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Economy Briefs: After Barron’s slams Facebook, stock falls

- - Monday, September 24, 2012

NEW YORK — Facebook Inc.'s stock took a hit Monday after an article in the financial magazine Barron's said it is "still too pricey" despite a sharp decline since its initial public offering.

Though Facebook's stock has plunged since its May IPO, Andrew Bary at Barron's said the stock trades at "high multiples of both sales and earnings, even as uncertainty about the outlook for its business grows."

At issue is the shift of Facebook's massive user base to mobile devices. The company is still figuring out how to advertise to people who use their mobile phones and tablet computers to access the social network. Mr. Bary said success in the mobile space is "no sure thing" for the company. Mobile ads must fit into much smaller screens, which doesn't give Facebook "much room to configure ads without alienating users," Mr. Bary said.

Menlo Park, Calif.-based Facebook's stock fell $2.03, or 8.9 percent, to close at $20.83 on Monday. The company went public on May 18 at a share price of $38, which it has not matched since.

BANKS

Fees further erode free checking accounts

CHICAGO — Truly free checking accounts are becoming rarer as banks add more fees to boost their profits.

Only 39 percent of no-interest checking accounts are free to all customers, according to survey results released Monday by financial data publisher Bankrate.com. That's down from 45 percent last year and 76 percent in 2009.

Among other fees, the average monthly service fee on checking accounts is a record $5.48, up 25 percent from the Bankrate survey a year ago. Also, the average fee charged by an ATM operator to a noncustomer rose 4 percent to a record $2.50, Bankrate said.

Customers may be near a breaking point, the survey suggests.

NEW JERSEY

Amtrak to run test trains at 165 mph in Northeast

TRENTON — Amtrak is going to break the speed limit this week in the Northeast Corridor.

The rail service announced Monday it will operate test trains overnight at 165 mph in four stretches from Maryland to Massachusetts.

Acela Express equipment will be used for the tests, which were to start at about 10:30 p.m. Monday in New Jersey.

All the locations may one day have regular 160 mph service. Amtrak said tests need to be performed at 5 mph above what is expected to be a maximum operating speed of 160 mph.

MEDIA

Village Voice being sold; Backpage.com left behind

DENVER — The Village Voice is being sold, along with all of its affiliated free arts weekly newspapers, but the deal excludes the online classified site Backpage.com, whose listings have drawn fire for promoting the illegal sex trade.

The buyout is being led by Scott Tobias, the chief operating officer of Village Voice Media Holdings LLC. Mr. Tobias will become the new organization's chief executive.

He said he has lined up private financing to buy almost all of the Phoenix company's assets, which include LA Weekly and SF Weekly, from the current owners, Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey.

Mr. Larkin and Mr. Lacey will keep ownership of Backpage.com. Terms were not disclosed Monday.

From wire dispatches and staff reports