Money Daily Brief: Better Christmas sales ahead?

US retail sales are expected to go up this Christmas season.

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    Toys R Us shoppers, like this one in Redwood City, Calif., are now being offered a law-away plan for big holiday purchases.
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•Hope for the holidays: Toys 'R Us is introducing a lay-away plan, which allows consumers to buy big-ticket items over time without credit cards. Economists say retail sales will be up this holiday season, citing strong consumer demand and optimistic forecasts from companies like Intel Corp. and TJX Cos., owner of T.J. Maxx and other discount retailers. Toymaker Hasbro saw profits rise but sales fall in the third quarter. Separately, spending on luxury goods and services surged 29 percent as high-income consumers unleashed pent-up demand.

•Rajaratnam fallout: Sri Lanka’s stock market closed down 1.6 percent, its biggest decline in four months, on news that Sri Lankan-born billionaire Raj Rajaratnam was charged with 13 counts of fraud and conspiracy for insider trading at his hedge fund. Insiders say this is just the beginning of a wider crackdown on insider-trading networks, including hedge-fund managers, lawyers, and other Wall Street players, the result of two years of investigation.

•Stocks up on oil prices: European and Asian stocks posted modest gains as oil prices rose temporarily to a high for the year, boosting energy producers. Crude oil jumped above $79 a barrel, as signs of global recovery emboldened investors, especially in Europe.

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•Asian currencies gain: They rose even as Asian central banks tried to fight the currencies' biggest rally since 1998 over concerns that appreciation will weaken exports. They have already climbed seven weeks in a row, buoyed by gains in Indonesia’s rupiah, Malaysia’s ringgit, and India’s rupee.

•In my backyard: With its endowment already battered by the market crash, the world’s richest university also lost $1.8 billion in cash by breaking a basic financial rule. Harvard University invested its cash with Harvard Management Co., which invests the university’s endowment in stocks, hedge funds, and other risky assets. The school lost another $500 million on a failed bet that interest rates would rise. The losses have begun to be felt by students and professors, who (gasp!) no longer have free cookies at faculty meetings.

-- Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent based in Boston. For a look at how revenues have fallen in all states except one, see Economy may be rebounding, but state budgets are still hurting.

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