face monetary charges from the break-in but was still assessing the damage.

From wire dispatches and staff reports