Wednesday, February 17, 2010

WSJ Recent News Feb12-18

Retirees Trade Work For Rent at Cash-Strappled Parks
ROMA, Tex. —An itinerant, footloose army of available and willing retirees in their 60s and 70s is marching through the American outback, looking to stretch retirement dollars by volunteering to work in parks, campgrounds and wildlife sanctuaries, usually in exchange for camping space.
Park and wildlife agencies say that retired volunteers have in turn become all the more crucial as budget cuts and new demands have made it harder to keep parks open.Estimates of the number of work-campers nationally vary, but a spokesman for Kampgrounds of America Inc., a private company that franchises camps, said that 80,000 or so might be a good guess, based on KOA’s percentage of the camping market and the number of its work-campers.

 Manufacturers are gearing up to hire
Manufacturers are seeing more signs that the U.S. economic recovery is on a solid footing, opening the way for new hiring as well as call-backs for factory workers laid off during the depths of the recession. Caterpillar Inc., the Peoria, Ill.-based heavy-equipment maker, has brought back 600 workers in the past 60 days, including 100 recalled to an engine plant in Indiana last week. Allen Edmonds Shoe Corp. has been relying on overtime to meet growing demand, but is now preparing to start adding new workers at its U.S. plants in coming week.

U.S. To Investigate Possible Toyota Corolla Steering Problems
Toyota Motor Corp. and U.S. regulators are looking into possible steering problems in the company's popular Corolla compact, the latest quality issue to surface in the wake of two recalls that covered millions of vehicles and forced Toyota to halt U.S. sales of eight models.

Simon might drop $10 billion takeover of General Growth
Mall giant Simon Property Group Inc. warned General Growth Properties Inc. late Wednesday that Simon might drop its $10 billion takeover bid for the company or go hostile if General Growth didn't come to the bargaining table soon.

Is Whole Foods Amid a Turnaround ?
Whole Foods Market Inc.'s fiscal first-quarter earnings soared 79% as sales at stores open at least a year rose for the first time in six quarters, a sign that discounts and a refocus on natural foods are paying off.ittle has gone right for the natural-foods company since 2006, when investors realized it was overexpanding. By the time the recession struck, Whole Foods couldn't hit the brakes fast enough. After a rally, the stock is still down 66% from its high.Recent signals suggest it is on the road to recovery. Even with unemployment around 10%, customer traffic rose during the September quarter and comparable-store sales finally turned positive in the following weeks.Investors might be troubled that Whole Foods trades at 23 times consensus earnings for calendar 2010, higher than most retailers.

U.S. to Press China on the Yuan
The mounting political tension between U.S. and China is poised to take on a more pronounced economic component—with Washington, in coming months, expected to press China over what officials see as an undervalued yuan. For U.S. officials, China's exchange rate is emerging as a top concern. President Obama and other administration officials argue that the Chinese currency is undervalued. That makes Chinese exports artificially cheap in terms of other foreign currencies, contributing to the U.S.'s large trade deficit with China and, they say, depriving Americans of jobs.

Wal-Mart Profit Ries, but Current Quarter Weak
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. beat its guidance to post a 22% profit increase for the fiscal fourth quarter, but sales at the world's largest retailer fell short of expectations.Shares in Wal-Mart were down 1.5% at $53.25 premarket as the company's first-quarter view largely underwhelmed analysts' estimates, too. The company projects earnings between 81 cents and 85 cents a share, while analysts on average projected 85 cents, according to Thomson Reuters. For the year, its target of $3.90 to $4, compared with analysts' $3.97 forecast.

State Governments Face Trillion Dollar Gap
State governments face a trillion-dollar gap between the pension, health-care and other retirement benefits promised to public employees and the money set aside to pay for them, according to a new report from the Pew Center on the States.States promised current and retired workers a total of $3.35 trillion in benefits through June 30, 2008, said the report from the nonprofit research group, a division of Pew Charitable Trusts. But state governments had contributed only $2.35 trillion to their benefit plans to pay current and future bills, the report said.


Municipalities Consider Filing Chapter 9
Just days after becoming controller of financially strapped Harrisburg, Pa., in January, Daniel Miller began uttering an obscure term that baffled most people who had never heard it and chilled those who had: Chapter 9. The seldom-used part of U.S. bankruptcy law gives municipalities protection from creditors while developing a plan to pay off debts. Created in the wake of the Great Depression, Chapter 9 is widely considered a last resort and filings under it are more taboo than other parts of bankruptcy code because of the resulting uncertainty for everyone from municipal employees to bondholders.

Walgreen buys Duane Reade for $618 million
Walgreen announced Wednesday it will pay $618 million for Duane Reade, New York City's largest drugstore chain. The deal will increase Walgreen's total drugstore count by nearly 4%, adding 257 stores in the New York area, where it currently operates just 70 locations.Duane Reade is Walgreen's largest drugstore purchase, a shift from a past strategy that plowed money into often disappointing purchases such as specialty-pharmacy Option Care. Walgreen previously relied heavily on rapid organic growth to expand its drugstore count.

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