Credit card changes seenWASHINGTON — Riding a crest of populist anger, the House has cleared a bill to rein in credit card practices and eliminate sudden increases in interest rates and late fees that have entangled millions of consumers. The legislation passed Thursday by a bipartisan vote of 357-70 and follows lobbying by President Barack Obama and members of his administration. The measure would prohibit so-called double-cycle billing and retroactive rate hikes and would prevent companies from giving credit cards to anyone under 18. If they become law, the new measures won’t take effect for a year, except for a requirement that customers get 45 days’ notice before their interest rates are increased. That would take effect in 90 days.
Trading surge draws queryKENILWORTH, N.J. — A suspicious surge in trading of Schering-Plough Corp. sales just before news of its merger deal with fellow drugmaker Merck & Co. is being investigated by federal regulators, according to a published report. The Securities and Exchange Commission is looking at whether any trades were made by people with inside knowledge about the merger talks, unidentified people familiar with the situation told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. On March 6, the Friday before the deal was announced, Schering-Plough shares rose 8 percent and the volume of shares exchanged jumped to 34.1 million, unusually heavy trading for the mid-tier pharmaceutical company. That level was more than double the average trading over the previous four days.
Teen clothier plans cutsNEW YORK — Teen-oriented clothing chain Abercrombie & Fitch Co. said Thursday it is in the process of cutting its headquarters staff by about 9 percent to save money. Spokesman Eric Cerny confirmed that the company is cutting about 170 positions at its 2,000-strong Columbus, Ohio, headquarters. Abercrombie has kept its relatively high prices as competitors have slashed theirs. In 2008, profit fell 43 percent to $272.3 million while sales fell 6 percent to $3.54 billion.
Radar system could get helpWASHINGTON — Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday he thinks the Obama administration will seek financial aid for airlines to pay for equipment onboard planes that will be needed to move to a satellite-based air traffic control system. LaHood said he expects the White House to "rally some dollars” in response to a request from airline industry officials who met with the administration’s top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers. NextGen is the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to move from today’s radar-based air traffic control system to a satellite-based system using GPS technology. The aim of new system is to make aviation more efficient, cutting travel times and thereby reducing fuel use and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
2 states hook salmon aidWASHINGTON — The Commerce Department released $53 million to Oregon and California on Thursday to help West Coast salmon fishermen after the third fishery failure in four years. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke declared the latest disaster in a letter to the governors of the two states. He cited continued low number of fish returning to the Sacramento River in California. The river is the second-largest producer of salmon on the West Coast. Locke released $53.1 million in unspent money from a fishery disaster declared last year. A total of $46.4 million will go to California and $6.7 million to Oregon. Locke’s decision opens the way for Congress to allocate more money for salmon fishermen. Congress appropriated $170 million in disaster aid in 2008 and $60 million in 2006.
Tribes praise dam decisionOMAHA, Neb. — A group representing American Indian tribes and commercial fishermen from California and Oregon that has protested at Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholder meetings in the past are back again this year. But this time the group will be praising Berkshire, led by billionaire investor Warren Buffett. They are in Omaha to show their support for the decision by the company’s utility unit to back a preliminary agreement to remove four dams on the Klamath River near the California-Oregon border.
Brother wants licensing feeNEW YORK — The brother of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff has demanded a $500,000 licensing fee for a branch of the family business recently put on the auction block, a lawyer told a bankruptcy judge Thursday. Peter Madoff’s asking price for Primex Holdings LLC became a potential sticking point in a pending sale of a trading operation that was deemed legitimate, attorney Marc Hirshfield said at hearing in Manhattan. Hirshfield, who represents a trustee overseeing the liquidation of Bernard Madoff’s business assets, said his law firm will take legal action to try to force Peter Madoff to give up the rights to Primex at no cost. Meantime, the buyer has agreed to move forward with the deal for the market-making division, he said. Primex, which operated out of Bernard Madoff’s Manhattan headquarters, is described on its Web site as a digital trading system for brokers.
Bank rejects IRS requestMIAMI, Fla. — Swiss banking giant UBS AG said turning over to the IRS the names of thousands of wealthy Americans who might be withholding billions in income from U.S. taxes would violate Swiss law and undermine international relations, according to a court brief filed Thursday. The Internal Revenue Service has sued UBS to try and force the bank to turn over information about 52,000 account holders the agency says have an estimated $14.8 billion in assets and are using Swiss bank secrecy to shield the money. UBS asked that a Miami federal judge deny the IRS petition. FROM WIRE REPORTS