OPERATIONS

Wal-Mart launches internal probe into overseas compliance

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Bentonville, Ark. –Wal-Mart Stores Inc. revealed Thursday it has launched an internal investigation into whether its overseas operations complied with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in matters including permitting, licensing and inspections.

Few details about the internal probe have been released, but the retailer revealed the investigation in a quarterly report filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The law in question deals with bribery and accounting rules when companies are doing business overseas.

Wal-Mart said that it doesn’t believe the issue will have a material impact on its business.

Wal-Mart said it launched the investigation after reviewing policies, procedures and internal controls tied to its global anti-corruption program, which raised questions about whether some of its actions may have violated U.S. anti-corruption laws.

The filing didn’t reveal where the actions took place. Wal-Mart has hired legal counsel and other advisers to assist in the probe.

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U.S. consumer confidence holds at recession levels

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Washington, D.C. — A report released Thursday said that consumer confidence in the U.S. was little changed for a second week, holding at a level typically reached during past recessions.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index was at minus 50.3 in the period ended Dec. 4, after a reading of minus 50.2 the prior week. The gauge has been at minus 50 or worse for 11 of the past 12 weeks.

An unexpected decline in unemployment last month coupled with growing payrolls may be preventing household confidence from sinking even deeper. “Consumer confidence appears to be stabilizing, albeit near historically low levels,” said Joseph Brusuelas, a senior economist at Bloomberg L.P. in New York. “However, that stabilization is quite tenuous.”

The Bloomberg comfort index, which began in December 1985, has averaged minus 46.8 this year compared with minus 45.7 for all of 2010 and minus 47.9 in 2009, the worst full-year reading on record, the report showed.

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Consumer report: Holiday retail season starts strong, led by personal electronics

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Yonkers, N.Y. — Despite flagging consumer confidence, December’s Consumer Reports Index, a measure of overall consumer financial health, showed that the holiday season is off to a good start, with excellent activity in November and the prospect of a strong December.

The Past 30-Day Retail Index for December was 13.9, up from 12.4 a year ago, and planned spending for December was also strong at 12.7 compared to 11.8 last year. Among the categories comprising the Retail Index, the largest gains were in personal electronics.

Though there has been no improvement in Consumer Sentiment or in the financial difficulties faced by consumers, overall, measures are fairly stable.

"It may be this relative stability in contrast to the gloom of the past several years, that is causing consumers to cast off the restraint of the seasons gone by and ‘celebrate’ with some serious shopping," said Ed Farrell, director of the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

December’s Consumer Reports Sentiment Index, which measures how consumers are doing financially versus a year ago, was unchanged at 45.4 from 45.0 the prior month.

The Consumer Reports Employment Index declined to 49.6 from 50.6 last month, with past 30-day job losses (5.7%) outpacing job gains (4.9%). This setback reversed three straight periods of an improving employment picture. Households earning $50,000 or more remained in positive territory (over 50), while those in households earning less than $50,000 lost ground (49.0).

Taking a closer look at the categories comprising the Consumer Reports Past 30-Day Retail Index, the gain in November spending was the result of an increase in personal electronics (31.4%), up from 21.2% last month.

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