- - Thursday, September 1, 2011

COURTS

$1.3 billion penalty overturned against SAP

SAN FRANCISCO | A federal judge has overturned a $1.3 billion verdict against the business software maker SAP, calling it “grossly excessive.”

The ruling Thursday is a major victory for SAP AG and an unexpected setback for Oracle Corp., which filed the case.

Oracle’s outspoken CEO, Larry Ellison, had used evidence that an SAP subsidiary had stolen software and customer-support documents from password-protected Oracle websites as a platform to slam his longtime nemesis.

The jury award in November capped a circuslike trial in which Mr. Ellison taunted not only SAP but also its former CEO, Leo Apotheker, who is CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co., another Oracle rival.

Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif., the site of the three-week trial, said the penalty was “contrary to the weight of the evidence” in the high-profile case.

MORTGAGES

JPMorgan, BAC take heat for foreclosure program

Two of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders are not doing enough to help Americans avoid foreclosure, the Obama administration said Thursday.

The Treasury Department said Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have done a poor job helping people permanently lower their mortgage payments as part of the government’s signature foreclosure-prevention program. The lenders have rejected people who were eligible for mortgage modifications, Treasury said.

The government first criticized the two lenders, along with Wells Fargo & Co. and Ocwen Loan Servicing, in June and began withholding financial incentives of up to $1,000 per permanent loan modification.

Wells Fargo and Ocwen were removed from the list of companies needing “substantial improvement” in the second quarter and will begin receiving the incentives again.

HEALTH

New rate reviews begin for health insurers

INDIANAPOLIS | Some big health insurance rate increases will receive an extra layer of scrutiny starting Thursday, when a new review process begins as part of the health care overhaul.

Whenever an insurer seeks a rate increase of 10 percent or more for individual and small-employer group coverage, it now must submit the plan for either a state or federal review of whether it’s reasonable.

Government officials will not have the authority to reject rate increases, but any increases will be posted along with explanations for them on the website www.healthcare.gov.

Most states will do their own reviews, but nine will receive help from the federal government.

Health insurers have pointed to rising prices for medical care as the root cause behind their premium increases, and they have said this factor is being ignored while public-policy discussions focus on premiums.

OIL

U.S. support suggested for Canada oil pipeline

Canada’s status as a close U.S. ally should boost a plan to pipe oil from western Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in comments that signaled support for the massive $7 billion pipeline.

“It’s certainly true that having Canada as a supplier for our oil is much more comforting than to have other countries supply our oil,” Mr. Chu said in a TV interview this week that will be aired later this month.

Technology used to extract oil from tar sands such as those in Alberta are improving dramatically, Mr. Chu said, making such projects less risky to the environment.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline “is not perfect, but it’s a trade-off,” Mr. Chu said. U.S. officials will have to weigh the benefit of a reliable supply of oil from a friendly country against environmental concerns raised by a possible spill, he said.

Mr. Chu’s comments are the latest sign that the Obama administration appears likely to back the 1,700-mile pipeline, which would carry crude oil extracted from tar sands in Alberta and bring it to refineries in Texas.

The pipeline would travel through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.

CONSUMERS

Retailers report solid gains for August

NEW YORK | Americans kept shopping in August despite a month of bad news.

Besides old worries about the economy, shoppers had new troubles in August that could have kept them from heading to stores. They faced higher prices for everything from food to clothes. Wild stock-market swings fueled concerns about another recession. Then Hurricane Irene hit in the middle of the back-to-school shopping season.

Despite those factors, revenue in August among 26 retailers was up 4.6 percent at stores open at least a year - a key industry measure - according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That’s in line with the 4 percent to 5 percent that analysts predicted at the beginning of the month. It also could be a good sign for retailers - and the overall economy - heading into the critical holiday shopping season in November and December.

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