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Thursday, September 17, 2009


U.S. shuts down scandal-ridden oil-royalty program
An oil-royalty program that U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called "a blemish on the department" will be closed for good. An investigation found that Interior Department employees running the program engaged in corruption, drug use and sexual misconduct with representatives of oil companies. One report suggests that oil companies underpaid royalties owed to the government by $160 million in 2006 and 2007. The program allowed companies to pay royalties and fees in oil and gas instead of money. The New York Times (16 Sep.)

Food prices drop as supermarket competition heats up
The recession has brought at least one item of good news to U.S. consumers, and it is visible on supermarket shelves. Softening commodity prices and intensifying competition between grocery chains have driven down prices as much as 25%. "Ours has always been a very competitive business," said Steve Neibergall, president of Safeway's Eastern division. "But it seems like with the onset of the sluggishness of the economy, it has been even more aggressive than it has previously. It feels like it's kind of at an all-time high." The Washington Post (17 Sep.)

Stores aim for lower fees in processing debit, credit cards
Three bills working their way through the U.S. Congress would regulate in some way interchange fees, the money banks collect from merchants to process transactions using credit and debit cards. Retailers are turning to the public for support to have the charges limited. The Merchants Payments Coalition is scheduled to release a study on how interchange fees are handled in Europe, Canada and New Zealand, where the fees are generally less than they are in the U.S. The Washington Post (17 Sep.)

Barclays unloads $12.3B in troubled assets to Caymans
Barclays spun off about $12 billion in troubled assets to a fund in the Cayman Islands. Although the assets will remain on Barclays' balance sheet, they will no longer have to be priced using mark-to-market accounting, which makes the value of such assets difficult to establish. The fund will be managed by two former Barclays executives. The Guardian (London) (16 Sep.)

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