- - Thursday, October 20, 2011

ECONOMY

Signs of health appear after summer slump

The economy appears slightly healthier than many feared it was a few weeks ago, raising hopes that it can end the year on an upward slope.

Data on Thursday showed layoffs are trending down to a six-month low and factories in the mid-Atlantic are growing again after contracting for two months. Nevertheless, home sales fell and the housing market is expected to weigh on the economy deep into 2012.

The outlook for the final six months of the year has improved from August, when many thought the economy was at growing risk of falling back into a recession. Other recent reports showed hiring picked up slightly in September and consumers boosted their spending on retail goods by the most since March.

Most economists now expect modest growth for the rest of this year. Still, they caution it’s unlikely to be strong enough to significantly lower the unemployment rate, which has been stuck near 9 percent for more than two years.

Macroeconomic Advisers forecasts the economy to expand 2.7 percent in the July-to-September quarter and 2.6 percent in the final three months of the year. The government issues its first estimate for third-quarter growth Oct. 27.

MEDIA

Newspaper website visits up despite paywalls

Traffic to U.S. newspaper websites rose over the past year despite the introduction of paywalls by a number of outlets, the Newspaper Association of America said Thursday.

The NAA said average daily visits to newspaper websites were up 21 percent in September compared with a year ago, and total page views were up 10 percent.

Total minutes spent on newspaper websites were up 11 percent and unique visitors rose 9 percent, it said.

The NAA, which represents nearly 2,000 newspapers in the United States and Canada, said that newspaper websites attracted an average monthly audience of 110.4 million unique visitors in the third quarter of the year.

COURTS

Ex-bank execs plead not guilty to fraud charges

SAN FRANCISCO | Two former executives of a San Francisco-based bank that received federal bailout money have pleaded not guilty to fraud charges.

Ebrahim Shabudin, the former CEO of United Commercial Bank, and former senior vice president Thomas Yu entered their pleas Thursday in federal court.

They are the first executives of a bank that received funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to face criminal charges.

United Commercial Bank received $298 million in TARP money in 2008 during the height of the nation’s financial crisis. That money was lost when the bank was seized by regulators, shuttered and filed for bankruptcy the subsequent year.

Mr. Shabudin and Mr. Yu are accused of hiding loan losses from investors and regulators. They face up to 25 years in prison each, if convicted.

GREECE

IMF still reviewing Athens aid program

The International Monetary Fund is still reviewing Greece’s compliance with its bailout agreement, an IMF spokesman said Thursday, as Athens faces a potential sovereign debt default.

“The IMF is in the process of completing the fifth review” on whether to proceed with the next loan installment under the agreement, spokesman Gerry Rice said.

The $11 billion tranche, under a rescue program financed by the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank, is seen as crucial for Greece to avoid running out of money to pay debts next month.

Asked when the aid could be provided, Mr. Rice referred to a recent joint communique from the so-called “troika” of lenders, quoting “most likely in early November,” contingent on the approval of eurozone authorities and the IMF executive board.

There is no date for the IMF board meeting on Greece, he added.

AIRLINES

Delta expands comfort seating to domestic flights

ATLANTA | Delta Air Lines said Thursday it will create a class of higher-end coach seats on its U.S. fleet, matching a service it already offers on the bigger planes that fly overseas.

Delta is calling the seats “Economy Comfort.” They are regular coach seats with an extra 3 inches of legroom. Travelers in those seats get to board the plane earlier, too. Delta will start selling these seats as $19 to $99 add-ons to the price of the ticket. Delta didn’t say how much it would charge once the introductory period ends. Similar seats on Delta’s overseas flights sell for $80 to $160.

Delta is creating the extra legroom by removing seats in the first three to five rows. It expects to have its mainline fleet completed by next summer.