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Economy Briefs: Wells Fargo pays $6.58M to settle SEC charges

- - Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wells Fargo's brokerage firm has agreed to pay $6.58 million to settle federal civil charges that it failed to adequately inform investors about the risks tied to mortgage securities it sold.

The Securities and Exchange Commission says Minneapolis-based Wells Fargo Brokerage Services improperly sold the high-risk investments to cities and towns, nonprofit institutions, and other investors in 2007, when the housing bust was under way.

The firm, now called Wells Fargo Securities and based in Charlotte, N.C., is paying a $6.5 million civil fine and $81,571 in restitution plus interest in the settlement announced Tuesday.

A former firm vice president, Shawn McMurtry, also agreed to settle the charges. He's paying a $25,000 civil fine and will be suspended for six months from the securities industry.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., the fourth-largest U.S. bank by assets, and Mr. McMurtry neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing.

CHINA

Wal-Mart gets China approval for e-commerce deal

NEW YORK — Wal-Mart has received conditional approval from Beijing to acquire a majority stake in a Chinese e-commerce company.

Wal-Mart will increase its stake in the Yihaodian holding company to approximately 51 percent, from a little more than 17 percent.

Yihaodian has been in business for less than four years. It sells more than 180,000 products ranging from groceries to electronics to clothing.

Wal-Mart is seeking more access to Chinese consumers, who are increasingly shopping online.

The financial terms were not disclosed, but the transaction is subject to final closing conditions, Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Toporek said Tuesday.

REFINERY

Site too dangerous for fire investigators

SAN FRANCISCO — Federal and state investigators are trying to determine how to safely enter the area where a fire broke out in a Chevron Corp. refinery last week so they can examine a failed pipe blamed for the blaze, which the company chose not to replace nearly a year ago after an inspection.

Structural engineers on Monday determined the damaged crude unit that was the site of the fire in the facility was too hazardous to enter. The 8-inch pipe leaked and its contents ignited, sending black smoke into the sky above Richmond, Calif., and thousands of nearby residents to hospitals with complaints of eye irritation and breathing difficulty.

Investigators were discussing plans on how to make the unit safe so the faulty pipe could be removed for testing, said Hillary Cohen, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

The Aug. 6 conflagration destroyed an area of the refinery that produces a large amount of the gasoline that satisfies California's clean-air regulations, which are the toughest in the nation. Other parts of the refinery, which supplies 16 percent of California's daily gas consumption, are still producing fuels.

But the refinery's reduced output has sent state gas prices rising higher than normal, analyst said. The average price for a gallon of regular on Monday in California was $4.07, up from $3.86 on Aug. 7.

From wire dispatches and staff reports