Oil drives a November surge in factory orders

Orders to U.S. factories jumped in November by the largest amount in four months. The increase was driven by higher petroleum prices and was not viewed as a sign of any newfound strength in manufacturing. The Commerce Department reported that orders for manufactured goods rose 1.5 percent in November, the biggest rise since a 3.4 percent surge in July. But all the strength came in demand for nondurable goods, which shot up 3 percent, reflecting higher oil prices. Orders for durable goods, everything from appliances to autos, actually fell 0.1 percent, the fourth consecutive monthly decline.

Parent of Weather Channel is up for sale

A family-owned business that started with a local newspaper more than 100 years ago and became best known as owner of the Weather Channel is looking into selling its businesses, including nine daily newspapers. Frank Batten Jr., chairman and CEO of Landmark Communications Inc., said the privately held Norfolk, Va., company has retained investment banks J.P. Morgan and Lehman Brothers to help it look into possible sale scenarios. "At this early stage, we cannot speculate on where this process will lead," Batten said in a prepared statement. Landmark's flagship newspaper is the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk.

Investment chief out, stock up at State Street

State Street Corp. cleaned house Thursday after investments tied to subprime mortgages soured, but its shares surged more than 8 percent to an all-time high as the trust bank raised earnings expectations amid booming business serving institutional investors. Boston-based State Street set aside $618 million to cover expected legal fallout and other costs from investments that deteriorated over the summer, and replaced the head of the investment management unit that oversaw those bond funds. William Hunt resigned as chief executive of the State Street Global Advisors investment unit after three years. State Street's shares rose $6.49, or 8.2 percent, to close at $85.37.

Sales of music CDs sink as digital sales soar

U.S. album sales plunged 9.5 percent last year from 2006, as the beleaguered recording industry marked another weak year of sales despite a 45 percent surge in the sale of digital tracks. A total of 500.5 million albums sold as CDs, cassettes, LPs and other formats were purchased last year, down 15 percent from 2006's unit total, said Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks point-of-purchase sales. The shortfall in album sales drops to 9.5 percent when sales of digital singles are counted as 10-track equivalent albums. The number of digital tracks sold, meanwhile, jumped 45 percent to 844.2 million. Overall music purchases, including albums, singles, digital tracks and music videos, rose to 1.35 billion units, up 14 percent from 2006.

IBM to reorganize its hardware division

IBM Corp. is restructuring its hardware division around customer types rather than individual products, marking the biggest such realignment in the unit in 15 years. In an internal memo sent to the hardware group, the head of the division, William Zeitler, said the changes would strengthen IBM's ability to sell technology to small and medium-sized businesses and to design products specifically for them. IBM gets most of its business from big corporations and governments, but it has been trying to improve sales of services, software and servers to smaller companies because their technology purchases are growing at a faster rate.

Requests for digital TV coupons coming in

More than 850,000 consumers have requested $40 coupons for converter boxes that will let old televisions receive over-the-air digital signals after the U.S. abandons traditional analog broadcasts next year, a government agency said. Each household is entitled to two coupons, and the total requested since the program started Tuesday exceeds 1.6 million, said Todd Sedmak, a spokesman for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. A $1.5 billion subsidy and education program is aimed at readying the U.S. for the end of analog TV on Feb. 17, 2009. Digital TV offers clearer pictures and more programming, and frees spectrum for wireless communications.