It was another expensive week for America's big banks in legal settlements. Bank of America resolved its dispute with Fannie Mae, the government-backed mortgage company, by forking over $11.6 billion for liabilities on toxic loans. Bank of America joined Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and seven other banks in agreeing to an $8.5 billion settlement with regulators over improper procedures in processing home foreclosures. Five banks reached a $25 billion settlement with state attorneys general last year.
HSBC's proposed $9.4 billion sale of its stake in Ping An, a Chinese insurance company, to Thailand's CP Group seemed to be in trouble. Reports surfaced that regulators in China are unhappy with the funding arrangements.
The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, which formulates global standards for banking, surprised markets by relaxing new rules on liquidity. The committee made it easier for banks to meet its "liquidity-coverage ratio" and also gave them an extra four years, until 2019, to comply with the rules. The share prices of European banks rose.
Google scored a victory over critics who accuse it of abusing its dominant position in online search when the Federal Trade Commission said that it had found no evidence that competition was being stifled. Microsoft in particular had chided Google for promoting its own services in search results. Google did agree to loosen licenses on the stash of patents it holds. It now awaits the findings of a European antitrust investigation, which may not be so favorable.
Samsung forecast that it would chalk up another huge quarterly operating profit. The company reportedly made $8.1 billion in the last three months of 2012, as its Android-based smartphones and tablets flew off the shelves. The South Korean company will launch its first device to run on Microsoft Windows 8 in America this month.
HTC saw its quarterly profit fall to its lowest level since 2006. The Taiwanese smartphone maker's share of the global market plummeted to around 4 percent in 2012, compared with 10 percent in 2011.
Transocean, the drilling contractor on the BP rig at the center of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, reached a guilty-plea agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Transocean was fined $1 billion to settle civil charges brought under the Clean Water Act and $400 million in criminal penalties. Further claims against BP, Transocean and others remain unresolved. A trial is set to begin next month in New Orleans.
Net American imports of oil are set to fall to 6 million barrels a day next year, the lowest level since 1987, according to the Energy Information Administration. This is because domestic fuel production, helped by hydraulic fracturing, is booming while consumption is declining.
Iron-ore prices hit a 15-month high after their spectacular rally during the last three months of 2012. Prices have climbed rapidly because of a manufacturing pickup in China. Its imports and exports grew sharply in December.Political economy
Ireland conducted a successful auction of sovereign debt, selling $3.3 billion of a five-year issue, having received orders of more than $9.27 billion. Irish officials said that this bolsters their case that Ireland's dealings with the markets are becoming "normalized," as it seeks help from the European Union in reducing the debt burden it incurred when it rescued its banks during the global financial crisis.
A private delegation headed by Bill Richardson, a former American governor and diplomat, visited North Korea to urge greater openness in Internet and wireless communications. The State Department called the trip, which also included Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, "ill-advised."
The new government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan would increase defense spending after a decade of falling military budgets. This comes at a time of heightened tensions with China over disputed islands.
Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy revealed that he had wooed the regionalist Northern League's leaders back into an alliance. They had deserted him after the fall of his government in 2011. The league is crucial to the prospects of the Italian right in the general election scheduled for Feb. 24 and 25.